With UJA-Federationí’ annual campaign running $4.5 million ahead of last year, the organization is now gearing up to stage a unique auction that it hopes will help push the campaign close to the $130 million mark when it ends June 30.
"This is the second straight year that we will be coming in significantly ahead," said Stephen Solender, the organization’s executive vice president. "This comes at a time when we are facing strong competition from a lot of other philanthropies and when there has been controversy in Israel. So this result is particularly outstanding."
Paul Kane, senior vice president in charge of the annual campaign, said that should the campaign raise $130 million, it will have increased $12 million over two years: the largest such increase of its kind. He attributed the increase to the fact that volunteers are spending more time talking to people about the campaign.
"When people understand the scope of our activities, they are more likely to make an increased gift," said Kane.
In addition, he said that each of the organization’s divisions has held "spectacular events" that have been upgraded in the last three years, making them the "place to be."
"And we continue to be entrepreneurial with things like Fashion Rescue and this year’s auction," said Kane.
In addition, he said a lot of investment was made in the last three years in educating baby boomers about the work of UJA-Federation.
"It’s starting to pay off because more and more of that population is starting to contribute," said Kane.
Of course, the driving factor behind the increased donations is the booming economy. But Solender pointed out that "you have to be positioned to take advantage of it. We have a strong campaign organization and good communication with the community."
Although there will be about 100 local fund-raising events between now and the end of the campaign, all eyes are focused on June 7 for what promises to be the auction to end all auctions, according to its co-chairman, Howard Rubenstein. Called "An Evening of Dreams," it is billed as a "gala cocktail reception and spectacular auction to celebrate UJA-Federationís continuing tradition of caring and compassion."
To be held at Christieís at 20 Rockefeller Plaza, Rubenstein, the New York publicist who is co-chairing the event with his wife, Amy, said he has "never seen such enthusiasm over something like this. If it works, I think it will become an annual event. Over the years, it could become the best charity auction ever."
He said everyone who was asked to donate something made a contribution: and many of the items can’t be bought elsewhere. For instance, a vice chair of the event, George Steinbrenner, donated something special for Yankee fans.
The lucky bidder and a friend, child or spouse will be flown to Boston to sit in the ownerís box and watch a weekend series between the Yankees and Red Sox. While in Boston, the winning bidder will stay overnight in the team’s hotel, and fly back to New York with the team on its charter flight after the Sunday game. To remember the occasion, the winner will receive a 1999 autographed team ball.
Another unusual item is titled, "Music, music, music." It includes two front-row seats at a Michael Bolton concert, including backstage passes. Then, the winning bidder and three guests are invited to a concert of the New York Philharmonic, followed by a champagne reception with the orchestra’s musical director, Kurt Mazur. Later, the winner and a guest are invited to join Marvin Hamlisch for lunch. Finally, the winner and three guests are invited to a performance at the Metropolitan Opera, and later to lunch with the chairman of Lincoln Center, Beverly Sills.
Rubenstein noted that other celebrities and famous personalities have agreed to take winning bidders to lunch or breakfast. Among them are the entertainer Regis Philbin, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, financier Alan Greenberg and hotelier Leona Helmsley. And singer Bruce Springstein is providing two front row tickets to his concert, plus giving the winning bidder an autographed electric guitar after the concert.
Invitations were sent to 5,000 donors and 400 have already made reservations. Ron Brien, UJAís entertainment division campaign director, said there is also admission at the door. For benefactors (those contributing $1,000) a special preview of the auction at 6 p.m. will be held. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. for everyone else, including patrons (those contributing $360) and for general admission tickets, which cost $75.