Is There a Sergey Brin in Your History?

It was announced last week that billionaire Google co-founder Sergey Brin had made a $1 million gift to HIAS, the organization that helped the then 6 year-old and his family escape anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and establish themselves in the United States.

It was heartening to read that one very successful American was reintroduced to the organization that played so important a role in giving his family a second chance and that they chose to make an important contribution to help it continue to create those opportunities for others.

While there aren’t many Sergey Brin stories around, there are so many Jewish people who either benefited from or helped build some of the most venerable, legacy Jewish nonprofits in the country. In the dusty and (too often) neglected historic records of these organizations lies fallow a powerful asset. Here are the names of tens of thousands of people. They or their descendants might still care about your organization; might welcome a call or letter from you.

The task of mining the names and unearthing the stories of families and individuals who passed through a nonprofit’s doorway is often low on the priority list. Too often, it’s only when an important anniversary celebration approaches that anyone decides it is time to find a few old-timers to join in the telling of the organizational history. Yet, the example of Sergey Brin and his family’s gift to HIAS offers a lesson worth learning.

First, not every person in your files is necessarily an octogenarian. Lots of younger people are among those listed.

Lots of people who had even a brief connection with your organization might still be interested in hearing from you – especially if you have done your homework and communicate with a message that is relevant to them.

Finally, not only might you reconnect with people who have the means and desire to give a donation, but just as importantly, you are likely to capture the invaluable stories that shaped your organization and that will continue to give life to its value and purpose.

In the case of HIAS, the Sergey Brin gift brought, in addition to the gift itself, extraordinary publicity that told the world about the HIAS mission, its value to refugees and, not importantly its value to the nation as a whole.

So, send someone down to your archives or records room and have them search for the names of those who built, contributed to, received services from, or worked at your organization. It just might be the best investment you ever made.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.