Seth Katzen came to Delaware in 2010 to join the Jewish Federation of Delaware as its new CEO. With a background in marketing, advertising and non-profit fundraising, he has sought to supercharge the Federation’s profile and community engagement in the First State. We connected with Seth to learn more about the Federation’s extensive programs beyond the JCC on Garden of Eden Road that many of us have been visiting for decades.
Town Square Delaware: Tell us about the mission of the Jewish Federation of Delaware — many people may only know you from the Jewish Community Center.
Seth Katzen: The mission of the Jewish Federation of Delaware is to mobilize the Jewish community to address issues, meet needs and build an agenda for the future. Our vision is to bring Jewish people together into a community coalition, grounded in Jewish teaching and heritage, to strengthen the State of Israel, the global Jewish family and local organizations in order to further the survival of the Jewish people.
Federation is the one place that belongs to every Jew, the place where philanthropy, volunteerism and shared commitment come together to make a difference, to repair the world. Through our network of local beneficiary agencies (Albert Einstein Academy, Siegel JCC, Jewish Family Services of Delaware, the Kristol Center for Jewish Life at the University of Delaware (Hillel), and the Kutz Home) and through our international partners (Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), Federation is able to provide critical social services and programs in Delaware and the Brandywine Valley, Israel and more than 65 countries around the world.
My philosophy is to effectively position Federation as the community convener – in doing so we serve as the central address for the Jewish community. Together with our donors, we work to make our community and the world a better place by acting on our core Jewish values of compassion, charity, generosity and responsibility to care for those in need.
TSD: What are your main priorities for 2013?
SK: Federation is primarily regarded as a fundraising organization and it is important for our community to understand it is something much greater. We are a community building organization first and foremost – fundraising is simply the conduit to ensure that our mission and needs are continually met. By educating our community on the myriad programs and services that fall under the Federation umbrella, they will become inspired to connect and support our efforts in improving the world.
I believe we must educate while simultaneously enhancing the overall image of Federation. This is achieved through continually reminding our multiple constituencies that Federation does a world of good each and every day. We must resonate with people in an emotionally compelling way – by touching the heart first, the mind will follow. During my first year, we implemented a new brand awareness campaign including a redesigned website, creating a social media presence via Twitter, Linked-In and Facebook strategies, a weekly e-newsletter, redesigned our monthly newspaper and even had an outdoor billboard PSA campaign posted around the state. We are currently looking into implementing a “text to pledge” mobile effort during our Super Sunday in late January as well as developing a Federation smart phone app in the near future.
While it is important to build and maintain a vibrant Annual Campaign for today’s needs, it is increasing important to ensure the future of our community through planned giving and endowments. Last month we launched a new initiative, Create A Jewish Legacy, that will actively engage and assist our five beneficiary agencies and seven statewide synagogues in building a comprehensive Jewish community foundation.
TSD: You are somewhat new to Delaware – what drew you to the First State and this role?
SK: I was born and raised in Long Island, attended the University of Maryland and immediately moved to Baltimore upon graduation where I spent the next 13 years working for several advertising agencies. We relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida in 2002 for a lifestyle change and accepted a position with the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County as their Director of Marketing. It was a transformational experience as I truly felt like I was making a positive difference in the world.
Raising a family in South Florida was quite a different experience for us and when my daughter entered high school we realized we needed to return to the Mid-Atlantic area to provide a better education for our children. Professionally, I was also ready for a change and looking to run a smaller Federation was the next logical step in my career. When the opportunity in Delaware became available I knew it was the right time and place to return north.
TSD: Having lived and worked in other states, what in your opinion makes Delaware different when it comes to working in a community organization?
SK; Delaware is unique in several ways that makes it an enticing market to raise a family. Geographically, being only a short drive from Philadelphia, an hour to Baltimore, two hours to Washington, DC, and less than three hours to New York City is very convenient to have larger city experiences from almost any direction in addition to the beaches that are only a short drive away. The breadth of educational options, both public and private, is also appealing. The key factor, however, is that we were embraced by such a warm and welcoming community from our very first visit. We knew that Delaware would provide a wonderful place for our children and to make a difference in the community.
One other unique aspect of life in Delaware is our accessibility to our state representatives. Knowing our Senators, Congressman, Lt. Governor and Governor on a first name basis is something I had not experienced in any other community. They are extremely supportive of Federation and always attend our Super Sunday phone-a-thon and our Mitzvah Day of community service.
TSD: The economic environment is a challenging one for non-profit organizations; what strategies have been successful in ensuring your continued strength and ability to thrive?
SK: Similar to the corporate world, a troubled economy adversely impacts nonprofit organizations and our fundraising efforts in particular. Philanthropy is something that is often decreased in times of uncertainty and today’s economic climate makes fundraising a difficult proposition. It is critical for Federation to ensure a sense of trust that we are being wise stewards of our donors’ philanthropic dollars – this is achieved through sound investments, real transparency and complete integrity.
I am pleased that Federation has improved its rating on the top three charity evaluators – we are now a three-star charity on Charity Navigator, received the GuideStar Exchange Seal recognizing trust and accountability, and most recently was named a Top-Rated 2012 charity on GreatNonprofits.org. This industry recognition assures our donors and stakeholders that they are making a sound investment in an efficient and effective organization.
TSD: Tell us about Seth Katzen’s favorite local spots – what do you enjoy doing when not slaving away at your desk?
SK: Being back in the Mid-Atlantic area has allowed me to attend Maryland football, basketball and lacrosse games once again. I also try to catch a few Orioles and Ravens games each season as well. One of my twins has become a Flyers and 76ers fan so we also head to Philadelphia for sporting events. We also like going to the Wilmington Blue Rocks games including dinner on the Riverfront.
Some of my favorite local restaurants include Hollywood Grill and Lucky’s Coffee Shop for breakfast meetings, Mazella’s for outstanding Italian food and El Diablo for fresh Mexican fare. We also like Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza as we had a location in West Palm Beach that we often frequented as well.
Delaware also has amazing craft breweries and I try to visit Twin Lakes Brewery in Greenville when I can – co-founder and CEO Sam Hobbs is great. Dogfish Head, Victory and 16 Mile are also personal favorites.