Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breakfast or Dinner?

Next Sunday our local Bikur Cholim will be holding its annual Breakfast.  It should be noted that it doesn't also hold a dinner--this is the "meal" for the year.  Frankly, I'm thrilled that Bikur Cholim chooses to do it this way.  I can find many good reasons for holding a breakfast instead of a dinner, and they follow, in no particular order.

1.   It is easier and simpler for most people to attend a breakfast given on a Sunday than to attend a dinner, usually given on a weekday night, although in the winter occasionally given  also on a Sunday evening.  During the week most people work, and rushing home from work, getting ready and then traveling to a dinner adds unnecessary pressure to the work week.  Because dinner organizers take into consideration that people are working, dinners start fairly late in the evening, thus ending quite late.  Again, having a dinner last until midnight or after is hard on working people.  Many people may leave the dinner early so they can be home at a reasonable time, thus missing some of the planned and paid for speeches and entertainment, and yes, part of the meal as well.

2.   Dinners are usually fleishigs and breakfasts are usually milchigs.  The cost to the organization is much higher for a fleishigs meal than for a milchigs meal; thus, the price charged for dinners is usually a great deal more than for breakfasts, without an organization's really making more money for itself. 

3.   Evening dinners usually have some kind of smorgasbord or passed appetizers first, followed by a served, full-course dinner.  Breakfasts are usually strictly smorgasbord-style, and everyone serves themselves.  Again, a savings in personnel needed to be hired and for amount and type of food presented.  Dinners usually have some kind of alcohol presented, whether an open bar or wines on the tables.  Breakfasts don't have alcohol--again a savings in meal costs.

4.   Because it's a breakfast, and the costs are less, organizations usually charge less for their breakfasts than they would for a dinner.  Chances are that more people will then be able to come to a breakfast, bringing in more money to an organization.

5.   All those "tchatchkes" that seem to be required for a dinner aren't there for a breakfast--items like centerpieces, and bands and specially printed bentchers etc.. Again, a savings in basic costs for the organization.

6.   Because breakfasts are more informal, people who may not be able to stay for the entire breakfast because of other committments will nevertheless come for even a short period of time, and they are paying the full "entry" fee.  Most people will not do this for a dinner.  Again, more money coming in for the organization.

7.   By the time a dinner gets to its speakers and main program, lots of people are ready to leave for home because it's late or have already left.  Most people on a Sunday morning stay for whatever program there is because the meal hasn't been shlepped out and they aren't falling asleep in their soup bowls.

8.   Both dinners and breakfasts have other fundraising items attached to these meals in addition to the basic charge for the meal.  There may be raffles or items for sale (and most of these are donated to the organization, so it doesn't need to cover the cost for these items by raising the price of the meal).  There may be additional fundraising tickets on the tables for people to fill out.  There may be an outright asking by the organization for people to please give more than just the charge for the meal.  When a dinner is already costing you $300-600 per couple, the impetus to buy more and/or give more may not be there.  If a breakfast is "only" costing you $100 per couple or even less, there will be more "extra" giving or "extra" purchasing, and for the most part this is pure profit to the organization.

9.  Breakfasts are more informal than dinners are.  There is no reason to be dressed to the nines or to worry about having the right clothes to wear--it's pretty much come as you are on a Sunday morning.  Breakfasts usually don't have formal seating--take your friends and sit where you'd like (and pretty much like everyone at your table).  People seem to be more relaxed at a breakfast, and relaxed people think better of the organization than people who can't wait to get away from the table and go home.

10.   Organizations that hold meals during the year also have other straight fundraising appeals as well.  For many people the amount given for this extra fundraising is very small.  The rationale is that they paid $300-600 already to the organization and that's all that they budget for giving to this particular place.  People who are paying "only" $100 or thereabouts for a breakfast are more likely to give more to an organization during the other parts of the year.  And that "straight" giving is mostly pure profit to the organization, unlike the meals.

So there you have it--some reasons as to why I prefer breakfasts to dinners, and why breakfasts are more cost effective for organizations than dinners are.


miriamp said...

I think I'm rather spoiled by living out of town! I went to a dessert reception Sunday evening for the community Kollel, complete with well-known inspirational speaker, for $36/person. The school dinner runs something like $100. These $400/couple things just astound me.

mrmoose said...

I am friendly with the administrator of a large yeshiva that does a big dinner (1000 people $500 a couple). He claims that every institution his size that has to do something smaller has ended up making less and that as wasteful as his dinner is it brings in large amounts of outside money he could not raise in other ways,

JS said...

I can't stand these events. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner doesn't matter. Just ask people to send a check and save all the trouble. Maybe if the events were every 5 years or to mark a significant milestone or to honor someone who has given years of their life to an organization, but every other week some organization is having one of these fundraisers.

The worst is the stupid journal ads. Does anyone even read these things? Maybe this is a purely generational thing, but this is the height or nonsense to my mind.

They should look at how much time and money is spent on these events. I'd bet even with the lower amount of donations they'd come out roughly the same. Looking at a local yeshiva's 990, the profit margin is under 70%. I'm sure there are more creative ways to solicit money that could achieve the same money. As an added benefit, the ENTIRE donation would be tax deductible. You wouldn't have to discount your poorly cooked chicken dinner.

Miami Al said...

I prefer dinners. Arranging for a weeknight babysitter is simply part of our life so we can go out occasionally, and being served passed hors devours while having a drink makes it a night out.

Since we also support secular organizations that do happy hours, etc., it's rather novel to us to be able to eat at one of these things. I would note that outside the Jewish world, dinners are gone, the only ones I ever hear of are either Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish functions, and Boca charities soliciting largely from retired (secular) Jews.

Most secular organizations arrange either happy hours OR an event (casinos are popular) to raise money. Too many different dietary issues to coordinate dinners (vegans, vegetarians, food allergies, etc.) and people not wanting to commit to sitting at a table for four hours in the evening. Two hours with passed food and a chance to mingle/network with a 15 minute speech about the organization is just fine, we're all busy people.

I have little kids, Sunday is part of our family time, and getting a sitter Sunday morning is simply a disaster waiting to happen (as a rule, people that babysit are simply not people that wake up early on Sunday).

One of the Jewish organizations here does a dessert reception, which is just perfect. We can eat a light meal at home, show up, have a drink, listen to the speaker and maybe learn something, and then have a dessert afterwards and mingle, which is just perfect.

Maybe it's regional, but none of the frummies here know how to "dress to the nines" even by South Florida's relaxed dress code, not sure that an evening event is a problem.

I've run dinner events, standard times are 4 hours. There is absolutely no reason to run over that including an hour for cocktails and a reasonable meal.

SubWife said...


While you make good points, the reality is that dinners tend to bring more money, if done properly. The cost of the dinner to the organization is much less than you would expect, and for every couple attending a dinner at $400, the organization would need to find 3-4 couples to attend a breakfast at $100 to make the same money. Recent article from a respectable source recently mentioned that many organizations make a huge mistake by trying to attract smaller donors without anchoring the big ones first. well, these dinners are just that - part of anchoring the big donors.

I have dealt with professional fundraisers many times, and they know what they are doing.

There could be many reasons why breakfast may be a better option for this particular Bikur Cholim, but generally speaking there is a reason why some organization keep on having these expensive dinners while others have stopped having them.

Allan said...

Funny Subwife that you should mention dinners as anchoring the big donors. Sad to say that there are plenty of those big donors who wouldn't be giving the money they do if they didn't get the public recognition at a big dinner in front of lots of people. To me that has just too much gaivoh attached to it.

My wife's grandfather was a very wealthy man, his family having been here for many generations and having built up the wealth. He was asked to donate to various schools and organizations on a regular basis. And usually the request for the funds began first with 'we'd like to honor you at our dinner.' He refused every one of those honor requests. He donated money but could see no positive reason for being a guest of honor. He felt that it was honor enough that God had allowed him to build up the money he had and to give tzedaka was a requirement that he gladly did.

I'm not saying that all guests of honor at these dinners are donating only to get the public kudos, but a lot are. Is this really something that we want to be encouraging, is this really the behavior we want to show our kids? Donate money, give tzedaka because the world will bow down to you?

JS said...

The thing is, just how many truly wealthy people are there in a community or who participate in a certain organization? Organizations run these dinners every single year. Every year they honor one or two "big donors" and a bunch of "lesser" people as well. Any organization that's been around for a few years has already tapped out all its big donors. In a town that has multiple yeshivas and charities, how many more big donors can possibly be hit up for donations under the premise of honoring them? They've probably already been honored by every organization in a 50 mile radius.

These events may bring in tens of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands in profits, but it's a drop in the bucket for these organizations. A yeshiva has a $16.5 million dollar budget. Its dinner brings in just under $285k in profits. That's less than 2% of its budget. That's ridiculous. Especially when you consider that the VAST majority of these donations are forced because the parents HAVE to contribute to the dinner journal.

This is my point. These events don't bring in enough revenue to justify their existence. The rich donors are already identified and have been honored ten times over. The vast majority of donations are forced. The money raised is a drop in the bucket.

Worst of all, they select people to honor with the expectation that they're solicit (i.e., force) people they know to contribute in their honor. A friend's boss was honored by a local yeshiva and everyone who worked for the boss was basically told they had to contribute $1000 or the boss would look bad (the yeshiva basically told the boss that honoring him was contingent on raising X thousand).

How's that for Jewish values?

JS said...

Oh. I forgot the best part, the majority of people who worked for the boss were not Jewish and I doubt even knew what a yeshiva was let alone how to pronounce it.

Miami Al said...

$285k is a tremendous amount of local charity. The problem with directing it at a Yeshiva is that it is an extremely poor choice of charities to fund that way.

Charities funded via dinner-type fundraisers are best focused on high impact, low cost programs. Think of a soup kitchen, or facility for the homeless, where that kind of money could supply months of operating costs.

The problem with a Yeshiva is that MOST of it's operations are not "charity," it's an educational business. The Yeshiva has highly compensated leaders and a large portion of its customers paying high dollar figures for the services. The charitable component of the Yeshiva is in the tuition reduction/scholarship component, and here, $285,000 may (or may not) be a substantial amount of money for it. The problem is, a Yeshiva costs a LOT of money.

For $285,000, you could probably fund a Chabad House in a small town with a small Jewish population and no Orthodox presence. You could likely provide the Rabbi and Rebbetzen with reasonable salaries, housing, and cover the mortgage on the Shul. That would be a high impact use of $285,000.

Sending it into the general operating fund of a Yeshiva with 600 students means that you are subsidizing each student by $475, not a significant fund towards a $12000-$18000 education.

I think if you look at the community's charitable projects, you'd find that raising $285,000 for just about ANY OTHER cause in the community would have a real and measurable impact.

JS said...


All true, but no one thinks that way. Yeshivas suck up everyone's salaries and everyone's charity dollars. Some rabbis even let you consider a part of tuition as maaser. I'm not even sure how one affords full tuition and maaser - the amount one would have to earn is astronomical assuming 3-4 kids in yeshiva. And giving charity while receiving charity in the form of scholarships is a bit odd.

The organization I pulled the numbers from lists 645 students and $1.2 million in scholarships. This particular school does not force attendance to the dinner (though many schools do), but soliciting ads gets you out of a per family obligation.

Regardless, he dinner funds under 24% of scholarships. No idea where the rest comes from (maybe full tuition payers?). $285k over 645 students pays about $442/kid. That's about 2% of each kid's tuition.

So, yeah, $285k is a lot of money, but in my opinion it's a pittance when given to a yeshiva.

My broader point is that every yeshiva and shul and larger charity in an area has an annual dinner. In a place like Teaneck, for example, you're probably talking about 20 or so annual dinners (around 5-6 elementary schools, 3-4 high schools, 10-15 shuls). Plus dinners for "outside" organizations that people use - yeshivas in other towns, larger charities, etc.

Who hasn't been honored yet? How many big donors can there possibly be to fund all these places?

Perhaps more big picture, if a lot of the big donors are 50+ (and many are older than that), are today's 30-40 year olds going to be able to fill that role in the community in another 10-20 years? I'm doubtful.