The Launch of the 1880 Society


Prominent ORT supporters join the 1880 Society by signing the prestigious scroll of honour. The launch at the General Assembly of a society for major donors has been hailed a breakthrough by the new president of World ORT, Sir Maurice Hatter. Sir Maurice was among the exclusive gathering of founder members of the 1880 Society held during the General Assembly. The 1880 Society takes its name from the date of the founding of ORT. In 1880, influential Russian industrialists Samuel Poliakov and Baron Horace de Gunzburg wrote to 10,000 Jews throughout the Russian empire asking them to contribute to a fund that would be used to alleviate the poverty of millions of their fellow Jews by providing them with the tools and training to make a decent living. Within a short time more than 200,000 Roubles – the equivalent today of about $10 million – had been raised. ‘The formation of the 1880 Society is proof that the spirit of philanthropy that guided those generous donors 124 years ago is still alive today,’ World ORT Director General, Robert Singer told the founder members at the event, which was attended by former World ORT President and UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Lord Young of Graffham; Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Hon. Dr. Irwin Cotler; and Ambassador Martin Indyk, Former US Ambassador to Israel and Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. ‘It is remarkable,’ Mr Singer added, ‘that the aims and ideals of ORT’s founding fathers are as relevant today as they were then, and that there are still warm-hearted and charitable individuals who are prepared to continue to support this mission.’ The 1880 Society is the brainchild of the newly elected president of Women’s American ORT, Judy Menikoff. During her term as chairman of the World ORT fundraising committee, Ms Menikoff pressed for the formation of a structure that would attract and nurture major donors. ‘The launch of the 1880 Society was the fruition of three years of discussion. The idea had been embraced, but bringing something from an idea to reality is always something rather complicated,’ she said. Sir Maurice told the World ORT Times that he was grateful to Ms Menikoff for her ‘excellent idea’ and industry, although Ms Menikoff stressed that the society’s successful launch resulted from a collaborative effort ‘between the lay and professional leadership, primarily from the donor countries’. The 1880 Society is seen as a crucial component of World ORT’s four-year strategic plan to increase the organisation’s worldwide fundraising revenue from $19 million to $25 million a year. In order to join the society, a donor is required to commit him/herself to a minimum pledge of $100,000 over three years. Other levels are $250,000 over three years and $500,000, the latter entitling the donor to life membership. ‘The society puts us on a par with other Jewish organisations,’ Ms Menikoff said. ‘ORT deserves more recognition than it’s given by the wider Jewish philanthropic community and this is the kind of thing that is offered by other fund raising organisations. This is true fund raising. I just knew it was going to work.’ However, she admitted to being pleasantly surprised by just how enthusiastic the response to the initiative turned out to be. ‘When we first proposed this society we had anticipated perhaps 25 people becoming interested in time for the launch,’ she said. ‘In fact we had 37 people sign up and by the time the GA was over we had an additional three. We would never have anticipated that we would have six gold level donors by now, but we do. People are so keen that some who haven’t been approached to join have asked why not. The only reason is that time pressures prevented us from contacting everyone who might have been eligible. And this is only the kick-off; I’m hoping that it will grow exponentially.’ The 1880 Society scroll Although discussions on setting up a major donors’ group have been on going for three years, actual solicitation of members for the 1880 Society started only two months before its launch, on the second night of the General Assembly. The launch itself was strictly invitation-only to maintain the gathering’s exclusivity. The speed with which the society had been set up, however, meant that about half the founding members were unable to attend. Their names will be added on their behalf to those signed at the launch on the commemorative parchment scroll that has been specially designed in Jerusalem for the occasion. Guests at the one-hour inauguration were charmed with a piano recital by 11-year-old twins Sofiya and Veronika Sazonova. Their school, ORT School#94 in Odessa, is funded by Milton and Shirley Gralla, who are among the 1880 Society’s founders. In recognition of their generosity, members will receive bronze, silver or gold medals according to their donation. Specially minted for World ORT by the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation, the medals feature portraits of ORT’s three founding fathers on one side and the name of the Israeli capital in 12 languages on the other. Sonia Gomes de Mesquita, head of World ORT’s International Liaison Department, said members would receive regular, personalised reports on how their money was being used and invitations to participate in prestigious annual missions to see at first hand how they have helped to improve the lives of students, teachers and their communities. In addition, conference calls and briefings featuring renowned individuals will be arranged for them. ‘We want to do everything we can to ensure that our major donors not only feel secure that their money is being put to good use but also that they feel appreciated,’ Ms Gomes de Mesquita said. ‘It’s important that we understand our donors’ expectations because by meeting them we can hope to draw our supporters deeper within the embrace of the ORT family.’ The 1880 Society will also provide a comfortable social setting for major donors with the additional attraction of providing an international network of professionals and businesspeople. Among the founding members at the launch were Mauricio Merikanskas (Mexico), Robert Equey (Switzerland), Carolyn Gold and Eileen and Robert Sill (USA), and Renette and David Berman (Canada) – as well as representatives of grant making institutions such as the Meyer Foundation, and other supporters. ‘It’s inspiring people to give more,’ Ms Menikoff said. ‘The society provides a focus for people. The cachet of being with people of like mind globally made it easier to raise the donations.’ However, the formation of the 1880 Society does not mean that the enormous contribution made by smaller donors has been forgotten. ‘ORT was founded by people who wanted to take a single rouble from every person they could,’ Ms Menikoff said. ‘That was splendid then and it’s still valued today. But today’s projects are so complex and cutting edge that they require more money, so we need people with the belief in our mission and the financial ability to back it. It doesn’t mean that a person who gives ORT just a dollar or a pound is any less committed to its goals, or any less appreciated. It’s just that we need to reach out to those who are able to provide large support. And these people have to feel particularly special because they are.’ Prominent ORT supporters join the 1880 Society by signing the prestigious scroll of honour. 28 June 2004