Homer Simpson was right: donuts can do just about anything. When coupled with hard work and a little ingenuity, that is.
For the last three Hanukkah seasons, I have raised tens of thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations around the world…by eating donuts. (Feel free to read that again, if necessary.)
What began as a gentlemen’s bet regarding which one of my neighbors could eat the most sufganiyot (Hanukkah-style donuts) between Rosh Chodesh Kislev (the first day of the Jewish month of Kislev, the beginning of the holiday season) and the end of Hanukkah, morphed into a beloved annual tradition and fundraising campaign, aptly known as “Dough for Donuts.” Via a dedicated Facebook event page, friends, family and complete strangers pledged generous dollar and shekel amounts to their favorite causes and charities for every sufganiya that I ate.
In 2010, I consumed 70 donuts and raised $9,100 for 44 causes; in 2011, I dwarfed the previous year’s effort by eating 105 donuts and raising $13,000 for 83 causes. This holiday season (the campaign’s final manifestation), I choked down 125 donuts and raised $17,900 for 111 causes.
Three years, 300 donuts, and $40,000 for charity. It was quite a ride.
Was it unhealthy? Absolutely. Crazy? Perhaps. But it was also a rewarding and truly unforgettable experience, one from which I learned a great deal about…well, just about everything.
In honor of the past “eight crazy nights,” here are the top eight things I learned (and re-learned) over the campaign’s three-year run:
(1) My Wife has been incredibly supportive. In fact, the level of her involvement in this campaign truly surprised me. She could have easily sat this one out. I would have understood entirely. But she realized that it was important to me, so it instantly became important to her as well. From purchasing the requisite donuts for me on the weekends to talking up the campaign on and off Facebook to cheering me on (literally) when the going got tough, my wife’s participation was the “secret sauce” for this extraordinary success.
(2) Everyone loves a spectacle. P.T. Barnum was on to something. Whether remarkable, terrifying or repulsive, a spectacle draws you in. “Dough for Donuts” worked because it was a true spectacle. Unusual, entertaining, and a little gross, it caught and held the attention of hundreds of people for a full 31 days, year after year after year – no easy task. In fact, complete strangers felt compelled to join the campaign because they “just had to get in on the fun.”
(3) Everyone has a favorite cause. The campaign was never about convincing others to give to any one cause but rather just to give. Throughout the campaign, I was simply a charity spark plug, the barometer and the sideshow. I never steered any donations toward a specific cause, and I never needed to. Every donor came to the table with a cause or charity in mind, one that they believed in and connected with. The campaign simply gave them “an excuse” to finally open their wallets and support those causes.
(4) Fundraising is an extreme sport. More often than not, the act of giving requires us to take several huge steps out of our comfort zones. Fundraising, on the other hand, requires more extreme measures. People don’t like to part ways with their hard-earned cash, so if you plan on selling them a charitable opportunity, you had better “bring it”…and be willing to pull out all the stops.
(5) We must own our accomplishments. Though I’ve been meticulous about recording the pledges made throughout the campaign, I have not been keeping track of the number of donut jokes that have been hurled my way over the last three years. And I’m not sure that I could have – they have been plentiful. No, they never really bothered me. From the very beginning, I understood that they were all part of the package; they were an element of the “fun” that colored the campaign. Like the huge, embarrassing picture of me eating a sufganiya that appeared in the Hebrew-language daily Maariv last month. Or the seemingly unending barrage of questions about my health, weight, and gastric capacity. I happily took it all in stride knowing that the pledges flowed as freely as the ridicule. While it’s strange being known as the “donut guy,” the fundraising accomplishments associated with that moniker are a source of great pride. I am more than happy to take the good with the bizarre.
(6) Everything in moderation. Of course, I realize the importance of a balanced diet. And while many don’t believe it, I eat rather well. Still, I do have a serious sweet tooth, and a part of me needed to actually see that there can be too much of a good thing. (Yes, like Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me. Can we move on?) Will I change my eating habits dramatically? No. But there will be some changes. For example, I may just eat half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting from now on. Everyone at his own level.
(7) United we stand, divided we fall. This one’s pretty simple. If we all pitch in and do our share, if we extend our hands and hearts outward, if we give more than we take, we will not only repair the world but become that “light unto the nations” we’re always talking about. However, if we turn our backs on each other, we should definitely expect the worst. Lights out.
(8) I don’t really like sufganiyot. While I have always loved donuts (and still do), I was never a huge fan of their less flavorful Jewish cousins. Still, I bit the bullet (over and over and over again) for the greater good. After ingesting 300 of those slimy suckers, I am now quite certain that I do not like them, Sam I Am. (Don’t give me any lip until you’re actually snacking on your 300th sufganiya.)
As a non-profit public relations professional and a proponent of charitable giving, here’s my parting shot:
I think it’s high time that cash-strapped non-profits ditch their old playbooks for some truly spectacular out-of-the-box thinking. Easier said than done? Well, they will never know until they try.
With a virtually endless sea of giving opportunities, non-profits must do everything possible to become ever-present in our lives, to snag a spot in our top of mind awareness. This may entail each organization devoting time, money, and resources to teaching several old dogs numerous new tricks, but it will be well worth the trouble in the long run.
As for the rest of us, while standing in solidarity with a cause is important, it doesn’t pay the bills or move initiatives forward. We must condition ourselves to require fewer ”excuses” to translate our support into deeds and donations.
So, keep that charity flowing, and we, like donuts, will be able to accomplish just about anything.