In an era where name recognition is everything, the umbrella organization for Jewish federations in North America has changed its name.
As of next month, the United Jewish Communities will be known as The Jewish Federations of North America, a moniker that officials hope will signal the centrality of their organization, which currently represents 157 Jewish federations and 400 network communities in the US and Canada.
This is the culmination of a three-year, $1.4 million research and branding project - including a new logo - that officials hope will reach younger Jews and help broaden their donor base.
"Our new name makes a clear and bold statement that we embody the Jewish Federation system," Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, said in a statement. "Further, this change enables us to work with our partners to create stronger positioning of the Jewish Federations for the future."
Indeed, the changes come as the organized Jewish community and Jewish charities - including The Jewish Federations of North America - grapple with a shrinking donor base and questions about what their role should be in the 21st century.
In the fall of 2008, market research underwritten by UJC showed that one-third of Jews who donate to Jewish causes were unfamiliar with their local Jewish federations. Among Jews ages 18 to 34, the percentage was nearly 57 percent. Seeking to address that deficit, the umbrella group devised a new moniker and logo that would be easily identifiable; unified; and reflect its mobility.
"It's not just an exercise in, 'Hey, we have a new brand,'" said Joe Berkofsky, director of communications for the organization. "It's more about that we have these critical challenges that we have to address, these overarching challenges," he said, adding, "Ultimately, we're doing it to broaden our donor base."
Though admittedly a mouthful, the new moniker takes the lead from local federations, whose names already include the phrase "Jewish Federation of" in their titles, such as the "Jewish Federation of Los Angeles" or "Jewish Federation of Greater Washington."
The new logo - a circular design and menorah - replaces an old design that featured a Star of David and flame. The new icon is meant to signal
"centrality and stature" and will be adopted locally be some 20 local Jewish federations that volunteered to use the new logo.
"It's important to have a consistent name out there," said Leslie K. Lichter, managing director of marketing and communication at UJA-Federation of New York. UJA-Federation got its name in 1986, when the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York and United Jewish Appeal merged into one entity. "We built up a strong brand equity by speaking consistently about who we are and what we do," Lichter said. "That's behind what UJC is doing, in fact. They're trying to match their name to the 90% of organizations around the country."
Susie Gelman, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, said her executive committee and board were enthusiastic about the new logo for The Jewish Federations of North America, which she said would give the federation system "a unified look."
The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore will pilot an "endorser" logo, incorporating the new logo with its own, strong brand. Doing so makes a "strong statement that we are part of a unified Federation system, while protecting the equity of our name in our community," said Marc Terrill, president of The Associated.
But with a price tag of nearly $1 million, critics aren't so sure.
"While I like the new name, those responsible for its promulgation ought to be embarrassed by the amount of money spent on the 'Initiative' from which it emerged," wrote Chicago attorney and frequent UJC critic Richard Wexler on his blog, UJ Thee and Me.
Indeed, much of the cost was associated with complex market research and design work done by three firms: Taxi, which created the logo; Synovate, which conducted the survey; and R&R Partners in Las Vegas, best known for coining the tourism logo, "What happens here stays here," which was responsible for the branding and survey.
But Berkofsky stressed that the cost - spread over three years and seen in context - was "actually not a lot of money."
The "unprecedented" research also would be useful for many future marketing efforts.
"We came away with very rich research that we'd never done before that we can use to study important demographics," Berkofsky said. "The logo is really a fundamental building block to raising awareness and building awareness of our brand, reaching younger Jews and connecting with more Jews generally," he added. "That's ultimately what this is about."â€¢