Elie Klein is a skinny guy from Baltimore. At the recent Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, he was in-role as a marketing professional for Finn Partners Israel, shaking hands and working the crowd.
He had a lot of energy. But then again, it was only days after the launch of his third annual Dough for Donuts campaign. By Dec. 16, Klein, 32, who now lives in Beit Shemesh, Israel, will have eaten 125 sufganiyot (traditional Chanukah doughnuts) and raised $18,000 for charities around the world.
It all started in 2009, when Klein and a few of his neighbors made a gentlemen’s bet on who could eat the most sufganiyot between Rosh Chodesh Kislev (the start of the Hebrew month of Kislev) and the end of Chanukah. The young men updated their Twitter and Facebook statuses to brag and “keep score.”
“I lost miserably,” said Klein, “but vowed to claim the top spot the next year.”
In 2010, the bet was on again. Klein joked with his wife, Baltimore native Leezy Leibtag, that since he was eating so many sufganiyot anyway, perhaps someone should sponsor him. He made that same mocking suggestion a few days later on Facebook.
“My wife’s cousin saw the comment and met the challenge, pledging $10 per sufganiya to the charity of my choice,” recalled Klein. “Moments later, a neighbor of mine decided to join in on the fun and pledged 10 shekels per sufganiya to another charity.”
Klein updated his status to let his friends know that he had an “altruistic” reason for savoring the oily doughy doughnuts. He thanked his sponsors.
“Moments later, another neighbor sent me a message and let me know that he had named my new initiative and created a Facebook event for it. The ‘Dough for Donuts’ campaign was born, and the pledges started rolling in,” said Klein. “Every time I updated my Facebook status and the event page with the names of new donors and the per-sufganiya amounts pledged, I received several more pledges.”
The first year, Klein ate 70 doughnuts and raised around $9,000 for 44 charitable causes around the world. In 2011, he consumed 105, raising $13,000 for 83 causes. By the end of this year, a year Klein is considering to be his grand finale, he will have eaten in total, over the three-year period, 300 doughnuts and raised $37,500.
The funds go to no specific charity; Klein asks his donors not to give to a specific cause, but rather just to give. He said everyone has a charity he or she believes in, and Dough for Donuts gives each person a reason to open his or her wallet and support those causes.
This year, recipients include Hurricane Sandy relief funds, Israel-based nonprofit programs and several Baltimore charities.
Klein does no direct marketing of his work. He said that as a public relations professional he is fascinated by the viral nature of this campaign and has learned a great deal about what social media can achieve for nonprofits.
Lucky for Klein, while he is a magnet for the money, he is not one for the pounds. He said he is yet to gain a single pound from the campaign.
“I was blessed with a very fast meta-bolism. Donating my stomach to charity is my way of paying it forward,” he said.
Does he feel satisfied by his work? Sure, said Klein. He considers himself a catalyst.
“I am simply a charity spark plug,” he said. “I am the barometer and the sideshow.”
Maayan Jaffe is JT managing editor — firstname.lastname@example.org