By Jen Rosen
As a former foundation professional, I have always enjoyed perusing organizations’ impact studies. I know, I know; nerd alert … I love data! Needless to say, when we had the opportunity to conduct our first external evaluation in 2011, I was a bit giddy. What came out of that process was fantastic: a clearly stated vision of Moishe House’s intended impact, data confirming effectiveness of the model, and most importantly, findings that enabled us to better understand our actual audience, their needs and the opportunities to maximize the program’s impact on them.
Repeating and enhancing the process this past year was a real privilege, again, not just to confirm that what we are doing is working (and overall it is!), but more importantly, to be able to continue tweaking and improving our model to maximize impact. In case you have not seen it yet, check out the findings of our evaluation. In short, the survey, which included more than 1,500 residents, participants and alumni, further informed us about the impact of our various models, and more importantly, about how Jewish 20-somethings identify. Some key findings about the cohort included:
- Increased Jewish involvement does not necessarily mean higher affiliation. While the Jewish practices and reported connections of our young adults are growing, their identification with specific denominations is actually decreasing.
- Young adults are interested in frequently participating in a range of program offerings (with Shabbat dinners and general social gatherings being the most popular), and more than 60% of participants are attending at least one program each month. They are also adopting new Jewish practices into their lives, especially Shabbat related traditions and rituals.
- Understanding how participants plugged into Jewish life prior to Moishe House (e.g. 87% have been to Israel, of which 59% are Birthright alumni).
Now, all of this information is fine and good, but the real question is, what are we doing with it? As David challenged us in his recent piece, how are we pushing ourselves to use this information in our decision making and ensure that it actually impacts our behavior as an organization? While certainly a work in progress, a few key learnings that we are already translating into tangible action items include:
- Moishe House Without Walls is an effective extension of Moishe House with a similar reported impact. With this knowledge, we are aggressively building out the model as our alumni strategy (for former residents and Retreat participants), to young adults in a few specific metropolitan areas and to select alumni of Moishe House partner organizations.
- We can strengthen the support we provide to our residents. As compared to 2011, residents reported a slight decrease in how useful they found the resources and support offered by the organization. We are committed to ensuring these residents feel fully supported in their work, and are ramping up our mechanisms to do so, including: a regular resident newsletter, training around intra-house issues (conflict resolution and team building), additional financial support for rent subsidies in major metropolitan cities with more competitive rental markets, and the roll out of an online app for residents that will make the reporting and reimbursement process simpler and faster.
- We need to assess the longer term impact on residents and participants. As a relatively new organization, the data we have collected has been helpful, but as we near our 10 year anniversary, it’s time to begin assessing the longer term implications of involvement in Moishe House. During the recent study, roughly 900 respondents agreed to be contacted for follow up within three years in order to begin a longitudinal study.
This is all just a start though. A couple of big pieces raised by this study, that remain on our minds, include identifying the types of community that young adults are looking for post-Moishe House and helping to enhance those avenues and connections. Also, by finding compelling ways to ensure a broader base (including participants and Moishe House Without Walls hosts), we feel excited and equipped to adopt new Jewish practices in a similar fashion to Moishe House residents. With a nimble model and the findings of this recent evaluation, we are challenging ourselves to let the learnings truly influence the way Moishe House looks.
Jen Rosen is Chief Operating Officer of Moishe House.