Memo to fundraisers for major Jewish organizations; if you want to raise significant funds among young, upwardly mobile Russian Jews, you had better get hip to the potential of using social networking sites.
That’s what Alex Budnitskiy, the longtime associate executive director and recently appointed executive director and CEO of the Marks Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, figured out when he set up a Young Adult Chapter–Marks JCH Alumni Network Facebook Page last fall and followed up on April 18 by announcing “18 on the 18th,” an $18,000 fundraising campaign to provide scholarships for summer programs at Marks JCH, such as the day camp, Maccabi Games and Arts Fest. Scores of JCH alumni in their 20s and 30s, many of them well launched in careers in business, accounting, law and other fields, flocked to the Facebook page to post photos and stories from their long-ago days at the ‘J’. When Budnikskiy announced the fundraising campaign, many put up new posts to confirm they would contribute.
Just five weeks after launching the campaign, Budnitskiy was able to announce that JCH had passed its $18,000 goal. More gifts have continued pouring in since, making it possible to offer substantial scholarship aid to families who would otherwise have been unable to afford summer activities.
Budnitskiy, an energetic and tech-savvy 42-year-old who is the second Russian Jew (after Leonard Petlakh executive director of the Kings Bay Y) to rise to the top professional position at a UJA-Federation-affiliated agency, said that the one-two punch of the Facebook page and the fundraising campaign had exceeded all expectations. According to Bukdnitskiy, “Not only did we meet our fundraising goals, but even more significantly, we created a mechanism to reach out to alumni who remember their time here fondly and were excited to reconnect.”
“For decades, the conventional wisdom among Jewish organizations is that Russian Jews don’t have the philanthropic instinct, except for the handful of wealthy Russian Jews who make large gifts to the UJA-Federation Russian Division. We have shown that if you use social networking technology to connect with young Russian professionals, they are more than ready to open their wallets to help the next generation enjoy the same wonderful activities at the ‘J’ they themselves once experienced,” he added.
Anton Gorshkov, 30, an IT professional at Goldman Sachs, wrote, “I am so glad we created this page on Facebook. Some people have not talked to each other for past 10-12 years!!! Now they DO! JCH brought them together. Like in old times! Right now we’re trying to raise money for Youth Scholarships so that underserved kids can go to summer camp – the same camp I worked in 13 years ago. This is why I am giving!”
According to Budnitskiy, the JCC Alumni Facebook page has been a boon not only for successful alumni, but also for some enduring more difficult times.
“One woman wrote to me that she would have liked to make a contribution, but she has been out of work for over a year and is broke,” he said. “I wrote back urging her to send her resumé so that I could connect her to our job placement service, which is now working to try to find her a job.”
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