By Julia E. Hubner & Amy L. Mendelsohn
[Editorial note: Masters students at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management write theses or capstone projects involving original research about topics of interest to Jewish organizations. eJewish Philanthropy is highlighting some of their findings in the form of short articles with links to their theses on the Berman Jewish Policy Archive.]
You’ve heard this story before. A young man (we’ll call him Adam) grows up in a Jewish family. He attends synagogue for holidays and special events and participates in several other Jewish nonprofit activities. After his bar mitzvah, though, Adam disconnects from Jewish life. While he considers himself a Jew, he doesn’t seek out organized Jewish experiences. Instead, his Judaism is personal – something internal without outside expression.
During his teens and early 20s, Adam returns sporadically to organized Judaism for one event or another, but the experiences don’t resonate, and he’s just as disconnected as before. Adam has pretty much given up any desire to engage with the Jewish community.
But here’s where the story changes. Adam, now in his mid 20s, loves the outdoors and goes online to hunt for a summer experience in agriculture or farming. On a job posting website, he stumbles upon an opportunity for a summer fellowship at a Jewish farm. The opportunity appeals to him, and Adam goes to the website for more information. After absorbing the organization’s online content, he decides to apply to the fellowship. The organization reaches out with an email. The message is warm and personal and further commits Adam to the program. And once he starts, he’s hooked. Not only did Adam find an organization that aligned with his interests and values, the fellowship helped him rediscover his Jewish roots and recommit him to organized Jewish life.
Maybe you’re wondering, “How did this organization reach Adam and get him in the door?” As students pursuing masters degrees in Jewish nonprofit management, we had the same question. We spent the last 14 months interviewing and analyzing organizations that are successfully connecting with their target audiences, like the Jewish farm above. We studied the communication strategies these organizations utilized so that we might support Jewish communal professionals hoping to achieve similar goals. The young man’s story demonstrates a central finding from our research: the importance of meeting prospective participants where they are.
Based on our observations and interviews, we came up with a list of recommendations for Jewish nonprofits to find prospective participants and say “Hello” in ways that are meaningful and tactful:
- Meet them where they are. Find your prospective participants in their own communities. If you work with young adults, think about where they live. Are there neighborhoods that attract younger residents? If you attract families, think about where they go shopping or send their kids to school. If you’re seeking a spiritual demographic, find local yoga studios and meditation workshops.
- Meet them through like–minded organizations. There’s definitely power in numbers. When you collaborate with organizations with the same or similar target audiences, you multiply your reach. The benefits can work both ways – your organization can reach out to the collaborator’s existing network, and vice versa. Not every prospective participant will choose to connect with both organizations, but you miss an opportunity to connect to new people if you silo your organization. Take the time to show up at events and bring business cards or other promotional materials.
- Meet them online. You can meet prospective participants in person, but there are myriad opportunities to find them online, as well. The story above validates how some audiences are seeking opportunities online. When you do seek your target audiences online, you still need to meet them where they are. Adult audiences might be on Facebook, while younger audiences engage on Instagram and Snapchat. You might post information about your nonprofit on online Jewish directories, or you may consider highlighting your programs on non-Jewish sites that cater to your target audiences. When prospective participants connect online, they will most likely check out your website. Your site is the online storefront of your organization, so make sure it represents who you are. This includes a homepage with easy navigation, vibrant images, and a clear message that appeals to both first-time and long-standing visitors.
- Meet them through other participants. Galvanize current participants and ask them to support the organization in its efforts to engage prospective participants. Determine who might be possible connectors in the community and enlist them to tap into their network. Some organizations use ambassador programs or incentive programs to motivate them and share their passion about the organization with friends, family, and acquaintances in the community.
These communication strategies are just some examples how Jewish nonprofit professionals might reach their target audiences. Our thesis provides an expansive list of recommendations that can help you build bridges to your target audience and keep them engaged long-term.
Julia Hubner is a communications and marketing professional with Jewish nonprofit expertise. Amy Mendelsohn is a Jewish nonprofit professional with a background in Jewish camp and education. Both Julia and Amy recently earned their masters in Jewish Nonprofit Management from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management and their masters in Communication Management from the University of Southern California. Their thesis can be found at www.bjpa.org.