Engaging your Network

by Deborah Fishman

Jewish engagement is a goal to which many Jewish organizations aspire. Conversations around how to develop networks and harness the power of social media to gain and connect constituents are occurring in the Jewish discourse. These are encouraging trends that bode well for the Jewish world, and organizations should be applauded for choosing to expend efforts in these areas.

Amidst the hype around networks and engagement, Jewish organizations would do well to focus in on two practically-oriented questions: 1) What do you want your network to achieve? 2) How can your ideal candidate for engagement concretely contribute toward that achievement?

You want your network to contribute to achieving the big picture (the outcomes), which will further your organization’s vision and mission – “increasing Jewish identity” or “creating Jewish community.” To realize these, you need activities (outputs) – such as conferences, webinars, events, or the production of blog posts, videos, or guides.

To do any of this, you need to enlist human capital – a crucial resource that networks, and arguably organizations, are built on. Yet it can be a slippery asset, especially when it comes to lay participants, who have options as to where to invest their time and/or money. Your answer to one magic question – and your follow-through – can determine whether they choose to invest it with you: How do I get involved?

Here are some tips as to how to answer – and how to recruit even more people to ask:

  1. Learn something about the person who wants to get involved: Understanding the needs and skills of the individual can help you tailor available opportunities – both making them more appealing to your volunteer and also making the volunteer more likely to succeed in a chosen role.
  2. Start with offering a small, achievable task: Volunteers can get discouraged if they find themselves “spinning their wheels” without something concrete to do. Accomplishing tasks makes them useful parts of your endeavor – and enables them to feel a sense of accomplishment and progress. Of course, for this to work, it is essential that these tasks are productive, contributing directly to your outputs and by extension outcomes.
  3. Try your best to be inclusive, positive, and welcoming: When someone is well-meaning and enthusiastic but not perfectly suited for any available tasks, there is a fine line to be drawn as to whether to spend extra energy in engaging the individual or to determine that it is simply not a good fit. My advice in making these decisions would always be to err on the side of finding ways for participation – if after all your goal is engagement, and with the understanding that each individual brings to the table a unique outlook, set of experiences, and connections (this clearly does not apply if the candidate is in any way destructive or disrespectful to others). If you find yourself turning away too many qualified and passionate candidates, it might be time to consider if you are in fact not providing enough or the right opportunities for participation. If you are not receiving that many requests to get involved, do you project an image of being inclusive and welcoming? Do you broadcast your opportunities for involvement?

It is important to think through whether you are in fact providing a sufficient number and quality of activities. Moreover, it is important to consider whether these activities do in fact work toward what you want your organization’s impact to be. Yet it may be even more crucial to effectively recruit the right participants. Any participant is a potential ally who can help you along the way – and their investment and others like it can add up to building a network which achieves success.

Therefore, learning to be a network-weaver – one adept at the steps of engagement and at otherwise converting raw human capital into results – is a crucial skill for a Jewish professional working in engagement in today’s networked world. Such network-weavers – and the networks they weave – will be essential in engaging young Jews to achieve change in the Jewish world and beyond.

Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor and Publisher of PresenTense Magazine. She blogs at hachavaya.blogspot.com.