Our Healthy Obsession with Reaching the Unengaged
The most effective strategy is to empower our young people to host and run quality programs and to invite their friends.
By David Cygielman
Completely unengaged young adults make the best poster-children. I’m talking about those 20-somethings who never imagined themselves becoming active Jewish leaders until they participated in our program. When we find these unicorns, we make flyers, send emails, introduce them to donors and have them shout from their rooftops. But where do they really come from and how do we effectively reach them?
Let’s start with a brief diagnosis of our healthy obsession with engaging the unengaged. It stems from a good place of deep passion for the future of the Jewish community and a fear that our numbers will greatly diminish without some type of meaningful personal or communal connection. This fear does not mean we should just throw our hands up in defeat, but simply saying that we are targeting the unengaged population will not actually reach them or accomplish any of our communal goals. The key here is that they are unengaged, uninvolved, and for the vast majority, not looking for their first step in a lifetime of Jewish communal involvement. Fortunately, the answer to how to best find, engage and create exciting opportunities for the unaffiliated right in front of us: it is those who are already actively engaged.
There is a silver bullet and the data shows us it exists; however, the majority of us have been looking in the opposite direction. Watering down programs, coming up with catchy taglines, offering free food or paying big bucks for famous headliners is not the solution. The learning from our evaluation has illustrated that it takes two engaged young Jewish adults to reach one unengaged. When we saw this data, it made sense. How else would we, sitting in our offices, be able to connect with people who aren’t even looking for us? The answer: we cannot. But, the thousands of people having great experiences with their Moishe Houses can invite the unengaged to participate in our programs. But, we must ensure the program is strong and that we are encouraging the active participants to bring others along with them. We live in a viral society where word of mouth spreads faster than ever thanks to social media. From high school through their 20s, the number one reason someone participates in a program is because they are invited by a friend. Our data shows that 82% of young adults show up to programs when they are invited by their friends, far more than other reason.
So what does this mean for our organizations? It means that we should continue to focus on finding more unicorns. But, in order to make that happen, the most effective strategy is to empower our young people to host and run quality programs and to invite their friends. If we ignore those who are already deeply engaged, we will miss out on all their friends and even more importantly, friends of friends. By having great experiences and feeling a sense of ownership, we know those who are engaged will find their peers at work, at a bar, on a sports team, online or wherever else people younger than me hang out these days, and bring them into the dynamic Jewish communities we are collaboratively building.
David Cygielman is Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Moishe House.