Case Studies

Graybird and the Surviving Skokie team brought this inspirational film to audiences worldwide.

The Challenge

Eli Adler—a California-based professional cinematographer – started a quest to create his own movie and uncover details of his father, Jack Adler’s, painful past during the Holocaust. Inspired by a Chicago Tribune article and the 2009 opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, the award-winning documentary is a ten-year labor of love.

Jack and Eli’s transformational story was the heart of Surviving Skokie, yet funding, marketing and a distribution strategy were needed to ensure success. Graybird partnered in these three critical areas to reach the ultimate goal of making this inspirational and educational story available to the largest possible audience.

quotestartFrom day one it was clear that Graybird Foundation was completely committed to a marketing plan that would give Surviving Skokie every chance to make a memorable impact with audiences.

Eli Adler, Co-Director, Co-Producer Surviving Skokie

Marketing & Communications Strategy

Everyone has a story to share—Graybird Foundation is privileged to be part of the telling of Surviving Skokie.  Our strategy was to make a name for the documentary during the film festival season. Filling executive producer and marketing roles, the Graybird team conducted speaker training and served as spokespersons to provide context for the film’s mission. We also became trusted advisors for Blair Gershkow and Eli by helping them navigate the process of securing a distribution contract, and managing media relations that procured coverage including KQED, the Chicago Tribune, ABC Windy City Live and the Times of Israel.


The Graybird team created a variety of marketing assets to extend the Surviving Skokie brand. We managed an online competition that received entries from designers in Asia, South America, the U.K. and the United States, with the winning design originating from Kenneth Joel of The Philippines. The movie title graphic, created by Robbin Atherly at Six Foot Two Productions in Marin County, was included in the winning design that inspired postcards, social media, name badges, and VIP appreciation gifts distributed to press and thousands of audience members.


Graybird Foundation teamed with StoverPix to refresh the Surviving Skokie website. The basic, original structure was retained and several new modern elements were added, including:

  • Jack Adler page with extensive information about the star of the film
  • Praise section to post comments about the film
  • News/Events section where website visitors can view the calendar and coverage
  • Image gallery from Surviving Skokie festival screenings and events
  • Redesigned DONATE button and contributions page to easily seek contributions


Surviving Skokie was accepted in the March 2016 Chicago Jewish Film Festival, where it screened to sold-out audiences who felt a deep connection to the story. Graybird identified a pivotal opportunity to celebrate and thank the local people interviewed in the documentary who still lived in the Skokie area. We organized and hosted a VIP reception that was held in conjunction with the Surviving Skokie homecoming screening at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.

quote-open-iconSurviving Skokie is one of those rare films offering hope that the human spirit can survive the darkest moments.   It was a delight to work with the Graybird Foundation team who not only promoted their film, but went above and beyond to highlight our festival as a whole.

Amanda Cahan, Program Marketing Manager, Chicago Jewish Community Center

quote-open-iconSurviving Skokie presents a Holocaust family story in a poignant and personal way, by telling it through the lens of a son, learning about his father’s past and coming to understand its relation to the present.

Susan Abrams, CEO of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Lasting Results

Jack’s perseverance was passed down to his son, Eli, who took the bold move to champion his father’s story into an award-winning documentary. In addition to winning audience awards at the Mill Valley and Los Angeles Jewish Film Festivals, the Surviving Skokie team secured an agent to broker an international distribution deal.  Most importantly the film gained a place of honor in the hearts of all who made this lifelong dream come true.

Jill Grossman

Jill Grossman

Founder and CEO

As founder of Graybird Foundation, Jill is thrilled to give back to the Bay Area community that has given so much to so many. At Graybird, she is responsible for strategic planning, identifying opportunities, and executing fundraising efforts.

Jill has played an active role in several projects — most notably as executive producer of the documentary Surviving Skokie and as a task force member of the LifeMoves (formerly InnVisionShelterNetwork) rebranding initiative.

Even before founding Graybird, Jill was involved in several nonprofit marketing projects including the acquisition of two digital mammography systems at the San Mateo County Hospital and the 25th Anniversary fundraising video for ShelterNetwork. As a member of the Crystal Springs Uplands School board of trustees, Jill led the creation of Crystal’s mission statement, tagline and the 2009-2014 strategic plan as well as co-led the marketing/capital campaign efforts for the institution’s new Middle School. Her high technology communications experience includes executive roles at Silicon Graphics, Macromedia and Catapult Partners.

Jill has a BA in History with a minor in Business Administration from UCLA. Apart from Graybird, Jill enjoys hiking, skiing, traveling, movies and spending time with her three fabulous children and extended family. Oh, and she also loves the Golden State Warriors.

See Jill’s full professional background on LinkedIn.

You would never guess

I wear a size 10 shoe

I can’t function without

Music on a hike

Celebrity who would play me in a movie

Sandra Bullock (I wish!)

A nerdy thing I love to do

Try to figure out who will win the Oscar in every category every year

My favorite vacation spot is

Sun Valley, Idaho

As a kid I was always in trouble for

Losing things

Favorite part of my job is

Working with my friends

Renee Spooner

Renee Spooner

Chief Marketing Officer

The Graybird Foundation clients inspire Renée to dig deep and make bold marketing moves on their behalf.  After a successful Silicon Valley career in high-tech marketing, she now combines her skills in branding, communications and project management with her passion to mentor nonprofit professionals. Clients on the Graybird roster include Berkeley Symphony, Crystal Springs Upland School, Foundation for a College Education, Gatepath, Golden State Youth Orchestra, LifeMoves, Reach for Home, and Surviving Skokie.

As Chief Marketing Office at Graybird Foundation, Renée is responsible for guiding client marketing strategy, bringing together skilled teams, and mentoring clients as they take ownership of their new brands.  She draws from a background in public relations, customer marketing and product launches, with previous management roles at Silicon Graphics, BEA/Oracle and VMware, and consulting with numerous startups.  Renée’s evolution into the nonprofit sector is her way of giving back.

The travel adventure on my bucket list is

Sailing the South Pacific

Celebrity who would play me in a movie

Joan Cusack

A nerdy thing I love to do

Is recite Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I [ … ] everyday

Pray for my children and my sanity

As a kid I was always in trouble for

Talking too much in class

My favorite restaurant is

Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay

Favorite part of my job

Mentoring up-and-coming marketers

Helen Boyer

Helen Boyer

Chief Operating Officer

As Chief Operating Officer of Graybird Foundation, Helen leads strategic planning, finance, operations and our grant process. She collaborates with project teams, guides client engagements and develops creative solutions that drive the foundation’s programs and goals.

Helen brings two decades of business management and operations experience to Graybird, spanning the corporate, non-profit, public and private sectors. Having lived internationally and travelled to more than 25 countries, she has a diverse professional background ranging from leadership roles in business development, product planning, logistics and process management to assisting underserved children in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Vietnam. Helen’s volunteer service deeply informs her life practice. She is honored to help individuals and businesses in her local community, in addition to her work at Graybird.

Helen graduated from UC Davis, with a BS in Textile Science. When she isn’t at Graybird Foundation you’ll find her riding her bike to the beach, listening to jazz at her favorite café, or up-cycling a new find. And, plagued with a serious case of wanderlust, she is always planning the next stamp for her passport. See Helen’s full professional background on LinkedIn.

You would never guess

I know the words to nearly every song in the musical “Funny Girl”

I can’t function without

My sisters

The travel adventure on my bucket list is

Angkor Wat in Cambodia

A nerdy thing I love to do

File my greeting cards by category

Favorite Podcast/Movie/Book/Play/Artist

Baraka, Shantaram, Into the Woods, Guayasamin

I [ … ] everyday

Chat during my commute with one of my best friends (for 38 years)

As a kid I was always in trouble for

Talking too much, especially to strangers

Favorite part of my job

Working with people who are guided by their hearts

Shelley Willig

Shelley Willig

Head of Education Practice

Shelley is obsessed with education; she believes that increasing the percentage of young people earning college degrees is a solution to many of the major issues plaguing our country today. Combining her 20 years in high-tech marketing with her role as Head of Education Practice at Graybird, Shelley is elated to lead projects for community based organizations working hard to get more students to and through college.

Since 2006, Shelley has been deeply involved in education nonprofits. She manages the volunteer college advising program at Foundation for a College Education where she also works directly with students. Shelley serves on the board of Mid-Peninsula High School, a CAIS school in Menlo Park. Prior to joining Graybird Foundation, Shelley served eight years as the Director of Admission at Trinity School, an independent elementary institution.

Shelley holds a BA in Communications from CSU Fullerton, and a certificate in College Admissions Counseling from UC Berkeley. When she is not touring college campuses, Shelley enjoys hiking, cooking, and dinners on the patio with her husband and four sons.

I can’t function without

The goofiness of my kids and husband

The travel adventure on my bucket list is

Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro

I’ve always wanted to be


My hidden talent is

Cooking a pretty good meal in anybody’s kitchen with whatever I can find in the fridge and pantry

A nerdy thing I love to do

Read statistics about college admissions

Favorite Podcast/Movie/Book/Play/Artist

Stand By Me/Operating Instructions/Driving Miss Daisy/Elton John

As a kid I 

was never in trouble because I never got caught!

My favorite spot in the Bay Area is

Wunderlich Park Trails

Favorite part of my job

Working with people I admire

Reach for Home — Fund a Need Video