Legacy Organizations: How to Stay Fresh, Relevant and Exciting

why is change so difficultIt’s hard to bring new ideas to old leadership in a large organization that has been going for a long time and is set in its ways.

By Elliot Cowan

First let me start by saying I do not like the term “Legacy Organization.” By using that term you’ve already put yourself on the back foot and people have already formed an opinion of you. You’re now thought of as the Jewish equivalent of an oil tanker: slow to change direction, or stop, but what you are delivering is valuable to us all. Well, at least until we all buy solar panels and then there’s no need for you anymore!

That is not what you have to be, not what you need to be, and definitely not what you want people to think of you. This terminology destroys new thinking before it’s even begun. “Legacy Organizations” are thought of in this way because their structure is usually quite rigid. It takes a while for change to happen, decisions are often quite slow to get approved, and the very name “Legacy Organization” says to people that you are just looking to fulfill someone else’s dream.

Just because an organization is labeled as such does not mean it needs to sit back, accept that is who they are, and move forward on the same path.

For me personally, there are a few simple ways a “Legacy” can stay fresh, relevant, and exciting, so that it might even move from the legacy space back to the living arena. It is probably best just kept to a few points; I welcome the discussion to see how legacy organizations can refresh their brand

Collaboration is Essential

As a legacy organization you have a wealth of experience, where younger startups or organizations do not. I know this is a huge step for anyone in the Jewish community to think they can collaborate and I’m sure I can already hear you say to your team: “Well, that organization helps hospitals just in the Galilee and we work in the Galilee and Be’er Sheva, so we can’t work together because we’re different.”

Why not look for the commonalities instead of the differences? Jewish organizations pop up all the time because of slight differences and minor mission changes. All we are doing is aiming at the same donors, stretching each other’s resources, and actually not helping to solve the problems within the bigger picture.

So ignore the differences and embrace the commonalities (location you are working within, who you are serving, focus areas, etc.) By teaming up with a younger organization, or one that has some qualities that you want, you’ll achieve even more. We are always stronger together.

We are seeing this all the time in the Jewish world where young, enthusiastic people cannot scale up, or get to the next level, and eventually end up ceasing to exist. Why are we not sharing or helping them get to the next level? By helping these young fledgling groups, they and their ideas will influence your brand, plus you’ll have an injection of new energy and new blood.

Looks Aren’t EverythingBut They Do Matter!

I’ve said in previous articles that “your brand is more that just your logo,” but if you’re using the same look, feel, and style that you have been for the last 20+ years, a new suit or hairdo can’t hurt to bring you up to speed. This is not a huge investment for a total refresh, but you know that you need to look the part, especially if you want to be the part.

What’s your website looking like? If it was built in Dreamweaver, is non-responsive i.e. can not be viewed on a smartphone or tablet effectively, then I’m sorry to say that you are late to the party and are not being seen by the people who will arguably be your future. If your site does not currently reflect who you are right now to the world, then we need to talk!

Now I’m not saying you need a blog, an Instagram account, or that the Executive Director needs to start tweeting what he or she had for lunch. It can be a static site that doesn’t change very often, but will show the programs you work with, the things you do, and the difference you are making. Showing us who you are will make a huge difference and you will be kept in people’s minds.

Embrace Creativity and New Ideas

We all know the historical reasons “Legacy Organizations” exist, why they were formed, and what their mission is. But we have new and pressing issues to address in our community, such as the following:

  • Intermarriage has increased.
  • People not keeping Kosher has increased.
  • Shabbat attendance is down.
  • Where are the Jewish babies? WE NEED MORE JEWISH BABIES!
  • Support for Israel is needed now more than ever.
  • Parents giving their children a Jewish Education has decreased.
  • Anti-Semitism is growing rapidly.
  • Synagogue attendance is down.

The list goes on and on, and even when we feel like we’re not making a dent, we keep going. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” It’s hard to bring new ideas to old leadership in a large organization that has been going for a long time and is set in its ways. The amount of times we’ve heard “But this is how we’ve always done it” probably wouldn’t surprise you. It’s usually because whatever they are doing, they feel like it works for that organization. However, that doesn’t mean it can last, and if an organization is happy cruising then it will eventually catch up with them.

To get away from this, new options/ideas need to be tried (and possibly failed) but a new perspective, a look internally at who you are and what you stand for, will help push an organization to new heights. At Here’s My Chance, we have had these conversations again and again with Boards, Executive Directors, and major donors. We have redesigned fundraising events. We’ve switched brands over from pictures that shock to pictures that motivate action within their annual campaigns. We’ve redesigned infographics that show the bigger picture, embraced new digital technology, and even revamped giveaways.

At HMC, we are constantly looking at new technology, products, and services, to offer those we work with. Plus, we’re always researching trends and thinking of new ideas to keep in our “ideas database” for just the right opportunity- but organizations should be doing the same thing themselves!

In conclusion, I think that the term “Legacy” shortchanges a number of Jewish organizations. Just because you fit into that category does not mean you must also fit into that mould. You can be fresh, relevant, and exciting. It’s not a huge step but is really more about looking internally, deciding who you want to be, and making a few simple changes to be that organization. Good luck and I welcome the debate/conversation!

Elliot Cowan is the Creative Director for Here’s My Chance (HMC), an award-winning creative agency that builds good brands by design. HMC’s mission is to create impactful, engaging designs that motivate people and lead to organizational success. Proudly headquartered in Philadelphia PA, HMC’s clients span the globe and include nonprofits and socially responsible companies that work to create positive change. HMC specializes in branding, graphic design, videos, websites and infographics. Learn more at heresmychance.com.