By Adam Pollack
After three years of consulting with “engagers” – professionals engaging Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni and young Jewish adults in local communities – we’ve learned a lot about what they need to be successful in their work.
Engagers often ask us: “How can I reach more Birthrighters and other young Jews in my community?” Our response: “What do you actually know about those you hope to engage?” Before engagement can start, engagers have to know who their constituents are, what makes them tick, and what they seek from Judaism.
We hope the tips below will help you and your team do the (often difficult!) work of connecting Jews in their 20s and 30s to Jewish life.
Tip #1: Spend more time meeting with young Jews. Engagers spend significant time producing events, typically 4-7 per month. This doesn’t leave sufficient time to reflect on what they learned about their constituents and build a process to keep learning about them – critical components for long-term engagement success.
One-on-one meetings are a core component of any engagement strategy, and give you and your team a chance to learn about what’s important to those you seek to engage. Often, our first instinct is to pitch an upcoming event to a young adult. Instead, challenge yourself and colleagues to just get to know them and find out what makes them tick.
If you don’t think you have enough time for this, consider how to leverage the collective knowledge of fellow local engagers. For example, if a community has five engagers and each one commits to meeting with 20 “unengaged” young Jews in a two month period, you will have reached another 100 young adults. At that point, this group can meet to share what it learned and begin brainstorming and prototyping new ways to engage these individuals. It not only strengthens the offerings, but also fosters collaboration.
Example: In 2012, Michael Rosenzweig, an engager at the Boulder JCC, hosted 100 one-on-ones over a three-month period (read more here). Since that time, Michael has built a strong community of young Jews bolstered by the relationships he’s built with them, and centered on their interests and schedules.
Tip #2: Think beyond one-on-ones. Meetings with young Jews are essential, but it can’t stop there. Think about creative ways to learn about your constituents. One example is hosting an ideation experience, such as a Community Lab, which exposes what young Jews want to see in their community and empowers them to launch programming for their friends. We train engagers how to run these experiences themselves, building each organization’s and community’s capacity. There are other innovative approaches – ask us and we’d be happy to share.
Tip #3: Translate your learning into action
Now you know more about your community’s young Jews, don’t make the mistake of running straight into program planning. First, synthesize your learnings and write them out. Then, create goals that you can accomplish by testing new pilots or tweaking existing programs.
Spend time with your colleagues thinking about the “big picture.” Ask questions like: “What are we trying to achieve with this program?” and “How does this fit with our mission and departmental goals, and how does it meet young adult needs and interests?” Once you’ve had this conversation, make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
Tip #4: Measure for Impact
Now that you have goals, it’s time to develop metrics to measure success. We often see engagers relying on program attendance to demonstrate success. With SMART goals, there will be a need for additional metrics, such as spiritual growth, desired behaviors, stronger Jewish social networks, and an ability to articulate one’s Jewish identity.
Once you articulate your goals and metrics, determine which tool you will use to measure your impact. There are so many tools (surveys, interviews, and focus groups – to name a few), but each serves a different purpose. Here’s a table from the University of Wisconsin that can help you decide which tool is right for what you are trying to measure.
Tip #5: Educate stakeholders
Finally, you will need to educate your key stakeholders, including funders, about how and why you are measuring your success in new ways. We’ve heard repeatedly that funders want hard numbers and data, yet our work is nuanced and individual. This is an opportunity to explain the complexity and skilled work you and your team does. Teach your stakeholders about the need for nuanced goals and measurements. This will position them to be your cheerleader as they gain more understanding of the realities of engagement work.
These additional ways to focus your engagement efforts are just the start. To keep us all learning, please comment below with additional tactics and approaches that elevate your engagement efforts that may be helpful to other readers.
Adam Pollack is the senior western regional director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. In this role, he consults with and trains organizations and engagers throughout the Western US on cutting-edge strategies for engaging Birthrighters and their peers in Jewish life. He welcomes your questions, comments and ideas below and at firstname.lastname@example.org.