Jewish Journey Connector: You Are Here

[This is the last in a nine-part series describing the projects of the 2011-2012 Jewish New Media Innovation Fund Award Recipients.]

Jen Schwartz just graduated from the University of Michigan. For the past few years, Jen was fairly uninvolved in Jewish life, but as a sophomore, she went on an Alternative Spring Break service program through Hillel to New Orleans. Now in Washington, DC, she has taken a temp job in International Development – and, because of various touch points through Jen’s affiliations and online social connections, the Jewish Journey Connector knows just enough to suggest 5 different service travel programs that might be interesting to Jen.

She flags an AJWS trip and, after returning from it, receives a survey from the Connector. She indicates she is looking for something that can introduce her to more social activities in Washington, DC. Each time she shares more information – note, everything is permission-based and determined by the individual so as to ensure the utmost levels of privacy – the Connector gets “smarter” about Jen and helps her find and create new activities. This is especially important several years later as Jen begins going through other life cycle events – she gets married, moves to Chicago, has children and is looking for appropriate early childhood programs. Each step of the way, the Jewish Journey Connector is there, using predictive analytics to recommend likely interests and encourage Jen’s engagement in the Jewish Community.

At any one point in time, surveys suggest, only a minority of Jews in the United States are affiliated with Jewish institutions and programs. Over a lifetime, however, the overwhelming majority of Jews in the United States come into contact with Jewish institutions.

We know Jewish identity development requires a patchwork of experiences over the course of a lifetime, not transactional snippets. Unfortunately, too many of our Jewish institutions operate in silos; they do not share information about participants as Jews move through organizations, life stages, and geographies. As a result, each organization must repeat the process of “finding” the potential Jews in its marketplace from scratch. These marketing efforts tend to be of poor quality and “one size fits all,” rather than customized to the needs of each individual. So for example, a student on Birthright may express interest in service projects while on the trip, but AJWS and the local Moishe House would never know that information.

This is where we hope to bridge the gap.

We know that companies from Google and Facebook, to Amazon and Jdate have leveraged their knowledge of their customers to target and encourage other offerings. Amazon, for example, suggests books you might like based on prior purchase history and friends’ choices, and offers loyalty rewards points and discount coupons in order to encourage re-use. Certainly, the Jewish community can ill afford not to apply some of these same lessons in their own outreach.

The Jewish Journey Connector aims to fundamentally alter the relationship between Jews and Jewish organizations by democratizing the Jewish journey. It will place each individual in charge of directing his/her own journey and provide each Jew enough proactive support and encouragement to navigate that journey. If one opportunity does not work, the Connector will ensure the individual finds the next fit; if one organization works wonderfully, when the individual “graduates,” the Connector will make sure his/her Jewish journey continues as interests and life stage evolve.

And what about individual privacy? Everything will be permission-based, as determined by the individual, and privacy will be guaranteed at the utmost levels to ensure trust is built.

The Jewish Journey Connector is the classic “win-win-win.”

  • Individuals win because they hear about the Jewish opportunities that appeal them at their current needs, interests, and lifestages.
  • Organizations win by being able to get their offerings in front of potential participants their own marketing efforts might never reach, to keep participants connected with the organization longer, and to maintain better contact with their alumni.
  • Foundations and federations win because JJC enables them to target their grants to specific individuals for whom the program is most relevant.

Some in the Jewish communal world have questioned why organizations would want to share their lists and information. The answer, we believe, lies in showing organizations how the benefits (new participants, better engaging existing participants, tracking alumni, measuring impact) outweigh the costs. Most Jewish organizations’ primary way of communicating with their “target populations” involves a weekly one-size-fits-all email blast to thousands of people on their listserv or Facebook site. Yet organizations are lucky to get a 15 percent “open” rate. The majority of the listservs are comprised of people who attended one or two events, are no longer members, and/or are not interested in these e-blasts. For them, and for many others, a more customized communication strategy is far more likely to generate a response.

To get things started, we are going to pilot the Jewish Journey Connector in several smaller communities where cooperation between and among organizations is already strong. As success is demonstrated with the initial group, other Jewish organizations will join as they are ready. Two communities will be participating in the pilot year, with support from four national funders (including the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund). Once the pilot has demonstrated success, we will attempt to take it national, city by city.

The Jewish Journey Connector is intended to be a true “game changer,” ensuring that a majority of Jews are connected with Jewish life at any point in time. Successful consumer, social media, and credit card companies invest heavily in data aggregation and predictive analytics. We can and we must borrow some of this thinking to ensure young Jews participate in a lifelong journey of Jewish identity development.

Yes, the Jewish Journey Connector will be taking real risks, breaking new ground, and pushing our community and organizations to think differently about ourselves. But we can ill afford not to.

Sacha Litman is the Managing Director of Measuring Success, and the Director of the Jewish Journeys Connector Project.

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