Introducing Change: Lessons from Branding a Jewish Federation

by Howard Adam Levy

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with one of the 157 local Jewish Federations on helping them remain relevant to the changing needs of their community and develop a marketing theme and materials to attract new donors. The lessons learned may be informative for other organizations grappling with change.

Here are five steps to consider when changing your brand:

1. Do your homework. Before you can address any issue, you need to know what your audience thinks – and it’s not necessarily what you expect. To understand donors, we conducted a Community Opinion Survey asking about people’s beliefs and values, giving habits, and awareness of the Federation’s programs.

The findings were startling. Even long-time donors (who had been giving for 6 years or more), were unaware of how they had first heard of the Federation, or were able to assess the value of the Federation’s programs. The Federation has assumed people knew what they did, and expected annual contributions. This strategy was not working, as giving levels had been falling annually. Clearly, the Federation needed to educate donors about their work and build a case for giving.

2. Address local needs. For a local agency that also supports Jews worldwide through their allocations to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), people valued the programs in the local community more than helping Jews abroad or in Israel. The top values shared by the respondents included: ensuring Jewish continuity for the Jewish people, raising children with Jewish values, creating a Jewish home, doing good deeds, and being a part of a community – all things that the Federation is supporting at a local level.

3. Be flexible in your approach. A willingness to be flexible can result in a better concept. Evaluating different message concepts can go a long way to ensure the organization is connecting with their donors. To address their marketing needs, we presented three different message concepts, recommending one, “A voice for your values. A force for our future.” We thought that this best connected people’s personal interests and desire to do good with the collective force of the Federation. We incorporated this into an ad and brochure.

However, in the process of creating the ad and brochure, and discussing them at the meeting, we had trouble remembering the exact wording of the tagline – not a good sign for something that is supposed to be memorable.

And so we rescinded our original recommendation and suggested using the second concept: “The good you can see around every corner.” Agreeing that this was more memorable and accessible, the marketing committee voted to adopt this line instead. We subsequently developed an ad, brochure and presentation using the headline: “Why support the Jewish Federation? For the good you can see around every corner” featuring a panorama illustration showing all the support structures in the community. This campaign was a more appropriate introduction to the Federation for people not familiar with it.

4. Be clear about the process. In the case of the Federation, it involved a lot of committees, an approach that solicited input from the community that was well entrenched at the organization. Before we had arrived on the scene, they had formed a strategic planning committee to explore how they could adapt. This committee resulted in five task forces to address specific areas including funding, marketing, outreach and engagement, Jewish education, and senior services. With our mandate to improve their marketing, we convened a Marketing Committee comprised largely of lay people and also some key staff.

Overall, the process worked well (we had marketing professionals on the committee, so we received relevant feedback). However, when it came to making the ultimate decision about the mission statement, the process by which it would get approved was unclear, with the marketing committee, top staff, the board and the board’s Executive Committee, all having a say.

5. Working backwards can work. Introducing change in an organization can be challenging, and so sometimes you need to do it through the back door. For example, we knew that changing the mission statement outright would be an issue, and so instead, we used the marketing process to drive the larger change in the organization. We introduced a brand statement that was modified and then adopted as the mission statement. The Executive Committee was asked to grapple with its implications for the organization in five areas: allocations, fundraising, programs and events, and staffing and operations.

Certainly, changing an organization created in another generation, for a different set of needs, and led by an older board is a struggle. Doing so while maintaining a community-led approach makes it that much more difficult. The Federation deployed yet another committee, an Implementation Committee, to see the work through.

We believe by remaining both flexible in their approach, and steadfast in their goal of aiming the organization in the right direction, the Federation will continue to flourish with its new brand, both in keeping current donors and attracting new ones.

Howard Adam Levy is principal of Red Rooster Group, a branding agency that creates effective brands, websites and marketing campaigns for nonprofits to increase their visibility, fundraising and effectiveness. Howard can be reached 212.673.9353.