For Alumni Planning, Make Them Part of the Whole

AlumniBy Talya Greenspoon, Martin Storrow and Perry Teicher

[This is the second installment in a series that highlights the community case studies featured in the Alumni Playbook, an online resource from the Schusterman Family Foundation designed to help community initiators build robust alumni networks. To learn more about JDC Entwine, visit their Playbook case study and join Talya Greenspoon for an intimate webinar about their alumni strategy on October 29 from 1 PM – 2 PM EST.]

It’s an inescapable truth that every program participant eventually becomes a program alum. Why, then, do we focus so heavily on the participant experience while the alumni experience becomes an afterthought?

What if, rather than developing a separate alumni strategy, we created an integrated platform of programs, each connected to the other, with continued opportunities to deepen involvement and leadership? Instead of artificial divisions between “participants” and “alumni,” individuals would be appreciated for coming to the table with diverse experiences, backgrounds and connections.

This idea has guided us at JDC Entwine as we’ve developed a multifaceted program platform over the past six years.

Entwine offers a continuum of overseas service programs that span one-week to one-year, tailored leadership development activities and unique educational opportunities through our local Learning Networks – all grounded in the value of shared global Jewish responsibility. Together, these programs create ongoing engagement with global Jewish issues and communities, meeting participants and alumni where they are and growing with them.

Our Learning Network model acknowledges two realities: Entwine has a regularly-growing group of passionate alumni who return from global Jewish service experiences looking to share their lessons and experiences; and, at the time we created the model, there was a gap in the kind of local educational programming available for those unfamiliar with global Jewish communities and issues.

Understanding these two realities, Entwine was able to identify a unique opportunity to simultaneously create programming to engage our alumni while addressing a problem in the broader community.

Through the Learning Networks, alumni are engaged not just through leveraging their unique experience in an overseas community or with their specific trip cohort, but with a community of like-minded peers connected by shared values and identity.

Today, Learning Networks operate in London and in eight cities across the U.S.: New York City, Washington, DC, Boston, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles – with pilot programming in Phoenix and Detroit.

The Networks are informal and peer-led, with volunteer leadership centered on educational programming. The content is created in partnership with staff and delivered by peer experts, ranging from large-scale panels, photo exhibits and film screenings, to more intimate Shabbat dinners and local service projects.

Importantly, the Learning Networks acknowledge and honor the fluidity of our demographic and the Jewish world. The model’s informality allows people to move in and out, to be active when they can and to take a step back if needed, while a reliance on lay leadership offers opportunities for those who want a more formal, committed role on a local or national level.

Existing alumni engage with those who may be new to the issues and ideas Entwine addresses, allowing for creativity and learning on both sides. In this age of virtual relationships, Entwine’s locally-based model promotes face-to-face connections even as young people move and shift personally and professionally.

The path to Entwine looked very different for Entwine’s two National Steering Committee Co-Chairs, Martin Storrow and Perry Teicher.

As an undergrad at the University of Michigan in 2005, Perry participated in one of the first JDC week-long service programs – to Ukraine. Inspired, Perry volunteered for two years in Kazakhstan with the U.S. Peace Corps, stayed connected to JDC during that time, spearheaded local Entwine programming in Detroit and recently joined the NYC Planning Group, in addition to his role as Co-Chair.

For Martin, it was a chance invitation to a Los Angeles-based Entwine event in 2011 that first sparked his curiosity and interest in global responsibility. His international travel experience at the time had consisted only of a Birthright Israel trip and a misguided afternoon during college that ended in Tijuana, Mexico. But the event inspired him to travel with Entwine to Ethiopia, and from there, he joined local Planning Groups in L.A. and San Diego, chaired a service trip to Turkey and visited more than a dozen countries around the world before he ultimately took on the Co-Chair leadership role.

These stories illustrate the multiple entry points and the seemingly serendipitous – but in reality, strategically planned – connections that guide people to and through these Networks. At any given time, whether you find yourself in New York City or Dallas or San Diego, Entwine alumni are leading programming, sharing their experiences with the global Jewish world, educating their peers and building community.

Over the next year, we’ll be looking to develop more opportunities to foster connections across Networks through regional gatherings, create more DIY programming options and experiment with new leadership pathways for those who want to commit even more time and energy.

The Networks were developed through recognition of opportunity gaps in programming and by listening carefully to alumni feedback and direction. As we look forward to a more interconnected future, we understand how critical it will be to continue this entrepreneurial approach, creating fluid and strategic programs that grow along with our alumni – and ultimately, harness their passion and empower them to continue their service globally and at home.

Interested in learning more about alumni engagement? Check out the Alumni Playbook, a hands-on toolkit designed to help community initiators learn from successful alumni programs and provide them with conceptual guidance, practical advice and tactical support as they plan, shape and implement alumni strategies.

Talya Greenspoon serves as Director of Networks & Engagement for JDC Entwine, overseeing Entwine Learning Network programming in nine cities across the US and the UK.

Martin Storrow is a Leadership and Talent Consultant based in Los Angeles, CA, and serves as Co-Chair of the JDC Entwine Steering Committee and on the Board of Directors of JDC.

Perry Teicher is an Impact Finance Fellow at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and serves as Co-Chair of the JDC Entwine Steering Committee and on the JDC Board of Directors.