Jack Ryger - Non Profit Volunteer and Philanthropist

First thing in the morning, I check my email, look at my calendar and then I make lists. I try to set goals for the week, goals for the month, quarterly goals and then onto the entire year.

Jack Ryger is a business professional with 20+ years of outstanding experience in creative fundraising and non-profit work at major health, education, and social service organizations.

Jack Ryger is a native New Yorker, and a graduate of Columbia University where he earned a B.S. in Political Science with a minor in International Affairs. He was the youngest Vice-President of the local Democratic Club, and actively involved in local, state, and national political campaigns. Both of Jack Ryger’s parents were Holocaust Survivors, which has imbued within him a strong sense of social responsibility, and led to his dedicated career in the fundraising, volunteer, and philanthropy world.

At UJA-Federation, the largest nonprofit philanthropic organization in Manhattan, Jack Ryger was a Development Executive working on Long Island’s North Shore community campaigns. Jack notably spearheaded major fundraising resulting in over $7M tangible funds raised for the organization.

In 2000, Jack Ryger was recruited as New York Development Director for American ORT. ORT is one of the largest educational and training NGO in the world, with programs in over 100 countries. It was the original model for the Peace Corps in training individuals in various professions. Jack Ryger was recruited to ORT to revitalize 5 chapters, and develop new executive leadership. Mr. Ryger started advisory groups for various chapters, which fed into executive committees and members of the board of directors. He also rebuilt and updated the contributor base, as well as major gift prospects. ORT holds a special place in Jack’s heart, as it helped train his mother as a seamstress in a Displaced Persons Camp in Bergen Belsen, Germany. Mr. Ryger is most proud of raising $45,000 for Operation Sunflower, which benefits children with cancer at Hadassah Hospital.

At UJC (now known as JFNA) Jack Ryger served as the Northeast Regional Director, working with communities and small federations in over 65 communities from Maryland to Maine, plus the state of Vermont. He raised over $2.1M and $3.45M in total cash annually, which resulted in a 20% increase in funds for the organization.

Jack Ryger currently resides in New York City with his wife and daughter. When he is not working, Jack can be found volunteering for organizations such as God’s Love We Deliver, spending time with his family and friends, and skiing all over the globe.

Where did the idea come from?

Philanthropy. Both of my parents were Holocaust survivors, so I went to work for UJA-Federation of New York

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

First thing in the morning, I check my email, look at my calendar and then I make lists. I try to set goals for the week, goals for the month, quarterly goals and then onto the entire year.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I worked at a camp that has been around for 114 years. The camp wanted to encourage people to become more involved in our fundraising efforts, and realized that we had a lot of alumni who were not contributors. So we decided to put together a mailing list and drafted a letter that was taken from an old ad campaign of famous people saying ‘What Becomes A Legend Most’, and named some of the celebrities who went to our camp including:Joseph Heller, Neil Diamond, Nancy Lieberman, and Jerry Stiller amongst others. They were examples used to encourage the community to get involved. We said that you are now a part of this group of alumni and we need you to become part of the legends as well.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Analytics and data, data being used to make connections within an organization, where before we would rely on lists and go to our board members and ask who knows this person and who knows that person. Everything used to matter based on who knows who. Nowadays, it has become easier, in some ways, that you can go online and look people up, but this is more strategic. Say you have a contributor in a profession, you can now look him up and use the data to see where he went to school, etc, and develop different contact points for how to best reach this person.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur/philanthropist?

A sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity. I will look at something and want to know more about it.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

There was a building on 13th street in Manhattan, and we were going to turn it into a residence for young disabled adults who were very high functioning as living residents. We worked with some of the board members at UJA-Federation, and were able to reach out to local leadership and have the building designated for non-profit. However, some of the funding fell through since many of the principals that had made financial commitments were no longer able to fulfill their obligations due to the market crash and investments made through Madoff. The project was not able to come to fruition.

The positive — The designation for the building remained and will now be for at-risk LGBT youth as a nonprofit entity named for actress Bea Author. It will still be used to help kids in need.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

First, a few million dollars. Then I could fund all the projects I want to. Generally speaking, I don’t like looking back, I like looking forward. All of the relationships that I’ve had have propelled me to where I am today and I don’t think things could have turned out differently.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I read continuously, I can read a little bit of everything, and am very well versed in diverse subjects. Occasionally, I can come up with a tad bit of information on the spot that I don’t even know where it came from! This can be very helpful.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

I had the opportunity to meet Horst Schulze and he took the Ritz Carlton and built it from 1 or 2 hotels into a 20 chain hotel and elevated the state of luxury within the hotel industry forever. His focus and intense attention to detail, especially related to customer service, is on a level that you cannot imagine.

I was invited to this conference by a friend who told me to come early because he locks the doors 5 minutes before the event began. Horst always elevated al the employees and felt that everyone is important. He would say to the people who work at the hotel , “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentleman.” A few select people from Apple were taught and trained at the Ritz Carlton on how to provide the ultimate in customer service at the newly opened Apple stores.

I work with donors and have to be responsive to them, show them that I care, and also show that the organization that I represent merits their contribution as well as their continued support. Attention to detail and the focus on the contributor is the most important strategy.

The concept is called a ‘Culture of Philanthropy.’ Everyone in the organization is important to the mission and goals. It’s no different than a hotel where you are catering to a client.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The building from 13th Street in Manhattan.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Tell a story. Whatever business you’re in, it has a story or a history or something important. 2 quotes come to mind from incredibly different people. One is Kevin Spacey who says,”If you are lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” The other that comes to mind, from the great Winston Churchill, who said: “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.”

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I ever spent was on a lunch date with my Dad. We had always spoken about one day going to Peter Luger’s for steak. I made a reservation and he met me at the restaurant. When one of the waiters approached our table to write down our order, I blurted out a hamburger. My father said, “no we came here for steak and we are having steak”. That was that.

It was a wonderful luncheon filled with great food and conversation. He spoke about how proud and fortunate he was to come to the United States as a refugee and a Holocaust survivor. My father spoke Polish, German, and French fluently.

The story of how he came to this country with very little money and built a business. How he managed to engage in the commerce of textiles which was known as the “schmata business”. My father had a thick European accent and his manner of speech took on some rare forms. There was a continuous stream of malapropisms similar to Yogi Berra’s. For example, He could not pronounce Massachusetts. It came out as the more colorful, Massachoochee. The Merritt Parkway became a happier highway known as the “Merry Parkway”. And last but not least, the time he wrote to the Life Savers Company.

“Dear Gentleman,

I am sending you back your “Live Savers” gum which I bought at Waldbaums. The gum was “rotten” and I spit it out. Please send me new gum.
Thank you.”

The stories made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. I acknowledged that I was equally as proud of him and his travails in a new country with a bizarre and difficult language which had so many grammatical rules that were completely alien to him.

The steaks were phenomenal and we wound up sharing a big ice cream sundae. Before we left, I picked up the check and paid it. This was the first time that he let me pay the bill. Upon leaving I gave him a kiss on the cheek, something that I never do and then we said our goodbyes. Almost a year later he was gone, but the memories from that special lunch were the best $100, I ever spent.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I like Linkedin a lot, it allows me to stay connected. Lexisnexis platform for nonprofits is also great because it is very in depth. There is a new one that I like called, Relationship Science, based on relationship driven intelligence.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Autobiography of Lee Kuan Yew. It is the story of how to build an organize a new nation.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Winston Churchill, Joan Rivers, Lee Kuan Yew, and John F. Kennedy.

These are examples of people who persevered and triumphed in dealing with and overcoming great adversity in their lives.

Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister of Singapore. His duty was to transform a British colony and turn it into a functioning independent government.Mr. Yew had to think about how to make a small island function independently as a country when it was cut off from being a part of the British empire. LKY came to the conclusion that Singapore needed to be a world-class country. The country underwent a transformation by breaking down geographical boundaries within the state.He dismantled The British,native Malays,and Chinese enclaves by tearing down all of the old physical neighborhoods and building new communities where every ethnic group lived together.Education was his #1 priority, and medical care was #2. He instituted a lot of laws, was very authoritarian but maintained an orderly and clean environment for all. As Prime Minister, he traveled to Israel and saw how their economy had developed. From his travels he observed and incorporate ideas from all over the world and used them to turn Singapore into a world-class and enterprising power within Southeast Asia.


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