Grapevine: Moving from Program-Centric to Customer-Centric

by Sacha Litman

A year ago, GrapeVine was a dream that some Jewish leaders saw as a panacea and others argued would never get airborne. The idea was to provide a platform enabling a fundamental shift in the Jewish community from a program-centric to a customer-centric orientation. The goal: to ensure the Jewish community retains every individual or family that ever participates in any of our institutions’ or foundations’ programs rather than lose track of 80 percent of them, who are quickly labeled as “uninvolved.” GrapeVine’s solution requires the use of data aggregation, predictive analytics, and a targeted marketing engine to rival the sophistication of Amazon or Netflix – while on a significantly smaller budget.

Twelve months and many long nights later, our intrepid team has successfully developed and deployed GrapeVine in two pilot communities, Columbus, Ohio and Rhode Island. Our advisory committee, consisting of top foundation and organizational leaders, put forth an initial set of measures of success, including creating a profile for the vast majority of Jews in the community, communicating with customers regularly, maintaining low opt-out rates and high open rates with widespread adoption across organizations in each community. GrapeVine has exceeded them all.

“Database marketing, now known as ‘Big Data’ is the way all large businesses are going. The Jewish community can hop on this train now or get left in the dust,” said Gordon Hecker, Campaign Chair at the Columbus Jewish Federation and Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing at Nationwide Insurance, one of the nation’s largest insurance companies. “We’ve used a shotgun approach until now and it’s just not going to be effective for the 21st century. Customers are expecting more personalized service than ever before … GrapeVine’s approach makes all the sense in the world, so we were thrilled for Columbus to take advantage of the opportunity to be a pilot community.”

We are expanding GrapeVine to several additional large Jewish communities and national organizations in the next year. Our mission is for GrapeVine’s approach to be the standard for the Jewish community and foundations in the next couple of years. In spite of the widely recognized need to change the status quo in our Jewish organizations, GrapeVine is still a hard story to tell because it is a dramatic paradigm-shift from how our community currently operates.

The Jewish community spends more than a billion dollars a year on Jewish identity programs, yet more Jews leak out of the complex pipeline of Jewish identity than stay connected and involved from cradle to grave. This is why almost every demographic study shows that at any given point in time only about 20 percent of Jews are active in Jewish life (a number which, despite all the investment, hasn’t changed much).

As every business student learns, customer retention is far cheaper than customer acquisition. About 85 percent of Jews interact with some Jewish program at some point in their lives. Still, organizations are constantly seeking to find participants from scratch. For example, Hillel does not know the Jewish freshmen each fall although the majority of Jewish 18-year-olds or their parents have been involved with a synagogue, a camp, a youth group, PJ Library, or other organizations.

Why are we making the work so hard for our fellow organizations and programs when we know that every program’s new participant is another program’s alumni?

The Jewish journey takes a lifetime to cultivate and each Jew takes his or her own unique path. Each national organization has a longitudinal study showing that program participants are more likely to marry someone Jewish and be involved than someone who did not participate. But most alumni of these programs disappear into the ether. Programs have insufficient staff to keep track of everyone, so they focus on those 20% of Jews who proactively seek out further involvement.

GrapeVine, as an independent, third party engine, puts the individual Jew at the center and focuses on retaining him or her in Jewish life. GrapeVine sends Jewish opportunities (events, articles, blogs, and informal gatherings) that are individually targeted for every Jew in the community according to his or her unique needs, interests, life stage, and geography. Our sophisticated learning algorithm improves over time to provide the opportunities that are a better fit, even as needs change. GrapeVine is a platform that enables collective impact, and it is coming soon to your community.

To learn more about how GrapeVine works, contact us at or click on these video links: here (individual perspective) or here (community perspective).

Sacha Litman is the Executive Director of GrapeVine, an independent entity, and Managing Director of Measuring Success. GrapeVine was incubated by Measuring Success, a firm dedicated to helping nonprofits shift from anecdotal to data-driven decision making through performance measurement tools, quantitative analytics, and training/consultation.     

GrapeVine is a 2011-2012 recipient of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a pilot collaboration of the Jim Joseph Foundation, Righteous Persons Foundation, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation that supported projects offering innovative ways of using new media to encourage the next generation of Jews to engage in life and community Jewishly.