Tips from the NEXTwork: How do I Engage the Totally Uninterested?

By Yoni Sarason

A couple of weeks ago, 50 young adult engagement professionals gathered in Long Beach, California for the first-ever NEXTwork Launch. In a day full of training, networking, and best practice-sharing, attendees had the unique opportunity to spread their wealth of knowledge in an asset mapping activity.

What does asset mapping look like? Check out the photo to the right. Each participant expressed an issue with which they are grappling in order to encourage their peers to lend their expertise. Rebecca Halpin, a former NEXT fellow currently working at IKAR, a spiritual community in Los Angeles, CA,  asked the question, “How do I engage the totally uninterested?” She clarified further: “Someone who would never step foot in a synagogue or go to a Jewish event.”

The question is a big one, and reaches to one of the core tensions of living in a country that provides us with so much freedom and so many options. To begin to answer her question, it is worth framing the reality that organizations, particularly Jewish non-profits, must decide who they want to reach in order to have the focus to achieve that reach. We must decide if we are trying to deepen experiences for those already bought into our mission, or organization, or if we are going to try to reach those who haven’t yet stepped through our doors.

If we follow the first path, then we should take the advice of the participant who responded to the question succinctly, “Don’t bother!”  To elaborate:  If you are doing something well, and the people who come really like it, don’t burn yourself out worrying about everyone else.

If we decide, however, that our goal is to connect to those not already a part of our initiative, we should probably stop using terms like unaffiliated, or unengaged.  Instead, we need to do something a bit different.  The first is to identify more specifically who we are trying to reach, and this is known as market segmentation.  Are you looking for recently transplanted individuals who don’t know where to turn, or might have tried something and were turned off?  Or are you after people who have created their own personal groups and communities and currently don’t find value in your offering?

One of the best places to start, as noted on the asset map, is to, “find out what they are interested in.”  Whether or not it turns out that individuals are interested in your particular offerings, this information is actionable.  It allows you to identify if you have an existing offering the individual simply doesn’t know about (suggesting a marketing issue), if you aren’t offering things individuals want (a content issue), or if your institution is simply on a different planet from the individual (a vision issue).

So how do you get this critical information?  NEXT believes one answer is one-on-one personal engagement. If you make yourself available as a contact for people who are new to your city or looking to learn more about the community, and take the time to hear their stories, you will learn a great deal.  Learn from insurance salespeople. Oftentimes, they also don’t know who to talk to, so they start with who they already know, and ask for referrals.  At the end of every conversation, ask, “Do you know anyone else who might have an interesting perspective on X,” or “Can you recommend a friend who is Jewish but doesn’t come to ‘Jewish’ events?”  As people hear that you are willing to actually sit down with them and hear their story, don’t be surprised if you start getting unsolicited calls.

Concurrently, another good piece of advice from the asset map is to “have regulars bring a friend.” Young adults often do things because it is where their current friends are, or where their potential friends may be.  Your current participants can be your greatest asset in promoting your events.  You just have to ask.

As an epilogue, a lot of the other responses to Rebecca’s question revolved around low-barrier programming, and most of the advice was to take the Jewish content out entirely.  While this may be a great starting place for organizations whose primary goal is to engage young adults, it may not be a great approach for an organization focused on spirituality and Jewish learning.  Instead,  I would advise that such organizations continue to do what they do best–create great Jewish spiritual experiences–and ask those who appreciate it to share it with their friends and networks.

Yoni Sarason is the Midwest Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation

Making the Most of Our Minutes

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.

>>Check here for a complete list of PresenTense Fellows and their projects.

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.

 

Photo by backpackphotography, licensed under Creative Commons.

Shabbat Conversations: A Case Study in Modeling Ritual

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.

10 Tips for Finding a Mentor

by Liz Fisher

When I saw this photo from the Southwest NEXTwork Launch, depicting one participant’s request for advice to newly minted young adult engagement professionals:

the big pink scrawl “find a mentor” jumped out at me.

During the course of my own career, I have had several mentors.  Of those people I would call mentors, some would say they mentored me, but others did so from afar and might be surprised to hear how much I learned from watching them. I wouldn’t be where I am without these guides.

At NEXT, we are committed to building the field of young adult engagement professionals.  Part of that work is helping you identify and connect with mentors.  Here are my tips:

  1. Choose your boss. I know this is hard and circumstances often prevent this from happening, but the person who supervises you is your real-time guide. When you have the luxury of making career choices, choose to work for someone who knows things you don’t and who will push and teach you.
  1. Ask authentic questions.  Relationship begins by getting to know the other person.  Before you ask about you, and certainly before you ask for favors, learn as much as you can about the other person.  Make it authentic.  Don’t ask about things you don’t care about.  If there isn’t anything you genuinely want to know about the other person–how they got to where they are, and why they do the things they do–they are not the right mentor for you.
  1. Mentoring is not networking.  Don’t seek out mentors under the false guise of wanting to learn when you really just want them to know who you are.  Find another way to meet and impress those people.  Send them a blog post you wrote.  Engage them in work-related conversation.  Try to get on one of their projects.  Mention them on Twitter.  But don’t waste their time pretending to ask for advice if you don’t care.
  1. Follow through.  Say thank you.  Every time.  When you do ask for advice, follow through and tell them how it went.  As a mentor, there is nothing more frustrating then having coffee with someone, giving them a ton of advice about their career search, for instance, and then never hearing where they land, or how it is going.
  1. Learn what you can where you can. You don’t need to take everything from one person. We all have strengths and weaknesses. That brilliant speaker with bad relationship skills? Learn the speaking, ignore the rest. The person who everyone loves but gets nothing done?  Learn the relationship skills, ignore the lack of execution.
  1. If you are a woman, seek out women a generation or two older than you as mentors.  Gender still matters in our field, and it’s helpful to have that perspective.
  1. If you are a woman, don’t only seek out women.  See above: gender still matters, and it’s helpful to have a powerful man or two in your camp.
  1. Say thank you.  I’m saying it twice because it is so important.  Let people know when they have helped you.  Give them credit publicly if you can.
  1. Pay it forward.  Mentor someone else.  Take the calls and emails from people who want to connect with you.  Make time for others the way people are making time for you.
  1. Contact us! Call your NEXT Regional Director.  Tell us what you are looking for and we will help you find someone to connect with. Or contact me!  I’m liz.fisher@birthrightisraelnext.org, or @liz_fisher on Twitter, and I love speaking with professionals in the field.

Stay tuned for more posts inspired by our NEXTwork Launch. In the meantime, see what young adult engagement professionals are talking about by searching the #NEXTwork hashtag on Twitter.

Liz Fisher is the managing director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.

Visual Thinking: A Challenge for Our Sector

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?

Or even 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.

 

Tips for New Engagement Professionals, Courtesy of the NEXTwork

Are you new to the young adult engagement field? Have no fear–your peers and colleagues are here to help.

On May 1st, 2012, NEXT hosted our first-ever NEXTwork Launch in Long Beach, California. In convening a selection of the western contingent of our NEXTwork–our national network of program providers for Birthright Israel alumni and their peers–we aimed to dig deeper into the issues and challenges facing this field. Over 50 professionals gathered for a day-long training, complete with interactive presentations by Brian Elliot (FriendFactor), Yechiel Hoffman (LimmudLA), Jill Soloway (East Side Jews), and Josh Miller (Jim Joseph Foundation). We’ll provide a more thorough recap soon, but in the meantime, we wanted to share this great takeaway from the “Asset Mapping” program. What you see below are the contributions of our brilliant NEXTwork to one attendee’s request for advice to a newbie in the field.

Some highlights:

1) Find a strong support system and a mentor

2) Make sure to enrich yourself Jewishly

3) Set reasonable expectations and then surpass them.

Check out all of them below:

Our next NEXTwork Launch will take place in Atlanta in just one week! More takeaways from both will be posted soon.

The Power of DIY Holidays

Cal

By Emily Comisar

In 2011 my team decided to experiment with the incentives model we had been using for NEXT Shabbat, hoping that we could inspire BirthrightIsraelalumni (and their friends by association) to participate in home-based holiday celebrations as well.   Birthright Israel alumni were eligible to host Tu B’shvat Seders, Passover Seders, and Sukkot celebrations and NEXT offered a subsidy of up to $12 per person for up to 16 people at the meal.  For Sukkot, we also offered the option of a $200 subsidy for materials to build a Sukkah.

We weren’t sure how popular the opportunities would be but after a quiet showing for Tu B’Shvat – 48 Seders – the response to Passover blew us away.  Not only did we have to double the size of the program, to allow for 400 instead of Passover Seders, but we found that 54% of those people were new to NEXT and 60% of them had never hosted their own Passover Seder before.  That means that over 200 young Jewish adults took the step from participant in a Jewish experience to owner of a Jewish experience.

Now that we were certain there was a substantial amount of genuine interest in holiday celebrations, we tweaked the incentives model for Sukkot, offering two separate ways that a Birthright Israel alumnus could participate: hosting a meal for a per person payment rate or building a Sukkah for payment based on actual expenses.

Sukkot has been our most popular holiday to date; the first 150 slots were taken in less than two hours.  By the time we closed registration a few days before Sukkot, around 300 people had been registered. What happened next, however, was entirely unexpected.

What we see every week with the NEXT Shabbat program was echoed in the Tu B’Shvat and Passover micro-grants of 2011; not everyone who signs up follows through.  Typically the drop off is somewhere around 30%.  That rate for Sukkot was nearly double, with 60% of Sukkah building registrants not reporting back to us for the funds.

Although we have used incentives to ignite interest, we’re still figuring out how to get past the next barrier to participation.  What this process has shown us is that maybe money is not the entire answer and cost is not always the barrier.   Anecdotally, we hear that things like, weather, illness, apartment size, and school and work schedules get in the way.  So, the question remains, what’s the next step to surmount that logistics barrier?

 

 Emily Comisar is the Manager of National Projects at NEXT.

Pesach: Central, Pivotal, Crucial.

by Yoni Sarason

Happy Summer in March!

Weather aside, the Jewish calendar let’s us know Spring has arrived through the celebration of Pesach/Passover. The holiday, which is filled with symbols of rebirth (eggs, parsley, etc.) is also host to what has been called the central narrative of the Jewish people; the Exodus from Egypt. In retelling the story every year of our journey from slavery to liberation, we recommit ourselves to both memory and to working towards a world in which we are all free from physical or mental bondage.

So that you don’t have to search, I’ve distilled what I believe to be the most interesting things about the Pesach holiday and story into a few ideas:

1. Compassion is the basis great leadership. Much like Harry Potter, being saved from a certain death by his mother’s compassion, Moses’ life is saved by three women; his mother, his sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter. We are taught that this compassion, conferred upon Moses early in his life, allowed him to hear the suffering of the Israelites and be motivated to act on their behalf.

2. We must understand inequality and actively work to counter it. The first actions we read about Moses taking are quick and occur in rapid succession. First, he leaves the palace, second, he sees an Israelite being struck by an Egyptian and kills the Egyptian. Next, he sees to Israelites fighting and intervenes, they call him out on killing the Egyptian and he flees Egypt. Finally, he sees women being accosted as they try to tend to their flock and defends them. We learn that these actions represent an ideal of behavior. First we must make a conscious decision to understand the injustices of the world, as Moses does by leaving his cushy life in the palace. Once we have seen injustice, it is our duty to act against it, as Moses does with the Egyptian taskmaster, the arguing slaves, and the women at the well. It is this willingness to ask, combined with Moses’ humility that we understand to be the reason he is chosen to lead the Jewish people from Egypt.

3. We cannot progress when we are narrow-minded. Speaking of Egypt, or Mitzrayim, as it is known in Hebrew, is an interesting word. The literal translation of Mitzrayim is ‘from the narrow places’. We can understand this as a metaphor for the creation of the Jewish people, where the narrow places are the womb, and the exodus is the process of birthing. Alternatively, it is taught that the narrow places represent a non-expansive world view. When we are narrow in our thinking, we do not create to our full potential. Only through an exodus from this perspective to expansive thinking can we truly see the world and identify our purpose within it.

4. Memory is powerful. We are specifically commanded to remember the exodus from Egypt, and the seder itself is a highly ritualized reenactment of our journey from bondage to freedom, replete with foods, songs, stages,and stories to carry us from point to point. In envisioning ourselves as freed slaves, we may better empathize with those still not liberated.  Further, in helping our peers and children to live this ritual, we ensure the continuity of these ideas and work towards a more just world.

May your Passover help you to ask important questions and find more gratitude and meaning.

Chag Sameach!

Yoni Sarason is the Midwest Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation

Image by RonAlmog, licensed under Creative Commons.

Tapping the Network

by Jordan Cohen

The gift of Birthright has left me with many wonderful memories, but my experience was more than just a trip to Israel.  It has led me to meet the people and find the organizations that would change my own involvement in the Jewish world and provided me with opportunities and connections throughout the Atlanta Jewish Community, opening doors for me to build networks within my own profession.

Shortly after my trip to Israel, I began my second year of my Master’s program.  I am currently finishing my graduate studies at Emory University in the Rollins School of Public Health and have continuously looked for ways to connect my passion for public health with my love for my community.  When the semester began, so too began a new student organization, the Jewish Students of Public Health.  Formed by classmates and friends of mine, the JSPH was the means by which we could bridge the Jewish Community with public health.  We met with Bennie Cohen* to discuss current initiatives within the community and how they could fit in with our ideals and goals as an organization.  When he told us about the Atlanta Jewish Gene Screen, I knew right away that this was the kind of connection we were hoping for.

The AJGS is a genetic screening initiative that was started by Randy Gold and his family to raise awareness about the importance of genetic testing.  I began volunteering with the AJGS during their first year of existence and have attended many events in and around the Atlanta community.  AJGS is constantly finding ways to involve the entire community, whether hosting a fashion show at the Georgia Aquarium or hosting a party for Purim.  The mission of the AJGS is to encourage young Jewish couples to get tested for the 19 known genetic diseases that affect the Ashkenazi population.  Many of these diseases are preventable and our goal is to prevent children from being born with any of these diseases.  When the initiative was first started, it cost thousands of dollars to get tested, but because of the effort of the Gold family and those working with the AJGS, it currently costs a mere $25 out of pocket.  Today, because of my involvement and because of the connections I’ve made through Bennie, I am still engaged in activities with the AJGS and have made many more connections within the Jewish community.

I am confident that no matter where I go or what I decide to do, I will still have the connections I have made through my experiences with Birthright and the AJGS.  By incorporating my passion for public health into the Jewish community as a whole, I will be able to use the networks I’ve created to my advantage in the next stages of my life.

*Bennie Cohen is the Southeast Regional Director for NEXT: a Division of Birthright Israel Foundation.

Image by RambergMediaImages, licensed under Creative Commons.