by Bennie Cohen
This post is the second in a series entitled “Who Do We Serve,” inspired by our Southeast NEXTwork Launch in May 2012.
The question of “Who Do We Serve?” is one that we have already flagged as crucial to young adult engagement. When determining how to assess the experience of the people that we serve—Jewish young adults—one interesting factor stood out: the impact of the economy and growth of the “boomerang child” phenomenon. With so many young Jewish adults nationwide moving back in with their parents/guardians, we have to rethink the picture of what the average 23-year-old looks like.
At our Southeast NEXTwork Launch in May, we considered this scenario. Joel Marcovitch, director of Hillel at the University of Georgia, then posed the following question: What is a young Jewish adult going to need now and five years from now?
When considering what makes our audience unique, who they are, and what they are all about, we had not yet touched on what their needs are and how we can help—the “serve” part of “who do we serve.”
Before we solicit young Jewish adults to volunteer or come to an event, how can we help them get settled? What more immediate needs can we fulfill?
Think of the “boomerang child” moving back home, or the recent college graduate moving to a new city. We know that when someone relocates, there are certain things that have to get done in order to put their lives in order. They need to find a job, build a social network, pick new doctors, and even locate new places to eat!
What if there was a Jewish life website that could serve as a “Welcome to [your town here]!” The site could be set up to provide all of the things that a new person needs to get started and settled in the community. I know I would have greatly benefited from something like this when I moved to Atlanta.
Help me further explore this idea. What sort of information do you think should be offered on this kind of site? Do you think there should be an Angie’s List-type function so people can leave comments and ratings? Maybe by starting this discussion here, we can one day soon make it real.
As we look for new ways to engage young Jewish adults in our communities, we must try to understand not just what we need from them, but what they need from us. For many of them, finding a place to live and building up a circle of friends is a top priority, and their needs are always going to come before ours. However, as natural connectors in our communities, we can help them fill those needs. We now need to determine how. Got ideas? Please share in the comments section below!
Bennie Cohen is the Southeast Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.
by Emily Comisar
Of all of the questions that I hear about Taglit-Birthright Israel, one that comes up over and over again is that of how we get trip participants to view their experience as a gift to be paid forward instead of simply a right to which they are entitled. Paying it forward isn’t restricted to donating that $250 deposit back to the organization; it also means feeling a sense of responsibility to the community, to engage in it in whichever way is most meaningful and make it a more welcoming place for a rising generation of young Jewish adults.
Two weeks ago, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (Brandeis University), and NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation convened a group of 25 young professionals to talk about Taglit-Birthright Israel. Being on staff at NEXT, I was of course keenly interested in conversations about how we engage trip returnees once they land back on U.S. soil – emotionally exhausted, intellectually challenged and inevitably glowing.
On the second day of the gathering, as we grappled with that question of entitlement and responsibility, a few important words floated to the surface over and over again:
Transparency: the need to be clear with participants up front about the goals of the trip.
- Reflection: understanding that each participant is on a unique Jewish journey and that Taglit-Birthright Israel will play a different role in each of their lives, that they will unpack what they learn about themselves on the trip in different ways, and that’s OK.
- Ownership: decreasing the amount of hand-holding on the trip and giving participants a sense of ownership over the experience.
To be transparent and to create a space for reflection is one thing, but how do we encourage participants to take ownership over an experience that has been planned for them down to the minute by people they have never met?
We can let them facilitate conversations, organize an oneg or lead a text study, but the meat of any sort of ownership experience comes down to this: feeling needed. Instead of asking, how do we get them to donate, how do we get them to invite people, how do we get them in the door, let’s ask: How do we make them feel needed? How do we make them feel necessary?
I know, I know, this is easier said than done. The reality of working in the nonprofit sector is that we report quantitatively. We talk to our funders and stakeholders about how many people we’ve reached. Even if we aren’t experiencing explicit pressure from our senior staff and boards to put butts in seats, we can’t help but put that pressure on ourselves.
But here’s the thing: I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people who get into this line of work didn’t do it because they like sales. We do it because we care about what the Jewish world looks like now and what it will look like 20 years from now. It’s a question of long-term thinking and strategy. The number of people in the door is no doubt a valuable short-term indicator to use alongside qualitative feedback that we’re getting on our work, but the problem with relying on it is that our audiences can see right through it.
It doesn’t take a social researcher to tell us that young Jewish adults (or humans in general) want to be counted as more than simply a butt in a seat or a body in the door.
Let’s stop working so hard to be event planners and start being relationship builders. Maybe we can build a stronger community if, instead of counting heads, we tap into the entire person, figure out which of their talents and skills are necessary to make things happen, and let them know that they are the only ones who can do it.
by Heather Wolfson
During the Southwest NEXTwork Launch a question about programming caught my eye. Specifically, what types of programs can we, as engagement professionals, create for young Jewish adults that are not only engaging, but also worth people’s time? I believe it means developing relevant and authentic events. Here’s how:
1. Consult with participants. Don’t hesitate to conduct an informal focus group of your participants to find out what they want.
2. Develop goals and objectives. Before developing the program out, go into it with clear ideas of what you want people to get out of the program.
3. Get buy-in from key participants. Have some of your participants been clamoring for a specific type of event? Is this program someone’s idea? Don’t do it all yourself — involve participants throughout the process.
4. Think outside the box. Get as creative as possible. Consider the content, venue, food, presenters, entertainment…etc.
5. Present meaningful content. Participants should walk away with a new nugget of knowledge.
6. Set the mood. The tone of the program is really important. Fostering a warm and welcoming environment is critical. Have greeters at the door, floaters to connect with new people and always do a short ice breaker (clearly dependent on number of people in attendance).
7. Create action. What is one thing people can do when they go home? Think about how this program can be relevant beyond the program itself.
8. Plan for follow-up. Before the program begins, know how you want to follow up with everyone in attendance, more than just a thank you. Provide participants with links to other programs of interest, educational resources or anything else that may have come out of your program.
Heather Wolfson is the Western Regional Director for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.
by Liz Fisher
As parents of school age kids, we’ve mostly made the shift from being woken up to waking the kids up. But waking the kids up each morning is only part of the job. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that the four most common words I say every morning are “put your shoes on”. My kids aren’t so hard to wake up, and they pretty much get through the eating breakfast, brushing teeth routine on their own, but the shoes? Every single morning. “Put. Your. Shoes. On”. Over and over and over again.
This weekend is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, and there is a cool campaign amongst a group of rabbis and others to get the #Torah hashtag to the top of the most popular list. So there has been a lot of tweeting Torah today, and I am enjoying the 140 character at a time learning.
This morning, Rabbi Sari Laufer (@RabbiLaufer) tweeted: “Midrash: The night before receiving the #Torah, the children of Israel slept all of that night,& Moshe had to rouse them to receive #Torah.”
I’ve been thinking about that rousing, what it meant at Sinai and what it means in our generation. Yesterday I had the extraordinary privilege of learning with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. At one point, he was asked about the generation gap. His response: for hundreds of generations, from Sinai to today, parents have had to teach their children that this (Torah, community, Judaism) is relevant and meaningful.
For hundreds of generations, we have had to wake our kids up. Yesterday’s learning was part of a conversation convened by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, and our team at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. We were there to hear from Birthrighters themselves and their peers – innovators and entrepreneurs throughout the Jewish community who are helping us think about how to think about Birthright, the gift of a free 10 day trip to Israel, and the days, months, and years that follow that trip.
In many ways, for many participants, Birthright Israel is that waking up, the rousing to receive Torah – in the most broad sense of the word. And it does a pretty good job of that.
But Birthright Israel doesn’t make breakfast. It doesn’t remind you to pack your backpack. It doesn’t nag you to put on your shoes. And it doesn’t do what is my ultimate goal with my kids – get you to the point where you do all these things on your own because it just makes sense to you.
That job – the backpacks, the shoes, the understanding of relevance and applicability, that’s up to the rest of us. I’m honored to work with a group of people who think about this everyday. But we can’t think of it alone. Whatever your background, whatever your religion (or lack thereof), it is our role to pass our values on to the next generation. How are we doing that? And what are they passing up to us? And how do we all get to a place where we don’t need to be reminded to put our shoes on?
by Rafi Samuels-Schwartz
Perhaps the single most prevalent misunderstanding to come out over thirteen years of Taglit-Birthright Israel trips is the idea that there is a single “Birthright alumni” profile in which all the nearly 300,000 participants nicely fit. In 2012, past-participants of Taglit-Birthright Israel trips are, in some cases, approaching their upper 30’s, live in every state, and occupy a wide spectrum of religious practices, demographic categories, and economic strata. The successes of the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip are due, in part, to the Trip’s capacity to offer meaning and personal relevance to this wildly mixed multitude of participants. Unfortunately, these participants are oftentimes lumped into a single category – “Alumni” – the moment they return home exhausted and electrified from their 10 day experience. While this may be a convenient classification, it’s not necessarily an accurate one. We must ask ourselves: What is a Taglit-Birthright Israel participant? What does this participant look like? Do they look like that everywhere?
With these questions in mind, I recently participated in an eye-opening exercise at NEXT’s Southeast Regional NEXTWork convening. Entitled “Who Do We Serve?,” this workshop encouraged the room of young-adult program professionals from a number of different organizations – many of which often have overlapping, but decidedly non-identical, audiences – to name the attributes, hobbies, interests, and characteristics of the audiences they serve. What emerged was a patchwork “profile,” oftentimes incomplete and even contradictory, of a “typical” Young Jewish adult in the Southeast United States.
As Northeast Regional Director of NEXT, I focus on opportunities and communities decidedly above the Mason-Dixon line. And so, I was fascinated to hear how this room full of Jewish professionals from across Georgia saw the people they were aiming to serve. Some of it seemed universal; a returning trip participant in Hoboken craves the same authenticity in their Jewish life as one in Makon, GA. Other times, attributes felt distinctly regional; the centrality of multi-generational family roots in Georgia would likely be out of place in the oftentimes hyper-transient Northeast.
Ultimately, the importance of the exercise seemed less to do with the eventual “profile” that emerged. Instead, it seemed to have more to do with creating a space and opportunity for those present to balance their assumptions about the Young Adult population they serve against those of their fellow professionals. Because, as it turned out (unsurprisingly, in hindsight) there was no single “profile” to define. Rather, the room was left considering the things that made their participants and their communities different. And, more importantly – similar.
All too often, it seems, in their eagerness to get out and do something, organizations leapfrog over the important process of honing in on the “who” for which that something is intended. Consider it – Has your organization taken the time recently to ask itself “who do we serve?” If so, how has your organization changed as a result of that question? If not, perhaps it’s time to clearly define, or redefine, your audience. Are they who you think they are? Have they changed? Has your organization?
I encourage you all to share how you have gone about asking the all-important question of “Who Do We Serve?” at your organizations. After all, without the “who”, the “what” might not matter at all.
Rafi is the Northeast Regional Director for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. Follow him on twitter at @NEXTRafi.
By Shelby Zitelman
No, I am not talking about my cell phone’s rollover plan. Although is there even a need for cell phone minutes if we can all use skype on our smart phones? Alas, I digress… What I would like to discuss in the 7 paragraphs herein is how to make the most of your time with volunteers.
Since 2007, PresenTense has been working with creative, inspired individuals from international Jewish communities to effect social change. Whether hosting a parlor meeting, starting or supporting a new community-focused venture or writing for the (currently discontinued) PresenTense magazine, PresenTense has offered the opportunity for Jews from all backgrounds, perspectives and stages of life to impact their Jewish Community by responding to the calling ““how can I make my community a better place in the 21st century?”
Over the past 5 years PresenTense has refined our Fellowship program, the program for which we are now known, and has worked with 285 entrepreneurs (Fellows) and almost 1,000 volunteers to launch 149 ventures, and another 120 ventures in 2011 alone. PresenTense Fellows are the visionaries, and commit at least 6 months to develop a new community-changing initiative.
But the PresenTense volunteers are the secret sauce of our Fellowship program, and are crucial to the success of the Fellows. Our volunteers donate countless hours as steering committee members, coaches and mentors, offering their professional experiences, insights and time to build the Fellowship and directly support the Fellows.
So what is the method we’ve used to successfully recruit and motivate our participants and volunteers? We believe there are three key elements:
- An open-ended calling,
- Multiple points of meaningful engagement, and
- Structured work-plans, tasks and deadlines.
1. The Open-Ended Calling
Are you passionate about the environment? Education? Arts and culture? Hunger and Poverty Relief? Cross-cultural connections? Israel?
The question “how can I make my community a better place in the 21st century?” provokes an answer from anyone who has a stake. Instead of defining the issue, we let our volunteers connect to the question. Often people say, “I’m not sure how I want to get involved, but I know that I want to volunteer with your organization”. This leads me to the next point:
2. Multiple Points of Meaningful Engagement.
Do you have a vision? A network to share? Insights to offer? 2 hours a month to recruit/promote/plan?
The PresenTense platform has created multiple points of entry for individuals to participate in the way that works for them. Our program is designed to let anyone get involved if they are willing to give a bit of time. Our volunteers help with website management, blog posts, and press releases. They recruit, interview and admit our entrepreneurs. Our volunteers donate pro-bono hours of legal, marketing and accounting advice, listen to our entrepreneurs’ business presentations, plan events and represent our programs. There are a lot of moving pieces to our programs, which is why it is so important to have a process and method for overseeing our volunteers. Which leads me to point #3:
3. Structured work-plans, tasks and deadlines
We hold our volunteers accountable. Often volunteer managers do not want to “over burden” or call upon their volunteers to roll up their sleeves. But volunteers have the option to spend their time elsewhere, so by not giving them meaningful, guided work we would be denying them their opportunity to give back. So PresenTense makes sure that the volunteers’ work is structured, with understandable deliverables and due dates. It is our job to empower our volunteers to take ownership over their work, checking in and guiding as necessary detailed work-plans, calendars, suggested meeting agendas and intranets.
PresenTense would not be sustainable without commitment of our volunteers. We recently launched a campaign called the “million minutes campaign”, recognizing the amazing contributions our volunteers have given to international Jewish communities. Because PresenTense believes that communal change requires an eco-system of support and needs to be guided and managed to reach its maximum potential.
Shelby Zitelman is the North American Program Director for PresenTense.
by Heather Wolfson
About two years ago I hosted a NEXT Shabbat* in my home for a small group of Birthright Israel alumni. For me, it was about creating a space for alumni to connect, bring a friend or loved one, and enjoy a delicious meal together. (Yes, I cooked everything!) To my surprise this night turned out to be so much more.
One of the alumni brought his girlfriend (now wife) to Shabbat. He had just returned from his Birthright Israel trip about two months before and wanted to get connected to the community, despite a rigorous work and school schedule. Although she was quiet, his girlfriend (we’ll call her Kim) was excited to tell us that this would be her first Shabbat meal.
As a group, we gathered around the candlestick and all the women lit them together, with the help of the beautiful Shabbox. My husband chanted the kiddush and together we all said ha’motzi.
Alright, that was a traditional Shabbat in our home, but what came next was most inspiring. Sitting around the table with the rest of our guests Kim posed the question, “What did you all do for Shabbat with your families?”
From one end of the table, a friend explained that Shabbat in her home was just a meal on Friday night with the whole family. Although she knew it was Shabbat, it was the only time during the week that her entire family could be together. Another friend shared that he never really practiced Shabbat at home growing up, but really started to do so in college with his roommates. To them it was an excuse to power down after a long week of classes and just enjoy each other’s company.
I shared that in my family we would have Shabbat from time to time and what I loved the most about our Shabbat meals was that as my sister, brother and I got older and started to learn more through religious school, camp and youth group (USY), our meals changed. We often sang, taught our parents new songs, and reminisced about our friends.
One of our guests even laughed about the fact that his parents were really strict when he was in high school and he missed every high school football game because they wanted him home for Shabbat. Although it bothered him at the time, he now sees the value in having been home with his family.
Kim took it all in and asked: “so what about now?”
Many of us at the table felt that Shabbat was a time to recharge, reflect and renew. It was a time for us to slow down and just enjoy good company (friends, family…whoever might be at the table). Some admitted that Shabbat was not a weekly practice, for a variety of reasons, but wished that they could do it more regularly.
Then I shared that Shabbat is about creating a space and doing it your own way. Shabbat could be whatever you want it to be–of course I plugged the NEXT Shabbat program, but I also challenged everyone at the table to find a moment during each Shabbat that is sacred. It didn’t have to be a meal, it didn’t even have to be something longer than two minutes, but a moment to recharge.
As professionals, Shabbat is a time that we can model ritual. We can help bring Shabbat into people’s lives. Use NEXT Shabbat as your guide!
*NEXT Shabbat is a program of NEXT: A Division of the Birthright Israel Foundation. NEXT Shabbat enables Birthright Israel alumni to host Shabbat meals in their home and NEXT helps provide the resources. As the Western Regional Director for NEXT, I at times host meals for alumni. Find more information about NEXT Shabbat here.
Heather Wolfson is the Western Regional Director for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.
By Emily Comisar
This post originally appeared on eJewish Philanthropy.
If I told you that we could find new expressions of Jewish communal work using this image as our inspiration, you’d probably think I was crazy:
That’s right, square plus triangle equals circle. In this case, the triangle (or delta) stands for change, the square for the status quo, and the circle for wherever it is that we’re going — and we’re generally in agreement that where we’re going is not where we are.
This equation formed the basis for NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) this month, where nearly 2,000 nonprofit technology enthusiasts gathered to discuss everything from social change to Pinterest to Blackbaud’s plans to acquire Convio. If you’re not familiar with NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) – I can’t recommend their work highly enough, nor can I oversell their conference. And thanks to Darim Online, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Jim Joseph Foundation — who now regularly organize opportunities for Jewish professionals to attend and network at the NTC — you’ll be in good company.
Dan Roam, the keynote speaker and author of Blah Blah Blah: What to Do When Words Don’t Work, is a huge proponent of the visual thinking that guides that picture-based equation above. When about 60 percent of our brains are dedicated to visual processing, he argues, then why do we insist on problem-solving solely through written words? In a world where the Boeing 787 Dreamliner can be collectively constructed with pieces made in 17 different countries where 12 languages are spoken, why do so many of us in the American nonprofit sector still have trouble getting our messages across? The Jewish community in particular has a long history of reliance on the written word. Not to negate the richness of our written and oral history, but we could definitely use a kick in the pants when it comes to visual communication.
The point of all this is simplicity. Conveying ideas through imagery doesn’t have to involve the expertise of a trained designer just like it doesn’t require working knowledge of English to understand what’s going on in the Wong-Baker Faces Pain Rating Scale. The basic tools are already in our arsenal: circles, squares, arrows, even smiley faces.
In thinking through how we might communicate better with visuals, another hot topic in the nonprofit sector deserves our attention: data. Now more than ever, we’re tracking, analyzing and taking action on the free flow of data to which we have suddenly been given access in our highly tech-savvy age. At NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, we collect information on everything–from how much time passes between a participant’s return from the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip and when they register to host their first NEXT Shabbat meal, to which of their meals were vegetarian, Kosher-style, Kosher, or none of the above. Annie Leonard best summed up the downside to this data deluge at NTC this year: as her expertise grew, her ability to communicate shrunk.
Somewhere between these seemingly competing trends–an ever-expanding set of data and a need to simplify our messaging through visuals–there must be a middle ground. I’m talking about a space in which complex ideas and theories can manifest in nonverbal ways.
Let’s play out an example. The ever-changing behaviors and habits of the Birthright Generation are keeping many of us on our toes as we navigate the world of Jewish identity formation and how it takes place in different peer groups, on different social networks, and through various in-person and remote experiences.
What if, instead of getting bogged down in our own definitions of terms like “identity,” “community,” and “continuity,” our thinking and talking about young Jewish adult engagement looked something like this?
Drawings like this are just the beginning, the prompt to a broader conversation about the problems that we are trying to solve and our approaches to solving them. As far as beginnings go, this one is surprisingly easy. I drew this equation in the Google Docs drawing template in just a few minutes (and if I can do it, trust me, so can you).
Roam argues that the person who best describes a problem is the person most likely to solve it. In his world, that often translates to “whoever draws it best, gets the funding.”
So here’s my official challenge to you – spend a few minutes in Google Docs and draw your own statement about the work you’re doing in the Jewish community. Join NEXT’s “Visual Thinking” sketchpad to add your artwork and view that of others. We just ask that you respect the artwork of all of our colleagues in the field and try not to accidentally delete anything.
As this body of work grows, we will share it in service of continuing this important conversation–both in words, and in meaningful visuals.
Emily is the Manager of National Projects at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.