Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy

The challenge we faced was daunting: How do we take one of the most well-known nonprofit organizations in San Diego, with an eighty-year history of philanthropic work, and adapt to our community’s ever-evolving needs?

The answer, we discovered, was not just a matter of rebranding, but of transformation. In some ways, it required the organizational equivalent of “soul-searching” to determine who we are, who we should be and how we can best service our community.

We began with listening. We committed ourselves to building strong, substantive relationships with our community and our partners. We sought the counsel of our elders, queried the next generation and kept our eyes and ears open. What we learned from our listening tour led to a realization of a new vision, with roots in our collective heritage – one that captures our ideals and is the foundation of all we do, every day.

A vibrant, caring, connected, and enduring Jewish community.

Everything about our philanthropic engagement flows from that vision statement. This is who we are and what we are most passionate about. If we cannot connect an initiative to that vision, it is not for us. No longer can we be everything to everyone. Rather, we are choosing depth over breadth, and thus our new vision spurs an increased focus and purpose to our work and a deeper, more meaningful connection to the community we serve, our brethren in Israel and Jews all around the world.

We also took an accounting – literally and figuratively – of our donors’ needs. We discovered that our supporters and potential supporters are also aspiring to connections that are more meaningful. Today’s donors are entrepreneurial, they are strategic and they are not nearly as content as their parents and grandparents were to simply cut a check out of duty, or faith, without seeing measurable results. They want engagement, and we want them engaged – because an engaged supporter is an impactful supporter and, quite possibly, a lifelong supporter and the future foundation of our proud community.

In a sense, we aim for something even greater than community. We are aspiring toward kehilla – to be a community of people who come together with shared purpose and fellowship. We do not want our supporters to just throw money at our community’s challenges. We want them to throw their selves into the challenges. To get their kids connected to volunteers through our Community Teen Initiative. To know they are making an impact on our community’s valued seniors and helping them age with dignity and independence. And to engage the unengaged through Shalom San Diego, which is connecting new residents, interfaith families and peripheral Jews to a multitude of pathways to Jewish life.

Finally, we took a long, hard look inward, and we asked ourselves the following question:

“Why us?”

Because no one else is better able to do it. No one else is more connected to the Jewish community. No one else is as dedicated to its existence, vibrancy and diversity. And no one else has the means to connect our partners and catalyze change so that together, as a kehilla, we can make a lasting, meaningful impact and address the challenges and urgent needs that our community will continue to face.

There was a time when Federation was seen more as an umbrella organization that funneled funds and support to our beneficiaries. Of course, we are primarily motivated by our call to support the Jewish people and are inspired by the visionaries that made our Federation the force for good that it is. Today however, as we continue to transform and adapt to our present needs, we are animated by the belief that we cannot be a Jewish Federation without being in the community. And we are there. Every day.

We will continue to serve our community, not from above, but from within. We will continue to support our partners that share our communal priorities. We will focus on our vision and on what we do best, remaining rooted in our timeless values, but with our eyes facing forward so that we can address the challenges of our future.

Michael Sonduck
President & Chief Executive Officer
Jewish Federation of San Diego County