www.purimproject.com email: jeff.kern@purimproject.com telephone: 203-404-0671
Today we’re chatting with Hazzan Michael Weis from the Cantor’s Assembly.
Jeff: Hi Mike. Thanks for volunteering to share your experience with Purim Project. For starters, could you share a
bit about the Cantor’s Assembly? Your mission overall?
Mike: The Cantor’s Assembly is a membership-based
organization of cantors who mostly serve in the
Conservative movement in the United States and have
members in other countries. We are located all over the
place, because the congregations that we serve are
located all over the country and that's where our
members are. The purpose of the Cantor’s Assembly is
to do whatever we can to help our members obtain and
retain good jobs and salaries, to be a kind of matchmaker between
congregations that are seeking cantors, and our members who are seeking a congregation.
Jeff: With few exceptions, Purim Project customers are synagogues and schools, and these have a defined
Community. Cantor’s Assembly is unique in that way. How would you characterize your community?
Cantor’s Assembly is spread out over such a wide geographical area, and opportunities to see one another are so
limited. It really does create significant challenges in the creation and sustaining of the community. It’s rare for us
to actually have opportunities to be together in one place, which is why any kind of activity that we can do to
create a feeling of comradery, knowing that there are others out there facing the same challenges, is a good thing.
Jeff: At Purim Project we often talk about the community building benefit. How
has that worked for CA?
Mike: Purim Project has become the most significant community-building
project of the year. It's not necessarily because of the number of people that
we've involved, because I think our annual convention still beats us by a little
bit, but some of the other opportunities are out of the question for some
members. And how are they going to be made to feel a part of what’s
happening with their colleagues? We’ve gotten letters saying that Purim Project
was one of the nicest things that the Assembly has ever done, and has made
members feel so much a part of what we’re doing. That's a priceless response
and one that tells us that we’re doing something right.
Jeff: Do you remember how you got involved with Purim Project four years ago? What made you pursue the
project and what did you know about it in advance?
Mike: When I was at JTS we had a similar kind of project. I don't know what system they used. It seemed like it
must have been some kind of internal system. It was very funky but it was basically the same idea: you could pick
out of a list of all the people, faculty, students and staff, and you determined what charities you want your
donations to go to. I thought that was such a brilliant idea, and I started looking around to see what options were
out there to run this kind of project. I came across you and I think one other option, and what I saw on your
“We’ve gotten letters
saying that Purim
Project was one of the
nicest things that the
Assembly has ever
done...that’s a priceless
www.purimproject.com email: jeff.kern@purimproject.com telephone: 203-404-0671
website made it look like it was probably going to be the right choice. And when I brought the idea to the
Executive Vice President he said “sounds like a great idea, go for it!”.
Jeff: That's great. And so tell me how it works: you’re the administrator of the project, and is there anyone else
Mike: There are a number of people. The office staff of CA is located in Ohio and has become an integral part of
this whole thing. They provide us with the data of our members that gets loaded into the system, and they track
all the transactions that go through PayPal. Once it comes time to put the packages together I assemble a team of
volunteers from my area, which is New York City, and we all get together
and have a kind of a package party. This year we decided to expand the
project and to infuse a marketing aspect to the project. In addition to our
members we sent a package to every single Rabbi and Search Chair of all
of our members’ congregations, as well as all the congregations that are
currently listed with CA who are looking for cantors. We have almost 600
CA members, and this year we sent close to a thousand packages.
Jeff: And how do you distribute the packages to members?
Mike: We do it by US Mail. I have a caterer in town that makes really good
Hamentashens, I give her the number we need, we then package them up
in glassine bags and put them in a small box that's not going to get
crushed in the mail.
Jeff: Has anything changed or evolved since you’ve become a Purim Project customer four years ago, both in terms
of the software, and also your processes and approach to the project?
Mike: Well the software has definitely evolved. There
are a lot of tools that magically appeared without any
effort on your part [laughing]...there are a lot of great
tools that you guys have put in there. I’ve been much
more proactive in using the tools, like the use of the
email groups and sending targeted emails: being able
to reach out to the people who logged in but haven't made selections, versus the people who haven't logged in at
all this year. It’s really been helpful and I used it a lot more this year than I used in past years. I really appreciate
how responsive you guys are to every single query, question or suggestion. Also, knowing that if I have 15 people
who said they were going to help with packaging, that it’s going to likely end up half that, and having to make sure
that I have enough labor to actually handle the packaging. I have had to hire people to come in and help just to
make sure I don’t get shorthanded. Cantors are clergy and we are often called to go the hospital or cemetery. I
can't tell you how many times I had people call to say there were planning on coming but they have to go to the
hospital or cemetery.
Jeff: In terms of fundraising, what were your original expectations versus the actual outcome?
Mike: Actually in the first year I had no idea what to expect. I really didn't know. It was kind of a shot in the dark
since we never did anything like this before. The first year we grossed $8,000 and four years later we did more
than three times that much. I now think that we have the potential to double where we are now. Our annual
convention is currently our largest fundraiser of the year and it’s funded through sponsorships, but I think that our
“I suppose that the thing
that evolved the most is just
my level of organization,
and knowing what it's going
to take to get my team