Before Rob Kern accepted the offer to become the first professional communications and marketing director in the 66-year history of the American Friends of Magen David Adom (AFMDA), he knew it was a daunting task.
When Kern was approached with the offer a year ago, he did what most people in the 21st century do when offered a job - he went to the organization's Web site. It was then that he knew the company had catching up to do.
"When I couldn't find out what I wanted to know online...that was the first indication that things had to be fixed," Kern says. "I'd donated to the organization in the past, but I saw from the get-go that it was not where it needed to be."
The AFMDA raises money for Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross. It has been kept busy of late due to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict.
Aside from its less-than-stellar Web site, Kern says the organization hadn't put out a newsletter in more than 20 years, and wasn't doing much in the way of effective e-mail campaigns, print or online advertising, or media outreach.
"The only way to succeed in the fundraising business - or at all - is to raise your profile and let people know you exist," Kern says. "So it was a wide-open field for me."
Kern says he initiated what amounts to a total overhaul of the communications and marketing operation. Since joining, he has helped assemble a database of 150,000 people and a press list. He has helped produce newsletters, e-mail and print campaigns, and redesigned the Web site, which will be relaunched again in the next week or two.
"You can't reach a full audience by doing one thing," he says. "You must vary your approach. It's been a full-court press. In the past year, we've radically changed the way the American-Jewish community sees, knows, and understands us. This is really just the beginning."
He's also initiated a more aggressive media outreach campaign.
"We started small with the Jewish press and have expanded to local news networks and national media," Kern says. "In the past, we scratched to get The Jewish Week to talk to us. Now we're being pursued by national news media and daily papers for information."
These changes have become most apparent during the current Mideast crisis.
"People are coming to our site in incredible numbers and donating money in record amounts," Kern reports. "Our phones are ringing right now because people want to know what they can do to help. We've changed a lot of perceptions and made people aware of who we are and what we do."
Daniel Allen, EVP at the MDA, says Kern's cool presence and knowledge of the community has helped him ease into the job.
"He understands Israel and has a calm demeanor, even in the midst of crazy moments," Allen says. "He has a feel for the community, the donor base, and the cause."
Allen says Kern's efforts have helped make the organization more visible. "We're doing what we're supposed to do, which is be visible to the Jewish and general community and let them know we need their help," Allen says.
But there's one person who feels Kern may spend too much time and energy on his work - his wife.
"I jumped in with both feet and my wife is angry because we haven't gone on vacation in over a year," Kern jokes. "She says I bring work home with me too often, but that's what happens when you're really into what you're doing."
And Kern says he takes great pride in seeing the fruits of his labor. "It feels good when people recognize it and come in, contribute, and connect to the cause," he says. "It's gratifying."
AFMDA, marcomms director
Women's American ORT, national projects manager
American ORT, national communications director
United Jewish Federation, asst. marcomms director