Camp Memories: Engaging Jewish Alumni Through Grassroots Marketing

Photo courtesy Jewish Toronto

By Evan Mazin and Yudit Timbo

The benefits of a strong alumni network are indisputable. Engaged alumni are more likely to donate to their alma mater, act as ambassadors on behalf of your organization, sit on your board, and mentor your staff and community. Their potential is endless.

The prevailing issue, one that continues to stump community professionals, is how to best engage a heterogenous alumni population under one lens, while accounting for the growing levels of diversity in the Jewish community, both locally and internationally. A “one size fits all” approach has increasingly become a thing of the past – irrelevant in our current fast-paced and disparate society.

Grassroots marketing provides a unique solution to the issue of engaging a diverse alumni population, as it allows audiences to create and propagate their own unique messaging, rather than providing them with a curated message that may not appeal to or resonate with certain individuals or groups. 

A unique example that showcases the benefits of using grassroots marketing to engage alumni is UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Silber Family Centre for Jewish Camping’s (SFC) Camp Memories project. This initiative targets the niche group of Jewish summer camp alumni, encourages them to share their own unique memories and stories from Jewish summer camp, effectively and organically promoting the message of its benefits. In the few short months since Camp Memories launched, it has had tremendous success in terms of its digital presence in the Jewish community. To date, over 34,000 unique individuals have viewed the online archive, over 6,000 unique individuals have engaged (i.e. liked or shared) with it, and over 750 have left comments on individual photos. The project has generated buzz among Jewish summer camp alumni, who have been tagging and sharing the photos with their friends and posting their own memories from their time at camp.

Camp Memories curates a “Living History” of Jewish summer camp through an online archive of camp memorabilia, including murals, plaques, and wall art. Launched in February 2019, the online archive was published in multiple albums through UJA’s Facebook page, and was shared by Jewish camps across Canada. Alumni were encouraged to tag their friends in photos and share their own camp stories and memories.

To accompany and complement the photo albums, UJA published an article about the benefit of Jewish summer camp the same day it shared the albums on social media. Written by Daniel Held, Executive Director of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education, the article concluded by discussing the Camp Memories campaign and providing links to all the albums. In April, a second article titled “26 Things Only Jewish Summer Camp Alumni Would Know” was published to revive the campaign’s momentum. This article was written collaboratively between directors from Jewish summer camps across Canada.

A cost and time effective endeavor, Camp Memories provides an opportunity for Jewish summer camp alumni to reminisce about and share their own unique camp story, reconnect with old friends, and generate excitement about the value of this experience for the next generation of Jewish campers. It organically builds a strong Jewish summer camp alumni network through a mosaic of unique individual identities and sets the stage for future alumni engagement opportunities and initiatives.

Evan Mazin is the Director, Educational Capacity Building for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Koschtizky Centre for Jewish Education.

Yudit Timbo is the Manager of UJA’s Silber Family Centre for Jewish Camping.