Communication and Courage
By the late 1990s, the leadership of the Denver-based organization that was known as Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado knew change was in the air. For the better part of a decade, AJF sensed that the nonprofit’s presence as a “federated fundraising organization” left something to be desired — and that its relationship with donors was in jeopardy if it didn’t clarify its mission and better define its role in the community and beyond.
Then came the economic downturn of 2008-2009, and AJF knew it could no longer afford to wait.
“This has been brewing over the last decade; we were feeling the trends,” says Doug Seserman, president and CEO of what is now called JEWISHcolorado. “We realized then that the time was right now to be proactive in driving the organization toward the future.”
Those trends, he explains, centered around major donors and younger donors, and how they prefer to give to and interact with the organizations they choose to support.
“We sensed in the 1990s and 2000s that things were changing in philanthropy, especially among major donors and younger donors,” Seserman says. “Younger donors, especially, wanted to control their giving, direct it and designate it in a way their parents or grandparents didn’t. [Previous generations] were more comfortable with giving to an umbrella organization.”
The idea of AJF being a federated organization was vague at best, confusing and even misleading at worst. And while AJF’s mission was clear within the organization, many people — even its supporters — weren’t completely sure of what exactly it did and where its money was coming from or going to.
For 67 years, AJF has been an umbrella organization serving the Jewish community in Colorado and around the world. Two-thirds of its work is local, while a third is focused overseas, mainly in Israel. The mission involves offering a number of programs to enhance the quality of life for Jewish people throughout Colorado, mobilize relief efforts in times of crisis (such as the recent flooding in the state) and support Jews throughout the world. It’s federated in the sense that it’s “a multipurpose fundraising organization” rather than a single-purpose one, Seserman explains. And that was part of the problem. Many new/younger donors prefer to give in a more