While most Jewish federations struggle to pool $10 million per year, the UJA-Federation of New York took in some $21.5 million in a single night.
Far from the world of Super Sunday phone-athons, with volunteers cold-calling strangers for small donations, the New York federation pulled out the stops at the New York Hilton on December 6 as some 1,200 bankers met for drinks, hors d'oeuvres and a night of card playing.
On the dais for an hourlong presentation between drinks and cards were the power brokers of Wall Street, including the president of Goldman Sachs, the chairmen of Bear Stearns and Offit Hall Capital and the managing director of Lehman Brothers.
An increasing portion of the New York federation's donations have come from the finance sector in recent years, according to Richard Spitz, director of the group's Wall Street and Financial Services Division.
In 2001, the division's campaign comprised about $25 million of the federation's $144.3 million campaign. This year's goal is $36 million.
The Wall Street division also ponied up roughly $12 million of the $45 million that UJA-Federation of New York contributed to this summer's Israel Emergency Campaign, according to the division's associate executive director, Joy Prevor.
This year's federation campaign, which started October 11, is already at $2.6 million; the Wall Street division accounts for $2 million of that. The Wall Street dinner is the division's marquee fund-raising event.
Started 30 years ago, the banquet is a way to capitalize on the period between November and February when many bankers take home bonuses that dwarf what most Americans earn over the course of several years.
Last year, the financial industry doled out a record $21.5 billion in bonuses. With the Dow Jones at an all-time high, the S&P 500 at a 10-year high and the Nasdaq at a six-year high, 2006 is expected to be another record year for bonuses.
As fourth-quarter earnings come out, the UJA-Federation of New York appears to be in sound position. On December 14, Bear Stearns announced a 38 percent growth in revenue over 2005 and Lehman Brothers announced a 22% increase - this after Goldman Sachs announced that its fourth quarter of 2006 was its most profitable ever, showing a 93% rise in net income.
The fund-raising banquet seems to reflect market trends.
Prevor and Spitz say they suffered a downturn when the intifada began, which coincided with a sharp drop in the market as the Internet bubble burst.
But UJA-Federation of New York is hedging against another down tick. The "buy side" of the market, which includes mutual funds, pension funds, hedge funds and insurance firms that tend to purchase securities that can make money even when the market drops, is exploding.
In 1990 there were roughly 530 hedge funds, with $50 billion in assets. Today there are more than 8,000, with nearly $1.4 trillion in assets.
A hedge fund is a loosely regulated private equity fund that can take long and short positions on the market. If it shorts the market, it will make money if the market goes down.
"We've really been reaching out to the buy side, and we've done a much better job of bringing them into the fold," Scott Prince, senior managing director at Eton Park Capital Management, told JTA at the banquet, where he received the Wall Street division's Young Leadership Award.
Some 30-40% of those in attendance were from the buy side, a huge increase from just several years ago, according to Henry Siegel, a vice president at a bank he said he could not name because of its restrictions on speaking to the press.
The banquet also reflects new diversity in the market, according to Jeffrey Stern, a managing partner at Forum Capital Partners, who sat on the dais.
"Many years ago it was a vertical business," he said. "You had a few major banks - Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Solomon Brothers - with hundreds of people. Now it's more horizontal."
Especially among the younger set, there is more lateral movement: Whereas many used to stay at large banks at lower-level positions, hoping to move up, today they take more prominent jobs at smaller shops.
Twenty years ago there were 25 firms represented at the dinner, Stern said. There were roughly 150 on hand at the December 6 fete, according to Prevor.
The biggest change is that the event no longer includes what was once its greatest spectacle, the "card calling," when Bear Stearns Chairman Alan "Ace" Greenberg would stand on the dais, call out names and publicly solicit six- or seven-figure contributions.
Those who had participated said it was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking, with astonishing numbers tossed about and the pressure daunting to keep pace when one's name was called.
Ultimately, as Wall Street division leaders looked at the banquet, they realized that the potential for growth lay in how effectively they reached out to the next generation on Wall Street.
Two years ago, dinner organizers replaced the card calling with a printed "Roll of Honor" that shows who has donated and what amount. This year, six Wall Streeters gave more than $1 million, 13 contributed between $500,000 and $999,999, and 59 donated more than $100,000.
Organizers also did away with the traditional banquet format, instead going with an elaborate nosh before a shortened UJA presentation and a casino night that allowed Wall Street neophytes to rub elbows with those UJA sees as leaders in the financial and philanthropic worlds, such as its honorees this year - Daniel Och, a senior managing member of Och-Ziff Capital, and Eton Park's Prince.
As Siegel surveyed the casino room, where a DJ spun mostly 1980s tunes and professional card dealers dealt poker to 20- and 30-somethings, Siegel estimated the net worth in the room at $50 million to $70 million.
But even that will grow exponentially over the next couple of decades, and the trick is figuring out how to make those who will control Wall Street in the future feel they should give to UJA-Federation.
Among the prizes at stake for the faux cash poker tournament were power lunches with some of the powers that be.
"They aspire to be those guys," Prevor said. "That's the point - they aspire to be the Scott Prince or the Daniel Och."