Mark October 1, 2023, as the day to celebrate a significant JEWISHcolorado anniversary.
On that date 10 years ago, the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado was renamed JEWISHcolorado.
Together, the Federation, which was formed in 1946, and JEWISHcolorado, with one decade of existence, boast 77 years of distinguished history and uninterrupted service to Colorado’s Jewish community. But the name change still occasionally causes confusion.
“For the community that had grown up with the name “Federation,” this was not an entirely comfortable transition,” says Noel Ginsburg who served as both Federation Campaign Chair and Board Chair before the rebranding and has been a long-time supporter of JEWISHcolorado. “People are comfortable with what they grow up with. Even I occasionally still say ‘Federation.’”
“We would go to people who had been involved for years, and they would say, ‘What happened to the Allied Jewish Federation?’” adds Judy Robins, who served as both Campaign Chair and Board Chair for the Federation and was one of the leaders of the team that led the efforts to reinvent the Federation in a new century. “It took a long time for people who had been involved for years to understand the benefits of modernizing this organization.”
But while the name has changed, and the organization has evolved, JEWISHcolorado still carries on the same broad mission it had when it was referred to simply as “the Federation.” It is Colorado’s convener organization, connecting people Jewishly to each other, the community, and the global Jewish world. It is the philanthropic home for Jews in Colorado, powering the Jewish community through advocacy, security, education, and investment.
The name change also did not alter JEWISHcolorado’s relationship with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). It is still an active JFNA member, with JEWISHcolorado representatives joining other Federation leaders on two trips to Israel as recently as April 2023 for meetings with diverse Israeli leaders and for the JFNA General Assembly.
You might ask, “So why rebrand? Why change the name of a long-established organization even though its goals remain largely the same?” To answer that question, you have to travel back in time to see how the world of philanthropy, nonprofits, and Jewish life was changing as Colorado moved from the 20th to the 21st century.
Looking into the future
During the years Noel Ginsburg served as Board Chair of the Federation, he and other leaders looked into the future and saw changes on the horizon.
“We had to begin to address challenges that were facing Federations across the country,” he says. “They were flat in growth and there was a general sense that the Federation was not as appealing to a younger generation as it was to our parents.”
Ginsburg says this trend was not new—it had been developing over a number of years. Historically, the Federation had been the central fundraising arm for the Jewish community. The dollars that were raised were allocated to other Jewish organizations and provided the bulk of their budgets. But over time, those organizations grew, their budgets increased, and Federation investment in those organizations did not cover all expenses. Organizations that had depended on the Federation began building their own fundraising capacity, effectively competing with the Federation.
At the same time, Ginsburg describes an environment where nonprofits were “proliferating” during the 1990s. More nonprofits were coming into existence. For some people, tikkun olam meant caring for the Jewish community—but for others, it meant caring for the larger community as well, spreading donations across many different nonprofits both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Whether they were older organizations that now needed to supplement Federation funding or newly created nonprofits asking for support—there was now more competition for donor dollars that may have traditionally gone to the Federation.
At the same time, Ginsburg recalls watching what he describes as a “mega trend”—the development of the Internet where people could donate directly with just a few clicks. With an umbrella organization like the Federation, donors gave to one organization and did not know how their gift was used. With the Internet, they could target their gifts.
“People started to want to give themselves, they wanted to be closer to their dollars, designating their gifts,” he says. “If that is what the customer asks for, you need to be able to offer it.”
Ginsburg and other leaders of the time had the wisdom to see that if the Federation were going to thrive, it would have to look ahead to the next century, contemporize with multiple strategies, and reestablish itself as a leadership organization with a clearly defined mission in the community. Changing the name and enabling people to direct their gifts if they chose would be two of the strategies in this organizational reinvention.
Taking action to reimagine the Federation
Judy Robins laughs when she recalls the phone call in 2008 from Mark Sidell, then chair of the Federation, asking if she would like to succeed him as chair.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding? You really want me?’” she says. “‘You must be joking—I’m yesterday’s news!’”
She agreed to take on the role and quickly saw the handwriting on the wall. The country was headed into the Great Recession, adding more pressure to the challenges that Ginsburg had already identified and accelerating the need to take action.
“It was a very hard time of financial crisis, economic stress, and uncertainty,” Robins says. “People were worried about their personal finances and concerned about their level of giving. Philanthropic dollars were in jeopardy. We needed the glue of the Federation to hold people together. But with decreased support, how were we going to survive and thrive?”
Robins, Nancy Gart, Doug Seserman, who was the President and CEO at the time of the rebranding, and a core team of about 15 people led the strategic planning effort called “Reimagining Federation for the 21st Century” with a goal of highlighting JEWISHcolorado programs and services and broadening the appeal and relevance of the organization, building stronger relationships with donors and providing more opportunities for giving, particularly among a new generation of donors.
They decided to take several key steps, starting with the rebranding.
“We felt that ‘Allied Jewish Federation’ did not sound enough like ‘Colorado,’” Robins says. “The name ‘JEWISHcolorado’ was a more inclusive umbrella that would represent Jews across the state. We hoped this would help people feel they were involved in the decision-making of the organization, and over time, I think it has begun to resonate for people which makes the organization more representative.”
In a second step, the Reimagining Committee took inspiration from the oft-used adage, “United we stand, divided we fall.” In a move to unite, JEWISHcolorado absorbed two other organizations, The Jewish Community Foundation and the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education. By consolidating all three organizations, overhead costs were reduced by $1 million a year through the reduction of duplication in administrative costs.
Finally, JEWISHcolorado continued the “Total Choice Tzedakah” program established in 2003 which allowed donors to designate their money for specific Jewish organizations. JEWISHcolorado also has expanded the use of Donor Advised Funds, which are managed by JEWISHcolorado experts in the field. Through these funds, donors have ultimate flexibility in determining what, when, and how much they want to give to organizations they choose.
Change takes leadership, courage, and foresight, and it is not easy. But with time, people have come to understand how JEWISHcolorado continues the best of the past while creating new programs, events, experiences, and giving opportunities for the future.
“With the changes we made, we sent the message that JEWISHcolorado is the community convener,” says Robins. “We bring people together, and if you want to be philanthropic in the Jewish community, JEWISHcolorado is the place to go because our primary focus is on Jewish causes and Jewish continuity.”
Robins maintains that because of JEWISHcolorado’s long history and connection to JFNA, it remains the most trustworthy and reliable place for guidance on giving.
“People want to be generous, but how can you make sure your money is going to a professionally led organization?” Robins asks. “In an emergency, if someone wants to give money domestically or to Israel, JEWISHcolorado is the place to give because they have the professional staff and they will ensure it goes to the right people.”
“This organization will always be a work in progress,” Robins adds. “But we are looking at what is in our headlights not at what is in our rearview mirror.”
For Noel Ginsburg, the name may be less important than the role JEWISHcolorado plays.
“If there is a global or domestic threat, you want JEWISHcolorado to be there because it can mobilize in a way nobody else can,” he says. If you don’t have the infrastructure you can’t respond. And we have that. To me that is essential, critical, and it’s why I support JEWISHcolorado. In the past year, we gave totally unrestricted dollars because I know how important it is for JEWISHcolorado to use our donation where it is needed.
“The fact that it has been willing to reinvent itself says it is listening and it is healthy,” Ginsburg continues. “It cannot be the same organization it was when my parents were young. The challenges to our community have changed and it is essential for the Jewish community to be able to respond to those challenges. With JEWISHcolorado, we have that ability.”