A New Brand is Born: What The Debut of The Jewish Federations of North America Suggests

A brand launch is a special moment in an organization’s public life and one that affords it the opportunity to greet both loyal and potential supporters with a fresh image and message that, if effective, will lay the foundation for building strong relationships between these valued supporters and the organization.

The interesting and perhaps most telling thing about the debut of The Jewish Federations of North America brand (formerly United Jewish Communities) at the General Assembly meeting this week, was how singularly modest and quiet its launch was.

No big signage boldly shouting the new name, no hoopla at the plenary events to draw attention, no clever tagline to suggest a future direction. None of the usual marketing pronouncements or grand statements offered up by its new leaders about the meaning behind those few carefully chosen and probably agonized-over words. Rather, the brand name took a low profile against bolder images and words invoking the General Assembly theme of “Anything is Possible.”

Not until the closing plenary did Kathy Manning finally opt in with a few words about why this name was so right, even if its verbalization was for her as well as others who took the podium, a mouthful to say. No easy acronym has yet emerged.

So what can we draw from this costly investment in a name that is more descriptive than inspirational, that centers on its affiliates not on itself, and that (at least in name alone) makes no mention of its overseas agenda?

As an observer and careful listener at the GA these past few days here are a few very preliminary conclusions that are bound to draw debate and that should be open to revision as The Jewish Federations of North America builds depth and meaning into its newly fashioned identity and all that it represents.

The choice of a modest, descriptive name and a clean and conservative brand mark suggest a national organization that is focused on being in service to its constituent organizations rather than being a national force unto itself. The name suggests a new era of collaboration where the genius lies in figuring out how to showcase the ingenuity and talent that resides in communities of smart and energized people rather than assuming that the role of expert is one the national organization owns all for itself.

It was informative to listen to Jerry Silverman, the organization’s newly-minted CEO, speak about his gratitude to the federation system and a desire to figure out “what will get us there…. what we must do to add real value to our federations.” Jerry’s remarks and his new organizational shingle suggest an organization undergoing self-examination, stepping back from its more assertive, yet unsuccessful brand that presumed to be a national force on behalf of the federations, into a brand that is for now, simply its representative body.

It was clear from newly elected chair of the board, Kathy Manning’s remarks and from the GA’s visual presentation of The Jewish Federations of North America that the spotlight is now strongly focused on communicating the value of the federations and letting the national organization as a force unto itself recede to the role of important supporting actor.

Given the difficulty of these times and the pressures of just keeping federations alive and well, it comes as a bit of a relief to see The Jewish Federations of North America enter the GA stage with a little modesty and humility. Maybe that was not the intent but I for one sure found the new brand introduction refreshing. While its launch offered no hint about a larger vision and while its logo mark spoke as much about the past as the future, it all felt strangely appropriate and comforting. For the moment, too-ambitious and often too-poorly delivered promises can wait.

Let The Jewish Federations of North America quietly take the stage and deliver its lines without slip-ups. Let the brand deliver its descriptive intent. Let it be about serving federations.

Big visions, clever tag lines and inspirational brand promises can wait until the performer actually delivers the performance we all want to see.

In the end, the title of the show is less important than the performance itself. I’ll be right there beside all of you, ready to applaud when that exceptional star performance happens.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.