There are a number of things that make it hard to ‘engage the unengaged’, particularly young adults. Not least of which is that you might not know who or where they are, or how to reach them. Here are a few ideas for tackling those particular challenges.
1. If you don’t already have a outreach list, start with what you have, your current participants. Bring them together and ask each to get two friends who aren’t involved to join you for dinner. Ask a few questions, but mostly listen. If it turns out that what people tell you they want is something you provide or should provide, ask them to help you design it. Then follow through.
2. If you happen to have a list, like a list of children of your synagogue membership who are now college grads, don’t send a blanket email. Most people won’t open it up, they may never even see it. Instead, reach out through Facebook, particularly to those with whom you have many mutual friends. For those with whom you only have one or no mutual friends, ask for an introduction from your mutual friend. Be clear in your explanation of why you have invaded their inbox, and what you are looking for.
3. What should you say? Ideally, you are reaching out to your peer group, so you can draw from your own experience and transmit genuine issues. When I worked with Next Dor in St. Louis, I would reach out to people and ask if they had been able to find a good group of people to explore the city and hang out with since moving to or back to St. Louis. In my work with the Jewish Federation in St. Louis, reaching out to recent Israel trip participants, I asked to hear more about their trip, and offered to buy them coffee or a drink for their time.
4. Try to move from digital to face-to-face interaction. Sitting down with a person you don’t know can be hard. It can feel like a blind date, or worse. Acknowledge all that and be friendly, warm, and listen well. Explain again who you are and why you wanted to meet. Then ask the person to tell you his or her story. How did he or she end up in your city? Has he or she always been there, recently returned, or was his or her life just upended to move to your city? Learn as much as you can about what this person might be looking for: a job, friends, a sense of community attachment?
5. Be honest about what you can or can’t provide. You will gain far more trust if, when a person asks for social opportunities, you don’t try to sell them on Israel education, but rather help them connect to the people or organization who can best meet that person’s needs (even if that organization is not yours). That trust will help you immensely when you ask what should always be your last question: Do you have any friends living here with whom I should also speak?