Monday, April 14, 2008


Every once in a while my mind wanders to the subject of "Branding" our national institution. For example:

  • When characters in Max Apple's newest and most brilliant 2008 collection of short stories -- The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories -- talk of Israel and the United Jewish Appeal;
  • When UJC allocates $845,000 for a "branding" study -- OK it's allegedly for more than just branding but, who really knows?
  • When I watch a Woody Allen film and laugh hysterically at the references to UJA;
  • And when I listen to speakers at General Assemblies or federation events mistakenly call the national organization "UJA." (Most recently, at a Jewish Agency presentation, our dear friend Jane Sherman caught her error in mid-sentence, went to correct herself, then said, "Oh, forget it, what's the difference?" Jane was both right...and wrong.)

We laugh, but it's painful.

In a fit of institutional insanity, we allowed the greatest brand in philanthropy (not just Jewish communal philanthropy) to be lost. (Although fearing that others might not agree and would use "UJA," UJC leadership -- or some smart federation leaders -- trademarked the old, useless brand.) In what was characterized as "transformational change," we allowed change...for the worse.

When they owned Seagram's, would the Bronfmans have contemplated a name-change to "Bronfmans Crown Royal;" Would the Chair and Board of GoJo Industries change "Purell" to "Clean Hands?" (And would either have paid a brand consultant [my next life] $845,000 to research it?) But, in a single moment, with no real process, "UJA" was gone (to the glee of some to be sure) and the greatest brand in philanthropy lost with it in the name of an unachieved vision of transformational change.

Yeah, so I think about these things and what fools we mortals be.



Jon said...

Richard, you say that there was "no real process" when the decision was made to drop the organizational name UJA in favor of UJC. However, this is simply not true. There was a task force that was set up to consider the issue; a branding study was done that revealed both the strengths and the real limitations of the UJA brand (especially with younger donors); an extensive open discussion at a meeting of the new entity in Washington, DC, in which both sides were argued passionately; and (most amazingly) a vote of those in attendance - several hundred if I recall - which, while close, was clearly in favor of the new name. Perhaps it was the wrong choice in retrospect - we'll never really know - but it was not done in haste or without extensive input and deliberation. I can't imagine that you were not present, but in case you weren't I want to set the record straight.

RWEX said...


Thanks. I wasn't there...and I wish I had been. The "session" to which you make reference was not a meeting of the owners -- in fact, many federation lay and professional leaders had already left for their home communities. Nonetheless, the process you have described so well is an accurate accounting of how we went from "Newco" to UJC.


bobbirochester said...

Richard, a truth rings throughout this blog on branding - all federations are local and unless the national organization understands that concept, no amount of "branding" matters. Local federation boards are responsible to the communities that fund them. It is logical to assume that the national institution is responsible to all of us at the local level. If UJC doesn't understand this, they've lost the mission of the organization, and we, in our local areas, shouldn't be funding UJC until the national leaders get it right.

RWEX said...


If you're the Jon I think you are, how are you doing? I hope all is well.