It seems that most Jewish organizations adapt to technology without ever changing their way of developing programs and their structures.
[While this post is written with European organizations in mind, there are lessons to be had for all.]
By Mario Izcovich
The main purpose of this article is for us to reflect on how some Jewish organizations in Europe use their newsletters to communicate to their audience.
Jewish organizations use different tools to communicate about their programs. Word of mouth, phone calls, boards, flyers, websites, newsletters, social media, apps, are some of these tools. They are the means to make sure that the information gets to the targeted market.
In the past, the information typically went one way, from the Center (the board, the managing staff) to the people (clients, members, etc.). Today, thanks to social media tools, there are opportunities to interact. Therefore, it is no longer only about communicating but also about using these tools to engage people in conversations, in other words encouraging greater participation.
Recently I had the opportunity, at a few Leatid training seminars, to do an exercise with three different groups of professionals from different organizations in Europe and with different backgrounds (small and large communities, CEOs, directors of youth and Rabbis, from West and East).
During the exercise, we presented them with 4 weekly digital newsletters that are currently being sent out in four major European cities. These newsletters were chosen because they were highly representative of four different types of organizations: a Cultural Center, a JCC, a Community and a religious youth organization. They provided information about each center´s activities.
We asked participants to look over the printed version of the newsletters and to analyze by groups both the content and the design. In other words, to consider the newsletter as the face of the organization and what it tells us.
We would like to share with you the conclusions drawn from the exercise, which were to a large extent unsurprisingly similar:
About the length:
Organizations send too much information. Here we quote one of the participants: “it is impossible for a single person to digest all this information”. There was a consensus that the newsletters are too long. Therefore, either the reader loses interest or doesn´t read it at all because of the length, particularly with today´s trend of reading brief texts on cell phones, or the newsletter ends up as spam.
About the target:
Another key point was that newsletters targeted a far too broad public (all ages, all backgrounds). There may be an expectation that something in the newsletter will touch someone but this can only happen if the reader goes through the lengthy text. In some cases, the pictures and designs contradict the text, for example, a picture of orthodox men inviting to a party open to everyone.
One of the groups agreed that although the messages were sent to everyone, it looked as if they were designed for 50 year olds and over. There was a disparity between the content and the message. Another example is a very modern newsletter that catches the attention of a younger audience but proposes activities for a much older target.
One of the group participants asked, “Why do they send information about a party for young people to someone in their 60s?”
In conclusion, newsletters are too general and people don’t feel engaged by the message, which is often impersonal and unfamiliar. In some cases, even the language doesn’t represent the people.
Participants did not find the newsletters particularly attractive and the content not meaningful. Sometimes the newsletters look as if they are from 20 years ago. In other examples, the design was nice but the writing style and the proposals were not interesting. “In some cases the graphic design appears to be from the last century” a participant said. In some instances, parts of the newsletters are trying to be “cool” in the design but not in the content which also is a way of sending a message to the public.
According to most of the participants, activities are outdated: mostly cultural programs offering little or no interaction between participants, no challenges, nothing really new in terms of activities.
The program models are usually lecture format style, even in the case of sport activities. The vast majority of the activities are for “consumers”: “you like it, you choose it, you come in, you listen to someone that has the knowledge, you ask or not and then you go home” model.
No interaction with participants, no experiences in terms of building something meaningful. Our group participants found this concept of Jewish culture not up to date when the whole concept of Cultural Center is being questioned. The trendier experiences today are related to interactivity, learning together, and building community in a broad sense.
Another aspect revealed by participants is that everything should happen in a “Jewish” building, nothing in the city and nothing virtual. Again, a model from the past where Judaism is associated with the building (the C of the Center).
The information is usually about what the organization offers to a “consumer.” The newsletter says almost nothing about the Center like news, changes, info from the Chairman or the CEO’s, decisions made by the board, etc.
Reaching out to nonaffiliated:
In examining the newsletters, the participants did not feel that the newsletters were being used as a tool to reach out to a new audience.
Why is the information being sent, what type of information and to whom are all valid questions. The newsletter looks like the information is addressed only to those affiliated or active. Are these organizations really interested in attracting new people? In some cases, it even looks like newsletters are a way to show how many things an organization does.
It seems that most Jewish organizations adapt to technology without ever changing their way of developing programs and their structures. In other words, a website is like a bulletin board in the past, a digital newsletter is like the traditional newsletter that used to be sent in the mail. The same with social media, it is not being used for example, to foster debates, or to make decisions, but simply to inform, so there is very little real interaction.
Some questions arise: shall we diversify the messages and have different newsletters (very easy with inexpensive computer programs) addressed to youth, to people in their 40s, to 50+, to those interested on Jewish education, or sports, to young parents, to parents of teenagers? Why not send interesting articles or recommendations (that could be prepared by volunteers) why not ask for the readers´ advice or opinions on certain and important decisions of the organization (like polls)? About the content, why not promote more learning experiences, and not just the “lecture style”?
We live in times of uncertainty and people are eager to meet others, to discuss, to be heard, to argue, to meet new friends, to enjoy. Discussing communication leads us to the mission of our organizations. Shall we change our proposals and adjust them to current times, shall we change the model of programs? Shall we adapt our structures to a changing society and environment?
We are now in the time of the “apps.” Jewish organizations in Europe are slowly transitioning into that which is not the future but the present. Tools like Facebook show us what can be done for interaction but using “apps” can revolutionize the way we engage with our members and the new potential members. It will be less about information and more about interaction. That is the challenge.
Mario Izcovich is Director of Leatid.
Cross-posted on Leatid.org