An Israeli initiative has reinvented the traditional fundraiser and taken it global.

We’re always looking for good excuses to drink more wine, whether it’s for a special occasion, a way to unwind or the supposed health benefits. But Wine Wednesday — a social fundraiser that started in Tel Aviv and just launched worldwide — has uncorked one of the best reasons yet: Now you can drink wine to support charities.

Founded and organized by volunteers, monthly Wine Wednesday events pair wine with a social atmosphere and charitable mission. Since launching in January 2013, Wine Wednesday has hosted more than 30 events in Israel and raised more than $21,000 to support local projects for women’s empowerment, micro-finance, at-risk youth, people with disabilities, affordable eye care, anti-bullying and other social causes.

On September 14, the popular fundraiser went global, with 15 participating cities hosting Wine Wednesday events.

The Wine Wednesday model

Wine Wednesday is not your average fundraiser. For starters, you don’t need deep pockets to attend. The events cater to millennials by offering a low attendance fee of approximately $10, all of which is donated to charity.

Meanwhile, Wine Wednesday minimizes its costs by receiving venue space in-kind and requiring attendees to bring a bottle of wine. The night also focuses on socializing, not soliciting; the featured charity must limit its pitch to about five minutes.

Given the affordable ticket fee and social appeal, Wine Wednesday has grown extremely popular in Tel Aviv, often selling out. The idea itself was born over a bottle of wine shared between cofounders Caylee Talpert and Emma Datney.

Wine Wednesday events in Tel Aviv often are at full capacity. Photo by Yosef Adest
Wine Wednesday events in Tel Aviv often are at full capacity. Photo by Yosef Adest

“We were sitting on a balcony one day drinking wine and said we should do this more often on a Wednesday and raise money for charity at the same time,” says Talpert. “[The first event] was the middle of winter and it was storming and raining, and we didn’t think that anyone would show up, but 70 people turned up, so we realized we were onto something.”

Paying it forward

Wine Wednesday’s overall impact goes far beyond the funds raised.

“We stayed in touch with several people who came to the event and expressed interest in volunteering with us,” says Gideon Rogers, who attended a Wine Wednesday to represent his campaign to provide Holocaust survivors with MyMDBand, a lifesaving medical emergency bracelet.

Rogers continued attending events to learn about other charities. During a Wine Wednesday at WeWork,  he discovered Tikkun Olam Makers  (TOM), a community that develops technologies for people with disabilities, and decided to get involved as a volunteer.

“It was sort of like a full circle — [my project] benefited from [Wine Wednesday] and I’ve been able to pay it forward by getting involved with another organization. It’s a pretty cool thing,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Wine Wednesday participants enjoying vino in Tel Aviv. Photo by Yosef Adest
Wine Wednesday participants enjoying vino in Tel Aviv. Photo by Yosef Adest

Chana Simon is also grateful to Wine Wednesday for connecting volunteers to her organization RE-SPECS Frames for the Needy, which provides discarded eyeglasses to people who cannot afford them.

“It was beyond financial for us,” Simon tells ISRAEL21c. “People came up to me after my pitch saying that they had old glasses to donate or that they have a relative who is an optometrist. It was a great platform for networking.”

And while schmoozing over a midweek glass of wine might seem like Wine Wednesday’s greatest appeal, its patrons are often looking for something more.

“What draws them in might be the fact that this is a cool social event — good wine, good people — and feeling good about the fact that they’re not just going out to a pub and drinking, but doing something for a good cause,” Rogers says.

Going global

With dozens of successful events in Israel that attract 150 to 250 attendees, Wine Wednesday decided to share the model globally and offer support to any community wishing to organize a local event.

With a goal of raising $20,000 globally, the Wine Wednesday Global launch took place on September 14 with 15 participating cities including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Salvador, Rio, Berlin, Lisbon, Warsaw, Nairobi and Lusaka.

Tel Aviv was host to the main launch event at Langa Rooftop Event Hall, featuring live music and all-you-can-drink wine. The beneficiary was Microfy, which helps individuals from disadvantaged Israeli communities open and develop micro-businesses.

The next step is to keep the momentum going and encourage more cities to join in.

“Our hope is that when everyone sees how easy it is and how fun it is, they’re going to keep on doing it, which is kind of what happened with us [in Tel Aviv],” says Talpert. “We want to create a community of Wine Wednesdays around the world raising money for different grassroots charities in their cities.”

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