By Tamara Rebick
You are probably familiar hearing that “young leaders are the future leaders of the community.” Or maybe that “the future of our community is on campus today.”
Perhaps you’ve seen such phrasing in your Annual Report, or the final impactful statement of your Case for Support. Maybe you have sprinkled something like it throughout your solicitations or it has appeared in donor and lay leader speeches. There is just one problem with such statements: They are faulty. Do you know why?
Because these “young people” are not future leaders. They are, in fact, leading today… right now… and not just for their peers on campus. And if you miss it, you are missing critical moments of assurance that these young leaders possess the passion and savvy to lead our community today. They do so leading by example – a true value of Jewish leadership: Hadracha B’Dugma.
In the past four weeks, Hillel Ontario, through its On One Foot initiative is demonstrating how hundreds of students are aptly taking responsibility and ownership of their own Jewish campus life, and actively leading their communities in crafting, executing and evaluating a shared vision. Further, they are doing so in a way that is engaging their peers as well as adults in the community. Hillel Ontario is bursting with pride over the energy and dedication of these students who are doing exactly what we in the wider Jewish community rely on our lay leadership to partner with us to do.
The following are significant ingredients to this initiative’s success:
1. It’s Not Just About the Money
200 students have raised $100,000 while going about their daily student lives. On One Foot, piloted last year at only two schools, and now scaled to six, has become one of the most significant drivers of the organization’s revenue and donor acquisition. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. On One Foot has also become one of our most persuasive engagement tools, powerfully demonstrating the magic that happens when fundraising and student engagement seamlessly and thoughtfully intersect. This fundraising initiative is carefully designed to build community and engage a broad base of Jewish students and their networks, all through a shared experience driven by mutually set goals and collective celebrations of achievement.
2. Give Them (Real) Ownership!
All too often, we hear lay leadership lament about merely being a “figurehead” and feeling as if they don’t have significant decision-making power. Similarly for the students, they balk at the sense of tokenism, which can quickly lead to disengagement. Instead of offering our students a leadership framework populated and run by previous generations who do not entirely trust them with the full responsibilities of leadership, Hillel Ontario seeks to actively engage our leaders in authentic and meaningful opportunities to affect change.
In On One Foot, the students on each campus were empowered to identify a need on their campus and were given the opportunity to decide how the funds will be allocated to fill that need. Some chose to renovate their Hillel spaces, others wanted to invest in Israel programming and still others wanted to create an innovation fund. Each campus is unique and, with guidance from their campus professionals, the students thoughtfully and strategically imagined new possibilities only made available with new funds. Then they learned how to craft their vision of Jewish campus life, how to budget and manage the financial components and will soon work with their campus professionals – real mentors in 21st Century leadership skills – to execute their vision. The pride and motivation that comes from such an engaging and rewarding experience results in even greater participation in the next iteration of the initiative. We can see this as a case in point with Guelph Hillel, the winner of last year’s pilot who raised significant funds to renovate their Hillel House, and who are again dominating this year’s campaign.
3. Don’t Just “Show” Impact – Experience Impact
Impact is more than the statistics we parade out in front of donors, quantifying “bums in seats” for event attendance or the number of Shabbat dinners we have had over the course of the academic year. On One Foot models the opportunity for students to touch, feel, see and experience the impact of their efforts. Additionally, because On One Foot engages students from the beginning, students and their greatest supporters are motivated by the momentum of the initiative’s design. The model empowers students to pursue and experience achievement from the launch, through the campaign and well into the new opportunities that have been made possible through their Hillel’s team efforts. Perks for participation are not gratuitous, but rather practical and outright fun. The experience of impact is about raising needed funds, and building cohesive community where students collaborate to influence a new footprint of Jewish campus life in the year to come.
4. And Yes, It Is Also Must Be About the Money
A significant lesson that is often left out of a young leader’s volunteer experience is exposure to the complex, big-picture understanding of a Jewish organization’s funding structure. All too often, there is a paradox of presumption on the part of young leaders that the organization has limited funds, but that ultimately money can be found to do “X.” On One Foot brings students into a very real conversation about what resources are available and what can be done with limited resources. Through this conversation, Hillel Ontario students are now better engaged in understanding the balance of aspiration with reality, and they become part of developing solutions. Additionally, and perhaps most notable is that Hillel Ontario student leaders are learning that true community leadership includes programmatic responsibility alongside the duty to be part of the conversation around funding the vision.
Hillel Ontario’s On One Foot is an initiative that engages students in priority mapping, assessment and evaluation, campaign communications and strategic allocations. These students are eager participants, motivated to shape, support and create their own vision of Jewish campus community. Above and beyond the numbers, however, is the way in which On One Foot is proving that we don’t need to “wait” for these “young Jewish leaders of tomorrow.” If we do… if we regard these young leaders as the community’s kids, they understand a subtle but powerful message that their impact and responsibilities are limited, that they are not fully trusted or counted among the community until they are deemed old enough. Many of our young leaders arrive on campus already equipped with leadership experience and training from their youth movements, high school councils or summer camp programs. Others arrive with a newfound interest, eager to learn. For this reason, Hillel Ontario confidently prioritizes student leadership to be an authentic and robust experience. There are plenty of eager students willing and ready to engage and be change makers. Anything short of realizing this essentially communicates that they are “off the hook” (and not in a good way).
These “future leaders of tomorrow” are actually leading us all today.
Tamara Rebick is the Vice-President for Identity, Education & Experience at Hillel Ontario, responsible for designing strategy for engagement, education and student leadership.