Hoffman to lead Federation, Foundation when Mellan retires

Stuart Mellan, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona president and CEO, left, and Graham Hoffman, Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona president and CEO, look forward to a smooth transition when Mellan retires and Hoffman becomes CEO of both Federation and Foundation. (Photo: Keith Marcum/Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona)

Stuart Mellan, who has been president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona since December 1995, will retire at the end of May. At that time, Graham Hoffman, who joined the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona in September 2018 as president and CEO, will take on the role of leading both agencies. The plan was recently approved by the boards of the Federation and the Foundation.

“We’ve been working toward synergy” for some time, Mellan says, pointing out that the Federation and Foundation merged their grant processes six years ago, and this year, the agencies are co-facilitating a 12- to 18-month community planning and visioning process.

In roughly 80% of North American Jewish communities today, Mellan says, Federations and Foundations have one leader, or a similar collaborative structure. The local Foundation has been an affiliated corporation of the Federation, but the move to a single CEO will lead to much closer alignment.

With Hoffman’s predecessor at the Foundation, Tracy Salkowitz, retiring in 2018, and his own imminent retirement, “it seems like the right time to have one voice at the professional helm of the two organizations,” says Mellan. The organizations will continue to have separate boards and separate 501c3 nonprofit status, he says, yet they have always had significant overlap, starting with the Foundation bylaws, which state that it was created to be supportive of the mission of the Federation. In addition, the Foundation chair has always been a member of the Federation board, and vice versa.

All candidates interviewed last year for the Foundation CEO post were told a single Federation/Foundation CEO was being considered. But Hoffman really stood out as an innovator, Mellan says, noting that Hoffman has worked for two outstanding national Jewish organizations. He was vice president for innovation at Hillel International and deputy director of development at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Along with business acumen, “he brings a deep commitment to Jewish community,” Mellan adds.

The single CEO plan was still in the early stages when Hoffman was hired, and was not a done deal.

“When I came in, I came in to do the work of the Foundation. That was what I was excited about, enthusiastic about,” says Hoffman.

“What I reaffirmed within the first few months of the job was that the success of the Foundation should be measured by the success of the community, and by the success of the agencies and synagogues and Jewish life that the Foundation is here to sustain and support and advance,” he says, explaining that this view leads naturally to the goal of a deeper synergy between the Federation and the Foundation.

This way of measuring success, Hoffman adds, which goes beyond the traditional method of measuring a foundation’s assets, funds, and grants, is informed by his experiences at Hillel and AIPAC, as well as in the for-profit world at Accenture, a multinational business consulting and technology corporation.

Early experiences

Hoffman’s commitment to fostering Jewish life stems partly from his personal history in the Jewish communal world, which started with preschool at the Jewish Family & Children’s Services in Milwaukee and continued through Jewish day school, Jewish summer camps, family and other trips to Israel, becoming bar mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue, BBYO in his teens, and Hillel during his college years.

It also comes from what he calls his family’s “fascinating case study in Jewish pluralism.”

His biological parents divorced when he was less than a year old, and both remarried. His mother’s new husband was a Conservative Jewish orthodontist, Hoffman says, flashing a dazzling smile.

His stepmother wasn’t Jewish, but she and his father raised their son, Hoffman’s brother, Jewish — and yet secular. And by the time Hoffman was in middle school, his mother and stepfather were beginning a Jewish journey that ultimately ended with them becoming ba’al teshuvah (Hebrew for “masters of return”), ultra-Orthodox in their observance of Jewish law and traditions. He has two siblings who are ultra-Orthodox, and one who identifies as “Jew-ish.”

Having all this playing out while he was coming of age, Hoffman says, accelerated his process of figuring out “what for me, Jewishly, made the most sense.” Today, he describes himself as “extra-denominational.” 

“I see incredible value across each of the denominations,” he explains, “and really respect and appreciate so much about how our tradition has evolved in each of those different contexts.”

Engagement vs. outreach

Hoffman studied business at Washington University in St. Louis, where about 40% of the student body was Jewish, and became actively involved in Hillel, where he advocated for it to be more than the synagogue on campus for those who sought it, but rather “to try to reach every and as many Jewish students as possible, in all the places where they were.”

This is a thread he’d pick up later when he worked at Hillel, but his first job out of college was at Accenture in New York. He thrived there, keeping his hand in the Jewish world through philanthropic giving as well as leading teen trips to Israel and teaching Hebrew school on weekends. After two years he found his work at Accenture, though interesting, wasn’t fulfilling. And the trade-offs involved in climbing the corporate ladder gave him pause.

Around this time, he was recruited by the former Hillel director at Washington University to work at Hillel International. After a year consulting with Hillels around the country, Hoffman oversaw the organization’s first global strategic planning process, developing its “shift toward depth and breadth,” he says, explaining that while Hillels had become adept at meeting students where they were, and offering social opportunities, they needed to engage students “in meaningful Jewish experiences and Jewish life-learning in Israel.”

He trained Hillels to identify Jewish students who were “influencers” in campus social networks where they didn’t have much reach, then train and employ those students as interns to cultivate their Jewish peers, while hiring senior Jewish educators, often rabbis, to offer truly substantive Jewish programs. Abbii Cook, who recently joined the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation as assistant director, was one of the first Hillel engagement interns, Hoffman notes. And perhaps a dozen new Jewish organizations, such as Moishe House and One Table, grew from Hillel’s engagement work, he adds.

At the JFSA, programs like the Jewish concierge, which the community “was visionary in creating a number of years ago,” is a significant step, he says, but “engagement needs to be the work of everyone, and we need to figure out a way to employ para-professionals, volunteers who can act in an engagement capacity, and we have to pair all of that with substantive Jewish experiences and education.”

There’s a key distinction between engagement and outreach, he says. “Engagement is not about bringing people to us. Engagement is about meeting them where they are and engaging with them on the basis of their passions, ambitions, talents, interests. And it’s about bringing Jewish life, Jewish experiences, Jewish education to them among the people they like spending time with, in ways that will be the most meaningful to them.”

As one example, Hoffman, who visited Israel some 18 times during his time with Hillel, joined local Jewish educator Amy Hirshberg Lederman to lead 28 Southern Arizonans on a Weintraub Israel Center mission to Israel in October. The participants were a really interesting multi-faith group, he says, almost all first-time visitors to Israel.

After 10 years at Hillel International, which included major gifts fundraising for the initiatives he launched, Hoffman spent five years at AIPAC, which allowed him to really build “a sophisticated fundraising toolset.” There, he oversaw major gifts fundraising, major philanthropic foundations, and endowments.

This coming year, the Foundation will introduce some new techniques in its grant-making process, he says, including a more collaborative, conversation-based approach to determine an agency’s key challenges or opportunities, rather than a traditional grant application. This system, he says “will reinforce the nature of the kind of relationships we want to have between the Foundation and the community, which are relationships of support, stewardship, and collaboration.” The approach will be piloted with two agencies that opted for this method, the Jewish History Museum and the Tucson Jewish Community Center, while other agencies chose to have their previous grants extended for a year, with a reduction of $5,000 for each agency.

The pilot is based in part on the planning and allocations process the Federation instituted four years ago, in which sub-committees review and report on various funding areas, Hoffman notes.

At a recent Jewish Funders Network conference, Hoffman spoke about the pilot, generating great interest from other Jewish community foundations, private family foundations, and big public foundations. “It’s what convinced me that this really had legs,” he says.

What lay and professional leaders say

In 2014, the Jewish Federations of North America commissioned a study of federation/foundation relationships that showed that “most federations — at least of our size — and foundations are conjoined in some form,” whether it’s a single CEO or a federation/foundation merger, says JFSA Chair Deborah Oseran.

She and Anne Hameroff, incoming chair of the Foundation, spoke with leaders in several communities, including Columbus, Ohio, which published a study of its experience called “The Case for Integration; Long Beach, California; Memphis, and Denver.” Their research and the studies bear out the idea that communities that have strongly aligned federations and foundations “are the strongest by a variety of different standards,” Oseran says. Ways that having a single CEO can benefit the community, she adds, include having a unified, more powerful voice in the Jewish and broader communities; strengthening donor relations while protecting donor confidentiality; and improved accountability with key stakeholders.

Jeff Katz, chair of the Foundation’s board of trustees, says the Federation and Foundation were looking at collaborative models before Tracy Salkowitz announced her retirement. Chairing a search committee for Salkowitz’ replacement with Jim Whitehill, Katz says, “both of us felt that we would hire someone who had the talent and the abilities to ultimately step into a single CEO position if we went in that direction.”

The search process was very extensive, using the top search firm in the nation for Jewish organizations. “Graham stood out big time,” he says, although Hoffman had not served as a CEO before. “We were looking for someone who would be creative, smart, and think out of the box.”

Now Hoffman is “a known quantity — a really effective known quantity” who has had the chance to work with Mellan for the past year, Katz says. “For the last seven months of Stu’s tenure, the two of them can work together and really be smart from a transitional standpoint.”

Jewish philanthropy has changed in recent years, says Mellan, with more emphasis on major gifts and endowments, something universities and hospitals have long focused on.

The Jewish world, in the past, concentrated more on immediate needs, including, in the 1940s, the nascent state of Israel.

“Our strong suit has been the annual campaign,” he says, explaining that while the annual campaign will continue to be vital, “the proportion of dollars that comes from endowment has already changed,” with the Foundation’s assets growing from $12 million dollars 24 years ago to more than $108 million today. 

Hoffman’s national experience, says Brenda Landau, director of legacy development at the Foundation, “enables him to go out and help build agencies and strengthen philanthropy across the spectrum of Tucson.”

“He’s a visionary; he’s a collaborator,” says Robyn Schwager, grants and legacy officer at the Foundation, adding that Hoffman “looks at the whole community, not just the Jewish community, and how we can interplay together. He sees the big picture and how all the pieces fit into it to take everything to the next level.”

After working closely with Hoffman for the last year, “I feel very positive about the future,” says Fran Katz, senior vice president at the Federation. To engage the next generation, she adds, “we need to fundraise differently while keeping the annual campaign in the forefront” to maintain healthy Jewish agencies.

“We’re doing this from a place of strength,” says Mellan, rather than from a need to fix something that’s broken. “At the same time, there’s very much a consciousness that the world is changing and we need to be very forward-thinking.”

“We have an opportunity to move from strength to stronger,” says Oseran.