Get Ready to Get Better.

Welcome!

In anticipation of our “Develop Yourself and Your Network” Convening, hosted in conjunction with the Schusterman Philanthropic Network at Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, August 11th and 12th, we decided to provide some ongoing updates, blog style.

Leading up to the big event, we’ll be posting more in depth information like speaker bios, ideas of who to meet and what to do while you are here, plus a few other goodies along the way.

To kick us off, check out some pictures highlighting the conversations we’ve had at prior convenings.

Creating Worthwhile Programming

by Heather Wolfson

An asset map of enriching programming areas from the Southwest NEXTWork Launch. Click to enlarge.

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.

 

Who Do We Serve: A Blog Series

by Bennie Cohen

On May 8, 2012, 25 professionals gathered in Atlanta for our Southeast NEXTwork Launch. The NEXTwork is our growing network of professionals engaging Jewish young adults in their local communities, and at this Launch, we endeavored to create a forum where they could share best practices, make connections, and probe deeper into challenges we face as a field.

One of our sessions, titled “Who Do We Serve?”, helped us to uncover our Jewish young adult audience–their demographics, personalities, traits, and inclinations. With the help of a scribe, we created a visual representation of our discussion (check out the image below) that emphasized the themes of our discussion: authenticity, Jewish young adults’ needs, feelings of acceptance, the stigma of “not being Jewish enough,” and volunteering (to name a few). Rafi Samuels-Schwartz, NEXT’s Northeast regional director, has already written a post about this fascinating topic, and it has left us wanting more. At the end of his post, he poses several important questions:

“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?”

As Jewish organizations who seek to involve young adults in our community, we must always remember the people we are trying to serve.  We need this reality check, because often, we want so much for young adults to buy into our missions that we forget to to do our homework on this demographic.

In looking at the complexity of the themes that emerged from this conversation, we feel that Rafi’s post serves as a great prompt for future posts on this topic. In the coming weeks, we’ll publish several posts as part of a Who Do We Serve? series. We invite you to join the conversation, and add comments and anecdotes along the way when you see themes that resonate with you.

Our next post will focus on the needs of Jewish young adults, so stay tuned.

Bennie Cohen is the Southeast Regional Director for NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @whosyourbennie.

Who Do We Serve?: From North to South

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.

 

Graphic Notes, Who Do We Serve?

Graphic notes, click to enlarge!

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.

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.

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.