On December 6th, 2018, 90 or so people, young Romanian Americans, gathered in a tall skyscraper in a downtown building in Chicago.
A wave of energy flowed in the room, but people were somewhat jaded. Everyone was complaining. They all seemed to care, and they were declaratively eager to do something, to get engaged in some civic activity: "but there's nothing we can do!" everyone said. "There's nothing happening in our community! All we've been seeing for years is just mici si bere!" (small food festivals with food and beer).
So a small group of volunteers set out to do something. Three months later, they organized their first event. Nine months later, they founded Romanian United Fund. RUF was created with a vision of creating an engaged global network of proud and successful people in order to contribute to the development and progress of their own local communities and of Romania.
RUF initially focused on creating partnerships with vetted Romanian nonprofits and fundraising for them. RUF's membership exploded during the early days of the pandemic, with hundreds of people getting involved during the Covid Campaign. Since its inception, over 35,000 people donated over $2,000,000 through RUF's 100% pass-through platform, helping to finance over 50 projects in Romania and abroad. Learn more about how our fundraising platform works.
Today Romanian United Fund is a global, innovative, vibrant community built with the sole purpose of encouraging and financing the development of the Romanian Diaspora and its connections with Romania. As of 2023, RUF has 3 paid people on its staff and an unpaid Executive Director. We continue to execute our mission.
2022: The ROCO Campaign
The ROCO campaign is dedicated to building a Romanian Community center in Chicago, called ROCO. The campaign was initially executed online, and was followed by the RUF 2022 Gala, dedicated to ROCO. As of June 2022, RUF raised a total of $124,000 from multiple private and corporate donors, and the center was open in April.
2022: The Ucraine Peace Campaign
On February 25th, one day after the start of one of the most important events of the 21st century, Romanian United Fund got to work. The campaign, executed through multiple fundraisers, raised almost $400,000 and benefited 16 nonprofits that were actively serving the Ukrainian refugees in Romania. As of April 30th, 2022, the top 3 largest fundraisers raised:
- $207,902 donated to the Ukrainian Peace Fund, in partnership with the Embassy of Romania to the USA
- $100,940 donated to House of Ukrainian Friends
- $62,275 donated to UiPath's Solidarity Fund, in partnership with Romanian United Fund
2021: The Play For Good Campaign
The Play For Good (PFG) campaign benefited cancer-sick and severe burns children in Romania. Through our campaign we raised over $84,000 and we sent almost 300 children and their parents to summer camps in Romania. Learn more about our PFG campaign by watching these youtube videos, and don't forget to subscribe to our youtube channel.
2020: The Coronavirus Campaign
As COVID-19 hit the world, 40 RUF volunteers worked day and night, adding in 2,400 volunteer-hours in April alone. RUF's Coronavirus Campaign raised over $800,000. The proceeds were immediately sent to the most affected areas and to over 1,000 institutions in Romania that needed urgent help. Over 300,000 face shields were produced from plastic purchased mostly through the efforts of Romanian United Fund, covering every doctor, nurse, ambulance worker, and policemen in Romania and the Republic of Moldova with a free face-shield sponsored by the diaspora. Hundreds of thousands of masks and tons of protective equipment were delivered all over the country as a direct result of our fundraising campaign. Learn more.
2019: The "Via Transilvanica" Campaign
One of the most successful fundraisers ever in the Romanian Diaspora, RUF's Via Transilvanica Gala (2019) gathered 340 prominent members of the Romanian community in Chicago to raise over $100,000 for Via Transilvanica. Also known as the "Camino the Santiago" of Romania, Via Transilvanica is a 1,000-kilometer trail spanning Romania from North to South. In the process, RUF became a strategic partner to Tasuleasa Social and financed 10% of this magnificent nonprofit project which one day we hope will bring millions of people to visit Transylvania and Romania.
Sep. 2019: The dawn of RUF
In September 2019, Romanian United Fund was incorporated as an International Charity Grantmaking Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization registered with the IRS in the state of Illinois. The Board of Directors was formed and Mihai Lehene was elected President. The new organization started on solid ground, as a result of a $50,000 financial commitment from Mihai Lehene, and his promise to continue bootstrapping the organization as Main Sponsor for up to five years, during which RUF plans to become 100% self-sustainable.
May. 2019: "Asa a Zis Bunica" - our first project
Inspired to speak up against insidious and corrupt political leaders in the home country, the Romanian Diaspora stood up en-masse to vote for Democracy. Romanian United Fund partnered with Declic and Mircea Bravo to create the "Asa a Zis Bunica" viral video clip, which sent a message for the younger generation to get out and vote. With over 12 Million views, the fun and witty creation of the famous vlogger Mircea Bravo was the most shared Romanian video in 2019.
Dec. 2018: Yada, yada, what do we do?
Our first large meeting took place on December 5th, 2018 in an upscale office building downtown Chicago. The main question on everyone's lips: we're all here, we all have various commitment and availability, and we all want to help. Yet, how do we do that? With that, the stage was set. Our goal was to make sure as many people as possible can get involved.
Early 2018: Famous startup stories start in a garage. Ours starts at a public library.
At the initiative of Tudor Ancas and Mihai Lehene, a small group of volunteers got together at a local library in Chicago, to learn how they could get involved in a civic movement called Romania 100. Enthusiasm was high, and they decided to get all their friends together in one large event and talk about the multiple opportunities to get involved.