We Wanted to Send Drake to Israel….

By Jaime Walman

Well, not really. But it was a fun marketing tactic and, after all, it’s birthright season!

At Hillels around the globe, campus professionals are focused on recruiting students, many of whom have never been to Israel, to take the plunge and register for 10 days in the Holy Land. So what does Drake have to do with Birthright?


Applying appropriate resource and innovative strategy into Marketing and Communications is overlooked at most nonprofits and is often outdated especially when targeting the Millenial generation. As this recent eJP article states, you have about 5 seconds to catch someone’s attention. How do you do it? It certainly isn’t through simply changing your profile picture on Facebook or placing ads in your newsletters or copying and pasting language onto your social media pages.

Birthright is no exception.

Hillel Ontario is very fortunate that in Canada, we have a sole birthright provider. And because of the strength of the relationship between our institutions, we asked for, and were given, some leeway this recruitment season to try some of our own tactics and marketing strategies on campus. Because we based this strategy off of past insights from birthright marketing, data from our communication channels and input from our staff, we are proud that we have surpassed our goal with about 4 weeks left still to recruit! Another way to look at it? It took us 3 weeks to do this year what we accomplished in 7 weeks last year.

So what did we do and why?

1. Cocreation leads to real ownership

Hillel knows that achieving deep levels of engagement with students on campus requires that they have real ownership of their Jewish experience. The same is true with Hillel Ontario’s campus professionals. The largest regional system, with eight Hillels serving over 14,000 Jewish students, our campus professionals commented that the content they were asked to promote didn’t look or feel like their Hillel.

Hillel Ontario started building this strategy by talking with all of our Directors and asking them what works, and doesn’t work, on campus, as it relates to Birthright recruitment. We asked them what they had always wanted to try but felt like they “couldn’t,” what was challenging about Birthright recruitment in the past and then built our strategy to reflect what they said they wanted.

2. Eliminatingthird party advertising

Hillel Ontario has intentionally and carefully built it’s brand over the past two years and understands that everything it does needs to be aligned with that brand. We measured open and click-through rates of all of our campus newsletters last year. We found that while the open rates were high – well above industry averages – the click through rates were low. And the birthright “ads” were the least interacted with content in the newsletters.

Students are connected to the Hillel brand and have expectations of the brand – also known as the “brand promise.” The content we produce should feel core to our brand and not like a third party advertiser. We redesigned social media posts to match our creative look and feel with images like this or this. We integrated Israel into blog content here and here. We used student-generated videos, such as this one, to promote birthright. Instead of using external content, we integrated birthright into everything we were already doing, and ensured that it felt core to Hillel.

3. Creating Urgency

It feels like birthright registration is actually 365 days a year. With “pre-registration” now, and continually extended registration periods, there’s no urgency to sign up for birthright. The free trip isn’t novel anymore – and the target audience is over-saturated with birthright ads. Not to mention the fatigue of our staff. If it feels like you can register at any time, what compels you to actually do it?

Our marketing strategy shortened our “birthright season.” We didn’t promote pre-registration, especially as it was right before Frosh Week. And we hit the targets well before we were expected to. We want Birthright to feel special and unique; not tired and taken for granted.

4. Drake! (i.e. align with relevant and cool pop culture)

Torontonians love Drake. The Jewish rapper from Forest Hill is the global ambassador for the Toronto Raptors and has a key to the city. Tapping into relevant pop culture both enhances Hillel’s brand and achieves the real challenge of capturing someone’s attention within that 5-second window.

So, we launched a petition to send Drake to Israel (because he’s never been). It was surprising, provocative and eye-catching. We didn’t ask to send him on Birthright per se – in fact, Birthright is not mentioned anywhere on the site, or the follow-up page after you sign. Obviously Drake can afford to go to Israel if he wants to but that wasn’t the point. Once someone signs the petition, it pushes them to a page to email Hillel’s Birthright Coordinator.

Over the two weeks that the Drake petition was launched, it was viewed almost 15,000 times and was shared around the world.

Hillel Ontario is looking forward to debriefing with our staff and continuing to refine the birthright marketing strategies in time for the summer trips. We are proud of the strength of the partnership we have with Canada Israel Experience and their understanding of our desire to demonstrate the impact that innovative marketing can have on our collective ability to reach and engage a greater number, and broader demographic, of students.

Hillel Ontario strives to inspire every Jewish student in Ontario to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel.

Canada Israel Experience (CIE) is the leading Israel program organizer in Canada offering unforgettable trips to Israel for youth and young adults.

Jaime Walman is Chief Strategy Officer at Hillel Ontario.