Cornell Hillel’s Matching Gift Campaign

by Julia Levy and Joelle Milton

When you think of places to host fundraising strategy sessions, conference rooms and offices seem like logical locations. However, Cornell Hillel’s latest idea was sparked by a conversation at a bar between three young alumni. It went something like this:

Cornellian 1: So, do you like working at your company?
Cornellian 2: Yea, it’s awesome. But I’m so busy I don’t have time to date.
Cornellian 3: Yea, dating is difficult in the real world – look around us at the bar, we are just all talking to each other.
Cornellian 1: Well, you could get involved in philanthropy, and give back to Hillel. Meet some new people and give back. Did you know your company has a matching gift program – you could triple your impact?
Cornellian 2: What is a matching gift? You mean, you set me up on a date if I give money?
Cornellian 3: No, that’s not it, but that would be awesome!
Cornellian 1: Yea, I like that idea, a lot…

Two years later, Cornell Hillel launched the Matching Gift Campaign, a February-only special that offered to match young alumni who donated to Cornell Hillel on a date with other young alumni. Call it “beshert” (meant to be in Yiddish), but when we closed the matching gift form on March 1st, 36 young alumni had taken the plunge, completing an online questionnaire to help Hillel’s “matchmakers” find each donor their next date. (We loved that it wound up as a multiple of chai!)

Cornell Hillel utilized its blog (designed by Hillel’s Schusterman International Center) to spread the word about this unique opportunity to make a love connection. Its “Fall in Love on Friday” blog series featured one Cornell Jewish couple every Friday in February, and also on Valentine’s Day, to spur other young alumni to make a gift. You can still read about how Lance and Tory met at a hockey game or Itai and Lauren met while studying abroad and other cute love stories.

Now, Cornell Hillel’s matchmakers are pouring over questionnaire responses from donors. This is a momentous mission because Cornell alumni are especially eager to find their Big Red soul mate. Popular wisdom holds that 60 percent of Cornell alumni marry a fellow Cornellian, and that dozens of Cornell Jewish couples met at Shabbat services, High Holiday parties, Jewish Grad School events, or other Hillel functions.

This campaign was held in conjunction with Cornell Hillel’s Cup of Coffee Challenge, a one year campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 by the end of June. The idea is that any gift can be meaningful, as long as you are participating in the Annual Fund as a graduate. One conversation over a cup of coffee between a student and a Hillel staff member can transform his or her experience outside of the classroom for just $5, and we have encouraged young alumni to give in those increments.

Based on the early response, it appears that the Matching Gift Campaign may be more attractive to prospective donors than a traditional matching gift program, but we are hoping that it will also serve as a reminder to alumni that they can match their levels of support from their companies.

Cornell Hillel hopes to host this campaign again, and wouldn’t mind if a few other Hillels joined them in the matchmaking game.

Julia Levy is the Co-Director of Cornell Hillel, and a 2005 graduate of Cornell. Joelle Milton is a senior at Cornell University, and is the Alumni Affairs and Events Intern for Cornell Hillel. Together, they are managing these campaigns along with alumni volunteers.