Danielle V. Minson — Raising the Bar
Oreo Ice Cream and Our Future
What follows is a shortened version of my remarks in my first speech as CEO, at our annual meeting on May 17. I want my leadership to be a collaboration. I welcome your thoughts. –Danielle
Thank you all, for coming, and being in person with us tonight. I am energized to be here with you all tonight. I am excited to lead this community at a time of such great potential. Thank you all for your gifts of time, talent, and treasure. You’ve helped us weather the past two years. You—donors, volunteers, lay leaders, and staff—made it possible for the Federation to be built for this, in Cincinnati, Ukraine, and around the world.
Tonight, I want to talk about our community’s future.
But first I want to talk about a way I approach my work, a strategy which I call “both/and.” It’s a touchstone for me. Let me explain—Last October, my colleagues at the Federation had a last-minute get-together to celebrate my rise to CEO. The development team had created a large celebratory card, which everyone signed.
When they gave me the card I saw that they had written in its center, in big blue letters, to match Federation colors: Both/and. I laughed at how well my team knows me, because I say this all the time. I believe in “both/and.” It’s part of how I approach my work here at Federation.
“Either/or” is the way of thinking that we are most familiar with: do you want this or that? Do you want Oreo cookies or ice cream? But that approach can be problematic and limiting. “Both/and” has more nuance, more potential, and often more reward. For example, Oreo cookies and ice cream mixed together is a both/and that is definitely a good outcome.
For the work that I do as CEO, both/and is a tool that stops me from polarization. It stops me from assuming one side has all the answers. It helps me listen with empathy. I am not interested in being entrenched in set, old ways. But to refuse the old ways automatically makes no sense either. Both/and means we have to think more deeply, and more carefully.
So today I want to talk about our future. And yes, there is both/and here, too. But with much bigger stakes.
As you know, the Federation is the community’s convener and planner. Our community had a plan for 10 years, from 2010 to 2020. It was called Cincinnati 2020, and it was incredibly successful. That plan resulted in intensive capacity-building for our community.
We even planned for our next plan, from 2020 to 2030. To anchor that plan, the Federation and the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati commissioned the 2019 Cincinnati Jewish Community Study. Then the Federation convened the Cincinnati 2030 steering committee, run by volunteers, guided by our professionals, with 26 diverse community members. Debbie Brant, Chair of our board, and myself both serve on this steering committee. Cincinnati 2030 is now the planning vehicle for the next 10 years for our entire community. It’s a big deal.
I have seen so much curiosity, caring, tension, collaboration, and insights from this group. It has been extraordinary. The effort has been challenging, and rewarding. Every day, the professionals in this community think about the complex issues we are dealing with. Aging demographics, combating hate and antisemitism, making Jewish life affordable, helping those in need and so much more. They are working hard for you, for us.
Cincinnati 2030’s vision and the Federation’s vision are tightly intertwined, in large part because our community is so collaborative. In its role as convener, the Federation will continue to coordinate the C2030 effort, in partnership with all of the stakeholders.
And in its role as funder, the Federation has also committed financial resources to make that future happen: Both of the community’s largest funders, the Jewish Foundation, and the Jewish Federation, have already created special funds to address Cincinnati 2030’s priorities. The Federation created a new one-time funding round. This past March, we provided an incredible amount: over a quarter of a million dollars across 15 different organizations.
The programs funded were diverse and exciting. We funded some organizations we had never funded before. Our community will benefit from new and innovative Shabbat-oriented programs, engagement-focused programs, Israel programs, cohort programs for pre-teens and young adults, capital investments, and technology-focused grants.
Let me take a step back to say: this round of funding focused on engagement, because of the Community Study’s finding that almost half our community wants to be more engaged in Jewish life. That is, to me, the single biggest takeaway from the community study. That statistic is so hopeful – that so many want to be more engaged.
Our work on Cincinnati 2030 will focus on new growth areas to meet people where they are. Ultimately, I firmly believe in the importance of our congregations and long-standing organizations and their growth. And I also believe in the value of people wanting to curate their own experiences. Because I believe in both/and.
And I believe in the ultimate priority, of deepened engagement, because we are a stronger community if we have more Jews, more engaged.
If you know me, you know that I am deeply embedded in this Jewish community. I was raised here, and my parents and grandparents have given to this Federation for decades. I shared last year about my Grandpa Jack and his first $2 gift and his pride in that gift. My parents speak with great pride about making their first gift to the Federation campaign and they have been giving every year since. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been giving for 24 years myself. That’s half my life.
This community and this Federation have raised me to be the Jewish adult and leader I am today. After a year in Israel and graduate school in social work at Yeshiva University, my first real job was here, back in 1996. In 2000 to 2005 I moved to Philadelphia and its Federation. But Cincinnati is home, and I wanted to be here, so I came back, to work here. I know and believe in the Federation system. This is my life’s work. All of you who know me, know how passionate I am about this.
It’s not lost on me that there are many firsts to my ascension to CEO. While none of them are the reason I became CEO, they do demonstrate how the world has changed and how our community has adapted. I am proud to be a part of a community that embraces change while holding true to our most important traditions.
My life and work experience will help steer this ship well. I will look for the both/and. I will try not to box you in. I promise to come to the table with an open mind.
I love this Federation. I love this Jewish community and I love Cincinnati. We are changing and growing. Yet I stand on the shoulders of our predecessors in doing this important work.
I take seriously both the responsibility to change, and the responsibility to hold onto what is best in us and our work. That’s both/and at its best, and I will make sure it serves our community well.
I want to now take a moment to acknowledge my colleagues. This Federation team has been—and is—incredible. Through the uncertainty of the past two years, this team has been committed to ensure the work of our community gets done. They’ve taken care of our community, and they’ve also taken care of one another. I know this has been really hard, and I appreciate all of your work.
I believe this community is great. I believe that we live in a time with great potential. I believe in deepening engagement and deepening inclusivity. I believe that when we get to 2030 we will still passionately engage in our mission: help people in need, support Israel, and assure a vibrant Jewish future. We will have become that vibrant future. I believe in us.
I want you to know that we are putting your time, your talent, and your treasure to work for the Jewish community in the most efficient ways. And that will include more both/and thinking, and perhaps more Oreo ice cream.
This is ultimately your Federation, your community. My one request of you tonight is this: the next time you go to a Jewish event or gathering of any kind—bring a friend. Share our community with those you care about.
Thank you so much.
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
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