By Lianne Kolirin
Charities have been hard hit by the pandemic, as lockdowns and social distancing measures have made many fundraising initiatives all but impossible.
Gala dinners, supper quizzes, international challenges and other fundraisers have been postponed or cancelled, leaving many organisations in financial difficulty.
But an initiative started within the Jewish community has not only thrown a lifeline to struggling organisations, but also seen their revenues sky rocket.
More and more Jewish charities are tapping into the new concept which has enabled them to raise seven figure sums in a matter of hours, thanks to former furniture salesman Yitzi Bude.
In November Chai Cancer Care set out to raise £1.5million with its Big C campaign. It more than doubled that amount within just 36 hours.
In February Camp Simcha, which supports seriously ill children, appealed for £2million. It exceeded that goal by well over a million pounds as just under 22,000 people offered their support.
Earlier this month Gesher school raised over £2.2million – almost double its original target – to build a permanent new building for children with special needs.
So how does this crowdfunding platform differ from the many already out there?
Other sites operate a “one size fits all” approach, according to Bude, 35, who stumbled across the idea while trying to raise money for his son’s school.
“I found it really, really difficult,” said the father-of-three. “I didn’t want to do a gala event and there’s a lot of people who won’t want to do something like that.
“Online is even more difficult as the sites are very much one size fits all. You launch a campaign and you look the same as everyone else. You login and you send out a link.”
At the same time he had taken on a team of developers to work on custom-made technology for his furniture business – and so together they came up with the winning formula.
The concept is simple. Bude’s organisation, Charity Extra, is a digital platform whose success relies on word of mouth support. Once a campaign is set up online, supporters are encouraged to blitz every friend, relative, colleague and all their other contacts with details of the campaign – which normally gives supporters just hours to hit a huge target.
In addition to providing a technical platform, Bude’s company – which he now runs full time employing 24 staff – offers round-the-clock support and guidance.
A successful campaign has three key elements, according to Bude: limited time to donate, matching funders and volunteers to spread the word.
He told the Religion Media Centre: “We are very much about putting on a bespoke fundraising platform for a charity. We do it as a quick burst. We want campaigns to go viral by making them exciting. We get as many people as possible all asking their contacts for support at the same time.”
Emotive texts, WhatsApp messages and social media alerts call on prospective donors to support the bumper fundraisers. These are often accompanied by heartfelt personal stories and videos and the vast majority also feature a pledge from existing donors to double the amount raised within the set timeframe.
Bude is a member of the Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon, north-west London, which is where he first focussed his attention after starting Charity Extra in October 2019.
But as his campaigns not only hit but exceeded their targets, more and more organisations sat up and took note. Huge amounts have been raised for a wealth of community groups including schools, hospices and even the Community Security Trust, which protects the community and monitors antisemitic incidents.
Now the concept is fast spreading beyond the confines of the Jewish community, as charities are realising the huge potential with limited overheads, according to Bude.
“There’s a lot of psychology behind what we do,” he said. The short window of opportunity compels people to act fast, while a feature on the site which shows donations immediately doubling also compelling people to up what they give.
Many campaigns feature a leader board, showing which of the supporters has generated the most income through their network of contacts.
“It’s really important that we make the campaigns different and exciting. People start to talk and say look how much money has been raised and it goes viral. The more people that come, the more money they make. It can only be done if working in a very pressured timeframe.”
Though the concept was born months before anyone in Britain had ever heard of Covid-19, timing has been everything. Over the last 20 months, Bude has helped raise £120m for charity.
“The concept was a lifesaver for charities during the pandemic,” he said. “They desperately needed funds because their services were needed more than ever but they were unable to raise funds.We were raising about a million a month before the pandemic and are now raising 2 to 3 million a week at least.”
It could have taken years to establish the concept, but now Bude’s diary is packed with back to back campaigns for the next year and beyond.
His is a commercial entity and while he will not be drawn on specifics, the amount paid out to Charity Extra is “a small percentage”, he told the RMC.
“The charities have all said that any other fundraising method costs five to ten times more to put on and it probably makes half of the amount.
“We thought we were going to be doing about one or two campaigns a month for about a year or two – but it has been phenomenal. It has completely overtaken what anyone else thought was possible in terms of raising funds. Charities have raised more funds through us than ever before.”