Memo to the (Federation) File: Think Differently

August 13, 2008

One of the things I have realized in posting some of my thoughts on my blog is that different topics generate dramatically different levels of interest.  Of course that is to be expected – some topics just don’t resonate with a diverse audience. What has surprised me however is the number of visits and emails I receive related to those posts about UJC or local Federations.  It appears that for as many people there are that are frustrated about the “system,” there are as many, if not more people that care enough to read about it, to write about and to work  (in a constructive way) towards positive change within it.  And as my recent posts on the UJC search committee and young leadership cabinet structure have reminded me, when people find a voice that shares a common concern, they are more likely to lend their voice to the chorus, hopefully in a constructive manner.

So keeping that in mind, as a regular part of the blog (and as an effort to consolidate some of my thoughts on the topic) occasionally I am going to post what I am going to call a “memo to the file” about a topic relating to the state combined Jewish philanthropy and the organizations that work to that end.   While I suspect those posts will not necessarily interest the small number of regular readers of this blog (Mom, Dad, thank you!), by posting the “memos to the file” I will be able to flag those posts that may be of interest for those who might not otherwise be interesting in my personal noodling on Jewish communal life.  And it gives me a channel to be constructive, while also being thoughtfully critical.  Hence…

Memo to the (Federation) File #1: Think Differently

In reaction to our increasingly branded world, I suppose it was inevitable that we would endeavor to brand the combined philanthropic experience and (at least cosmetically) reduce the essence of our efforts to a memorable catch phrase.  I realized this yesterday as I was sitting in my law firm’s United Way planning meeting when we were advised to use the United Way slogan “Live United” in our campaign.  Of course it got me thinking about our national UJC/Federation branding of “Live Generously” and how that slogan represents the way donors are approached by Federations.  And what I think is this –

Catchy, but not convincing.

First of all, although the slogan’s strength comes from  its normative message, that message is also its inherent weakness.  While we often need to be assertive in our approach to engaging Jews philanthropically – we need to meet them in the way they are currently living at the same time we are inspiring them how to live.  Living generously sounds great, but what are they doing now? If they are not giving, are they not generous? If they are generous but not through Federations are they not living generously (or maybe merely living united)?  By being normative we run the risk of excluding as much as we are inspiring. We need to strike the right balance in the way we think and act in response how Jews perceive the slogan.

Second, by shrinking the essence of the message into a catchphrase, we lose a critical word – Jewish. Look again at the slogans above. “Live Generously” vs. “Live United” – just based on those two phrases, how would you differentiate which one is the Jewish organization’s message? Maybe by process of elimination since the “Live United” slogan incorporates part of the United Way’s name.  But even in our catchy slogan, shouldn’t we hit on a Jewish theme?   I mean, isn’t that the essence of our efforts?   Don’t we want them to think Jewishly when they are living generously?

Now I understand there are reasons why slogans are helpful, and this memo to the file is not an effort to diminish their value, but merely demonstrate their limitations.  “Live Generously” is good marketing, but it is not sufficient messaging. We need to do better in our messaging, and that doesn’t come from a catch-phrase or a slogan, but a whole lot more.

So let me humbly propose a new slogan that we start to use within our system when it comes to messaging, engaging and interacting Jews to live generously:

Think Differently.

We need to think differently about ways to embrace new strategies to massage to potential donors/philanthropists while we continue to leverage those tried and true strategies that are effective with existing donors. If caucuses work for a certain group of individuals, great, but if impulse campaigns work for another group, or another generation, let’s use those too.  Let’s embrace new media, but not as a cosmetic approach to covering up our lack of new thinking. Let’s recognize service donors in a meaningful way so that when they do have financial capacity they become financial donors. Let’s imagine the new ways of engaging young leadership while still maintaining the effective way young leadership cabinet does it currently.  Let’s evaluate our campaign strategies and donor management strategies not to point fingers, but to point out the holes that need to be filled and the opportunities that need to be realized. We need to meet our youngest donors at their critical stages in their Jewish Journeys, not with a card, but with an experience and a smile, a book or a blessing. We need to meet them at different places and in different ways.  We need to think differently, and then act differently too.

Transformational thinking doesn’t result from just thinking about the same things in different ways. It comes from thinking about different things in different ways.  So even while we review and revise our existing approaches to engaging people Jewishly and generously, we also need to think through and embrace those different ideas proposed by different people.  That transformational approach will create transformational experiences and transformational results in our Jewish community.

So perhaps in the end, the “Live Generously” slogan has its benefits, even from an internal messaging perspective.  It reminds us each day, on every email and every piece of marketing material what the goal is  – to get more people to live generously in a Jewish way to make a Jewish impact.

But to get to the goal we will need to do something else:

Think Differently.


  1. […] You can read Seth’s complete post, Memo to the (Federation) File: Think Differently, here. […]

  2. Except that ‘think differently’ is too close to the well branded and highly public ‘think different’ that was the slogan of Apple Computers from 1997-2002.

    I think more people are moving away from it. Boston’s new rebranding has dropped it completely.

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