Changing outreach patterns

Busting 7 myths to creating a well-attended program

In Short

Some of our initial expectations about what would make these events most successful were actually at times the opposite of what the event needed to enable us to reach our goals of connecting with as many new families as possible.

Prior to the pandemic, I began to explore new ways our Jewish day school could enlarge our pool of prospective families. What we soon referred to as “outreach” transpired in the form of off-site events, geared toward prospective families as well as on-site events, for both current and prospective families.

It was surprising that some of our initial expectations about what would make these events most successful were actually at times the opposite of what the event needed to enable us to reach our goals of connecting with as many new families as possible.

Here are 7 myths that were busted as we moved to higher levels of engagement with prospective families (primarily millennial-age parents and their babies, toddlers and preschoolers).

Myth #1 – Need a great flyer: Detailed flyers are out of vogue. Simple flyers are most successful — in the form of a square graphic with minimal copy and a photo. The graphic can include the title of the event, time and date and perhaps one other line about the event. The graphic does not need to include further details since it will be shared in emails or on social media with an accompanying typed-up blurb and hyperlink to RSVP.

Tip: It’s okay to keep your organization’s logo on the smaller side to leave more room for an exciting photo and title.

Myth #2 – Share events on social media: Sharing events on social media can be helpful but only to a certain degree. Right now, the strongest way to increase the potential for RSVPs is through WhatsApp groups, texts and emails. The existence of these events can be reinforced by having individuals from your community post the event graphic to Facebook groups. At this point, however, Facebook is less likely to lead to many new RSVPs.

Tip: It’s beneficial to diversify who shares events on behalf of your organization, so that the individuals seeing these posts recognize that your community has a vast array of ambassadors.

Myth #3 – Get as much information as you can from participants: The best way to get participants to join a program is to make it as easy as possible for them to sign up — the simpler the form (i.e. less fields to complete), the better! Forms can include the first and last name of the registrant, their email address, their zip code (if helpful) and perhaps the names/ages of their kids. Individuals are often multitasking, even while signing up for events, so the quicker the registration, the more likely they will register.

Tip: Unless your organization plans to send something in the mail to participants prior to or immediately following the program, mailing addresses are not needed on the registration form.

Myth #4 – Have a deadline to RSVP: Deadlines don’t necessarily lead to more RSVPs — sometimes they even have the reverse effect! Many people are last minute (especially during this pandemic) and millennials are notoriously non-committal. Programs have the potential to have the most impact if registration is enabled on the day of the event. This is because last-minute RSVPs are usually “friends of friends,” individuals who are one step removed from your organization’s current circle of contacts.

Tip: Allowing walk-ins is a great way to reach beyond your usual points-of-contact. For example, if your organization’s event is on a Sunday afternoon, a current family might be at a morning birthday party and casually invite a prospective family to join for your afternoon program. These are participants who might have never heard about your event otherwise, so if at all possible, it would be helpful to find safe ways to allow for walk-ins.

Myth #5 – RSVPs matter: When taken at face value, lists of RSVPs can sometimes lead to disappointment. For example, if your event has 50 registrants and only 30 show up for the program, colleagues or lay people might wonder what happened to the other 20 registrants. It’s helpful to acknowledge from the outset that there is typically at least a 35-40% dropout rate (without any contact or explanation from the registrants themselves).

Tip: You can always include the emails of registrants who did not attend in follow-up emails to your event, inviting them to future events or other opportunities to connect one-on-one with you or with families in your community.

Myth #6 – Add participants to your email list: Individuals (especially millennials) tend to be averse to receiving frequent emails from organizations. They would benefit more from receiving targeted emails for their demographic. As individuals’ inboxes are typically full, it is best to start small and once families join your organization or enroll in your school, then they can receive more emails from you.

Tip: Start a new mailing list, directly geared toward the demographic you would like to grow in your community. Find ways to creatively engage with this demographic, even if you do not have an upcoming program for them. For example, you can share holiday recipes or Jewish holiday playlists with the demographic. 

Myth #7 – Take lots of photos: Having someone take photos at your event can be uncomfortable or distracting for families who are new to exploring your community (some families do not post photos of their kids or themselves on social media). A few minutes prior to your event, take a pre-event photo with a current family in your community so you can use this photo to market future events.

Tip: It would be amazing to create opportunities where participants might want to take photos of themselves or their kids doing fun activities at your event (i.e. baking Jewish foods)—and potentially share these photos on social media themselves. This way, your program’s reach is even greater!

Wishing you much luck in your preparations for the year ahead in programming and generating great buzz for your organization’s brand.

Rabbi Yael Buechler is the Lower School rabbi and outreach coordinator at The Leffell School and director of communal engagement at Prizmah. Rabbi Yael Buechler is also the founder of MidrashManicures.com