Driving an Aston Martin across a frozen Iceland lake. Meeting the pope. Golfing with a U.S. president. Sitting on stage during an Elton John concert.
These are among the experiences—all benefiting charity—that Israel Schachter, 42, the Toronto-based director of CharityBids, has arranged for philanthropically minded adventurers.
“Your craziest idea is our Tuesday afternoon,” he told JNS.
His work has brought him into contact with Wolfgang Puck, Elton John, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx and Usher.
“What I love about this business is that I am always up for a challenge, and every day presents new challenges,” he said. “I love being creative and thinking outside the box, especially in this space, when so much money is being raised for great causes.”
A history of charity
Schachter, who comes from a prominent Orthodox rabbinic family, has been involved in organizing charity events since high school. At 19, he planned a concert benefiting the United Hatzalah of Israel, an event that continues to this day.
Years later, friends asked him to help organize a golf tournament auction to benefit Zareinu, now known as Kayla’s Children’s Centre, a nonprofit that helps children with special needs. In two weeks, the group had solicited more than $200,000 worth of products from companies, to auction off, Schachter told JNS.
“That set off a light bulb in my head,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, people are willing to give product and services, and we’ll make a lot more than money sometimes.’”
The auction raised more than $52,000, which was the most the organization had ever made from an auction, according to Schachter. The charity was thrilled, but Schachter thought that it had thousands of people in its database that hadn’t been in the room and thus hadn’t been tapped.
“If only the auction had been made available to them—online,” he said.
In 2008, he and colleagues hired a full-time programmer and spent a year building an auction platform. Soon, charities were signing up, and the timing—during a recession—was fortuitous, according to Schachter.
“We were there at perfect timing because so many people who were otherwise supporting organizations by giving them money were now giving ‘in kind’ donations, and many organizations were canceling their scheduled galas and events, and were moving to online fundraising initiatives instead,” he said. “We were right there at the right time to help.”
Celebrity fan pages
To add “legitimacy” to the operation, which ran out of the living room of Schacther’s friend Ronen Lazar, the group registered the company in the United States, using the Fifth Avenue mailing address in Manhattan of a friend’s business.
Soon someone from the office of Robert L. Johnson—the first black billionaire in America and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television—had left a message asking for a meeting in New York. (Johnson sold B.E.T. to Viacom for $3 billion.)
Johnson had tasked his son Brett with figuring out what to do with memorabilia he accumulated over the years from his celebrity friends. The younger Johnson was impressed with the platform that Schachter, and colleagues Lazar and Charlie Ifrah, had created.
Together with Johnson, they created a new brand and website, Club Charity. Many of Johnson’s friends became clients: Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Emmitt Smith, then of the Dallas Cowboys.
The auctions took place on the celebrities’ websites and within their fan pages on Facebook.
Schachter recalled that Joe Green—former roommate of Mark Zuckerberg and then head of the online causes section of Facebook—told him in a meeting that the idea wouldn’t go anywhere. Green didn’t think anyone would input that much data, or complete transactions, on a social-networking site, according to Schachter.
“We were five years ahead of our time,” he said.
In 2008, Chai Lifeline Canada, a charity for ill children, had a single staff member who shared office space with someone who helped people fight speeding tickets.
True to form, Schachter had a big idea: Rather than taking decades to build a brand, “do something so freaking big and let people know you are here, and here to stay,” he told JNS.
The big idea? World-famous cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot performing with a choir of 50 and a 65-piece orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
“Overnight, the Chai Lifeline brand, and the event, were everywhere,” Schachter said.
He told JNS that Chai Lifeline would have been happy to break even, with just 2,000 people learning about the nonprofit. But the event raised $750,000, according to Schachter. “It put the organization on the map,” he said.
Chai Lifeline has since become the largest Jewish pediatric support organization in Canada, he said.
When Will Smith was in Toronto filming “Suicide Squad” in 2016, Schachter arranged for some ill children to visit the set. The film crew treated them well, even seating them in director chairs.
“Will would ask the kids, ‘Which take do you think was best? Which one should we use?’” Schachter said. “They felt like they were important, making real decisions.”
Another treat for the kids was hobnobbing with the musician Drake at concerts. They rode in a limousine, had dinner, attended the concert and met the hip-hop star backstage.
One “experience” now on offer to clients came by accident. Schachter and his family were vacationing in Italy and heard of an old silk factory in Florence that still uses machines of Leonardo da Vinci’s design. Schachter finagled a tour of the factory, now run by famed designer Stefano Ricci.
He bought some fabric as a souvenir, and when he asked if Ricci could use it to design a tie for him, the staff scoffed. But Schachter found a way. His friend the acclaimed opera singer Andrea Bocelli is friends with Ricci and called in a favor. Now Schachter has a Ricci-designed tie made on da Vinci equipment. Schachter’s clients can now purchase, to benefit charity, the experience of going to the factory, choosing the fabric and meeting Ricci, who will make them a tie.
This and other custom experiences are produced by Schachter, taken on consignment by a charity, bought by a bidder and the proceeds go to the charity. (Schachter declined to say which, if any, of the celebrities volunteered their time.)
“It’s so important to note that everything we do, including the live events, is very original and out of the box. Everything we do is an experience. We want to leave people feeling something,” Schachter told JNS. “Each experience is over the top—or very exclusive.”
Ever entrepreneurial, Schachter found a way to adapt those exclusive “experiences” during the COVID-19 pandemic, when even non-exclusive in-person experiences were hard, or impossible, to come by.
To raise funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals, clients could chat over a video feed with celebrities for 15 minutes. Schachter told JNS that Val Kilmer, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Naomi Campbell, David Foster, Ne-Yo (Shaffer Chimere Smith), Gloria Estefan, Kenan Thompson, Kristin Chenoweth, David Blaine, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, and Ja Rule (Jeffrey Bruce Atkins Sr.) signed on.
Schachter has produced more than 150 virtual events, he told JNS. “What we did as a team during COVID just trumped everything we’ve done in the past 10 years collectively,” he said. He said he helped raise $250 million for charity during the pandemic.
The publicity he received for the virtual events led, Schachter told JNS, to an invitation to help produce the virtual Kennedy Center Honors.
“It was an experience the likes of which nobody has ever seen,” he said of the center in Washington, D.C., captured with 360-degree cameras and of tributes to each honoree.
During the pandemic, Schachter also worked with National Jewish Health and with the crisis therapy organization Amudim. (Also during COVID, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse prepared kosher Shabbat dinners, which were delivered to donors’ homes, as part of fundraisers for Chai Lifeline and BINA.)
Schachter will produce Chai Lifeline Canada’s 18th-anniversary event on April 9, 2024.
“We expect it to break all records,” he said. “There may or may not be some very notable and unexpected honorees, and a special performer from Italy. Wink, wink.”
Of late, he has also been mobilizing his network to combat antisemitism and to bring positive attention to Israel.
Schachter arranged for singer-star Montana Tucker (9.2 million followers on TikTok), whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, to visit Poland and produce a film “How to Never Forget.” He also organized a trip to Israel for Ellie Zeiler (10.7 million TikTok followers) and her family.
“Her first post alone, leading up to the trip—speaking out about her first experience with antisemitism—was viewed close to a million times,” Schachter said of Zeiler.