Communication and Courage
“When I came to work [at AJF] in 2002, I came from a corporate-marketing background,” Seserman says. “The idea that one product could meet all needs was just foreign to me as a marketer.
“Giving one umbrella gift, while it’s important and righteous, is not completely enough to meet all donors’ needs,” he adds. “When we saw that change happening, we realized you can either lead, follow or get left behind, and you’re better off being proactive by planning for the future.”
Seserman says AJF was “built in the 20th century for 20th-century donors and 20th-century needs in the Jewish world.” The challenge then was to reorganize for the 21st century, maintaining its relationship with older, more established donors but also creating opportunities for and nurturing relationships with a new breed of up-and-coming donors. And that relationship had to evolve around more focused giving.
“The next generation does Jewish in a different way,” he says.
Working with the results of a community survey taken in 2010, AJF formed a core team of about 15 people (made up of key staff and board members, as well as some people from within the community and some outside consultants) to “reimagine” the organization.
To be clear, not much changed in the way AJF was run or the services it offered. The reimagining was primarily highlighting the programs and services provided by JEWISHcolorado and emphasizing its relevance to the Jewish community, and it was a way to build stronger relationships with donors and other supporters and provide more opportunities for giving.
‘A profoundly evolutionary change’
The subsequent brainstorming and scenario planning led to what Seserman calls “a profoundly evolutionary change” in the organization, starting with its name. It “dropped the F-word,” Seserman quips, meaning “federation.” It was a word the organization believed confused the public, making it seem as though AJF was overseen by a larger organization and not independent in making its own decisions about what services to offer and to whom.