Why You Need to Embrace Relationship Based Engagement

Guest post from Rabbi Aaron Spiegel. This post is part of a series on networks and network weaving.

Synagogue 3000 just released a report entitled “Reform and Conservative Congregations: Different Strengths, Different Challenges.” The report could just as easily been entitled something like “Synagogues are Fading Into Obscurity,” but that would be a little too provocative. The data is clear; the institution best positioned to provide the full richness of Jewish life is becoming irrelevant for most American Jews. More disturbing is that our research shows some 70% of young Jewish adults, those between the ages of 23 and 39, have no connection to the established Jewish community (synagogues, Federation, JCC’s, etc.). While many in the Jewish world talk about Jewish continuity and protecting the future of American Judaism, most of the proposed solutions have had little effect. The good news is we’ve also learned that this majority of young Jews are very interested in Judaism, just not the way we’re offering it.

While most in the congregational world talk about outreach, Synagogue 3000 learned that this moniker has a negative connotation. Outreach says, albeit subtly, “I’m reaching out to you so you can come to me and have what I want to offer you.” The community, particularly those young, single Jews who are our potential future are saying, “no thanks.” Instead of outreach Synagogue 3000 changed the conversation to engagement. Learning from the church world and community organizing, Synagogue 3000 created Next Dor (dor is Hebrew for generation) – an engagement program. Participating synagogues agree to dedicate a staffer, most often a rabbi, whose primary job is to meet young Jews where they are – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. These engagement workers are charged with finding young Jews, be they in bars, coffee houses, local gyms, etc., and finding ways of engaging them in conversation to create relationships. Relationships create trust, which creates other relationships, which creates opportunity for real engaging conversations about life and what Judaism has to offer. One of the key points is that this engagement and these relationships are l’shma, for their own sake. Synagogue membership is not the goal – connecting Jews to Judaism is.

While the goal is engaging young Jews in Judaism, several of the Next Dor partner synagogues are discovering tangible benefits. Next Dor D.C., a project of Temple Micah was one of the first adopters. Rabbi Danny Zemel, a proponent of this engagement model before Next Dor existed, knew that Temple Micah needed to engage this unaffiliated and disaffected population. As a Next Dor pilot synagogue, Temple Micah hired Rabbi Esther Lederman as their engagement worker. A big part of Esther’s job is having one-on-one meetings with young Jews, usually in coffee shops. Now in its fourth year, Next Dor D.C. has gone from one-on-one meetings to regular Shabbat dinners at Esther’s home to annual free High Holy Day services for young adults, led by Esther and Michelle Citrin. The results – young Jewish adults are joining Temple Micah.

Some have dubbed this approach “relational Judaism” which seems something of an oxymoron. Judaism is at its essence (at least in my opinion) all about relationships. Unfortunately, congregations have focused on other things like supporting infrastructure, b’nai mitzvah training, and programming. More than the first two, the focus on programming is the irrelevance linchpin. Rather than engaging Jews in what’s important in their lives, synagogues program based on anecdotal information. When numbers fall the default synagogue response is to seek better programming rather than forming relationships with members, finding out what’s really important in their lives, and being responsive to their needs. Interestingly enough, while Synagogue 3000 envisioned the relational approach targeting young Jewish adults, the Next Dor communities are discovering it works with everyone.

Is your synagogue willing to form relationships with people who might not become members? Is your rabbi really willing to “be known” by synagogue members? What are your biggest obstacles to moving from a program-based community to relationship-based? Relationships, it’s all about the relationships!

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the CEO of Synagogue 3000. The report was the result of Synagogue 3000’s participation in FACT (Faith Communities Today), the largest and most comprehensive surveyor of faith communities in the United States.

 This post is part of a series on networks and network weaving that Darim Online is curating to advance the communal conversation about relationship focused Jewish communities.  Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting our research and this blog series.  Click here to see other related posts in the series.

When Failure Isn’t Failure

Too often we get hung up on THE NEXT GREAT IDEA that will save or transform the Jewish community.  Following stark headlines birthed by the recent Pew study, I suspect the urgency around this may even grow.  Yawn.

I'm more interested in looking at the world and our challenges opportunities through new lenses.  Sometimes a tweak here and there is a great approach for improving your work. Sometimes we need to think bigger. But as the scale of the idea (and the investment required to make it come to life) increases, the risk of possible failure increases as well.  Our fear of failure therefore often acts as the glass ceiling of our biggest ideas and freshest thinking.

Those making really profound progress in our rapidly evolving world aren't afraid of failure.  As detailed in The Lean StartUp, it's not always about the A landslide victory of your idea, it's about developing it in a smart and nimble way. It's about seeing the small failures and improving upon them.  Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy started by making videos for his family, and realizing the value, scale the idea to help others.  Rarely are great, big ideas great or big right out of the box.

At The Nonprofit Technology Conference a year ago, Beth Kanter led a panel discussion called "Placing Little Bets" (based on the book, Little Bets), where the discussion turned to failure.  Fascinating.  Of course your little bets (experiments) can't grow into big discoveries unless you fail.  Like in a science lab, you learn as much (maybe more) by the experiments that don't turn out as you hypothesized.  My take away:  the tech/innovation field understands this, and encourages, rewards, and invests in this cycle.   They think big (but start small), know how to let go of the mediocre ideas, and how to identify failure, learn from it, and improve upon it. 

In the Jewish community, I am afraid we're too afraid to fail. In fact, we're so afraid of our own failure (writ large — declining numbers, declining engagement, struggling institutions) that we embody that fear of failure in everything we do.  Sure, there are people placing bets, people with fresh ideas, and a whole 'innovation' sector.  But I'm speaking to the collective ethos of organized Jewish life. We need to think (and feel) differently about failure.

The Jewish Education Project, in partnership with Upstart and UJA Federation of New York, is hosting a FAIL FORWARD CONFERENCE in November, with  Ashley Good, the CEO of Fail Forward.  I'm thrilled to see this issue rising to the surface of our communal conversation.  We need to be talking about this, sharing our 'failures', collaborating to decide where and how to invest in the places where we can improve on that failure, and how we can learn from it.

But here's what I think it really boils down to:  We have many connotations with the word FAILURE that we need to let go of.  Or maybe we need to fine an alternate word (suggestions welcome in the comments).

  • For Jews, failure signifies the END of something.  That's a concept all too real, and very traumatizing to leaders of the Jewish community.  So let's get this straight: Failing forward isn't about extinction of an idea (or a whole people). It's about refining and strengthening that idea so it will flourish.
  • Failure often carries connotations of blame — of negligence, or stupidity, or defeat.  And of course we (personally or organizationally) don't want to be associated with that.  We need to write over those connotations with positive associations.  What will those be?

How do you think about failure?  How do you talk about it in your work (or why do you struggle to talk about it)?  Do you or your organization have practices that help embrace, celebrate and learn from 'failure'?  Where have you failed and learn from it? What new associations can we add to the word "failure" to help us embrace failing forward for all of its goodness and potential benefit to our community?

I'm giving away two great books from people who have looked at this idea, or challenged it in profound ways.  Share your experience of and ideas about failure and enter to win with The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, or The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan.  (Make sure to note which book you prefer, and follow the comments so you'll know if you won.)

The Social Media Sukkah

After the intensity of the High Holy Days, Sukkot – to me, at least – is a welcome shift. I’ve always felt that Sukkot was a bizarre and wonderful holiday that really captures the essence of autumn; like beginning the day at night, there’s something kind of magical about beginning the year when the world seems to be going to sleep. It’s a beautiful stretch of days that are hard to let go of.

Luckily for us, social media help us bring the feeling of Sukkot into our lives and work year-round. Social media, in many ways, are like a sukkah!


  • Both are open by design. A sukkah forces you to let go of just one wall, to bring down traditional barriers. It forces you to experience the elements with a roof that both allows the stars to shine through and the rain to fall into your kiddush cup. So too with social media. Without a certain level of openness, of transparency, efforts in social media tend to fall flat or feel inauthentic. That openness exposes you to the occasional cold wind or nasty comment, but the value it brings in sunshine and deepened relationships is worth the risk.

    • How are you opening yourself up through social media?

  • Both are meant to be built together. Sukkot both recalls the years the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, dwelling in impermanent structures, and the harvest-time. Both of these events require an entire community – we can’t get through the desert alone, we’re dependent on one another for sustenance. And there’s nothing like a good sukkah-raising to bring a community together! Likewise, social media is exactly that: social. It’s about the people and the connections among them. A sukkah, a social network…both are scaffolding for bringing people together to make meaning.  

    • Who helps you build your sukkah, and who is generous and supporting to you through social media?

  • Both are all about hospitality. On Sukkot, we welcome everyone, including the mystical ushpizin, holy guests like Abraham and Sarah who join us from across time and space. We can’t necessarily see these visitors, but we connect with them and we feel their presence. That is often the case online. While we may not always see our guests, but we sense them, we welcome them, and we help them feel at home.  

    • How do you welcome people into your sukkah, and into your social media spaces?

  • They’re both supposed to be fun! I once heard an adorable 3 year-old give the following d’var Torah, “On Sukkot…you should be happy…and dance.” Not only was he cute, he was right! V’samachta b’chagecha, the Torah teaches – be joyous in your holiday. Have fun with it. Why not do the same in social media? Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t be an onerous burden. They are an opportunity to share, to connect, to bring a little something special into the world. Make it yours, and make it fun!  


The holidays are a time to think about our practice and start doing better. This year I challenge each of us to make our social media spaces more like a sukkah – open, collaborative, welcoming, and joyful. Shanah tovah, a happy and successful new year to us all!





Designing for Social: Nefesh bNefesh New Contests

Marketing is one thing.  Designing intentionally for social engagement is another thing all together.   This is a story of a very fun creative process that has resulting in two contests announced this week.

Nefesh b’Nefesh (the Israel org that promotes and facilitates aliyah by minimizing the financial, professional, logistical, and social obstacles to doing so) approached us eager to “amplify the conversation about aliyah in the American Jewish community”.   While they have helped bring tens of thousands of new immigrants to Israel, discussion of aliyah isn’t really normalized in the American Jewish community. So, what can social media to do help?

The key to social media is the social more than the media.  The challenge was to create content that wasn’t talking AT people, but talking WITH people.  And further content that people in those conversations would want to share with their friends and family, leveraging networks to spread the word. That’s designing for social.

First, we identified key target audiences who are ripe for considering aliyah and are also highly engaged in social media.  While many who are retiring may consider moving to Israel, they are not the target “highly social online” demographic we sought.  The two we landed on: Those getting married and starting to shape a new life together; and those seeking exciting employment in a tough economy.

Next, how to get those groups talking about aliyah?  We helped Nefesh b’Nefesh design two contents: The Best Job Contest and The Wedding Gift Challenge.   In the Best Job Contest winners will be awarded paid jobs with top rate companies based in Israel such as SodaStream, IBM, and The Times of Israel, among others.  In the Wedding Gift Challenge, winners will prize money to help start their life in Israel, and/or IKEA shopping sprees and vineyard tours. 

In the contests, participants are evaluated based on votes on their contest page, and in the Job Contest, also on creating online content (blogs, video, tweets, etc.) about their process of deciding and planning to make aliyah.  By incentivizing those considering aliyah to make their thinking and planning transparent, the participants themselves are amplifying the conversation about aliyah in their social networks.  Which, we assume, largely also fall into the target demographic we seek to reach.

Every organization has a mission, but that doesn’t mean the staff alone are responsible for bringing that mission to life.  If your goal is wide communal action, change of perception, or something as bold as amplifying a conversation about aliyah through the American Jewish community, you can’t rely on direct messaging alone, whether that’s by mail, email, Facebook page or otherwise.   It’s time to engage your constituents as your ambassadors and evangelists.  How are you doing it?

Know someone considering aliyah?  There’s loot to be won!  Check out the Best Wedding Gift and Best Job Contest and spread the word!

Surprisingly Easy to Quit My Synagogue

This blog is crossed posted from Living Lomed.

I belonged to a synagogue for twenty years. This year we made the decision not to rejoin. The reason? I was feeling less connected to a place that was putting control over choice. Concretely: Leadership would not permit the Shabbat morning prayer class I had attended for the past eight years to continue on a weekly basis. We could hold the class twice a month, but not every week.

Leadership's reason? "The main arena of the synagogue is the sanctuary. When other things are happening that takes attention away from that (even though the class was happening prior to services starting) it is a problem.” Like the Cantor said, "I went to a basketball game and everyone was talking or buying food. They weren't watching the game. That is what it is like here on Shabbat. Instead of people focusing on the main event they are distracted."

We did the process thing. I personally met with the rabbi. I explained why the weekly rhythm of coming together in prayer, Torah study, and story sharing was so important. I tried to convey that the ritualization of every week mattered in my life. I also said that as a member of the congregation I had a responsibility to give back. If there were additional ways I could volunteer, mentor or teach to contribute, I would do that but hoped we could continue our class.

Additionally, the twenty some people who attended the weekly class at 9 am met with the rabbi. They told their stories about how the Jewish teaching and sharing deeply impacted their lives. Men and women cried equally sharing the power the regular ritual had in their lives.

If it were a matter of money…of course we'd pay the salary of the teacher.

In the end, the clergy, and I'm not sure who else, decided NO.

They wanted more people to come to the sanctuary and not have too many side services or learning.

Holding so tightly is choking, not inviting.

I left. After much thought I couldn't reconcile being a member of a community that didn't reflect a core principle: Each person finds his/her connection to God in different ways. Congregations need to find a balance between the whole and the individual. I don't, I confess, like sitting in services from 10-12:30 Honestly instead of connecting me it bores me…for the most part.
However, the 9-10 learning experience mattered. Shouldn't there be space for the guy who likes sitting 10-12:30 and the lady who gets her religious high in one hour?

When we left I called the congregation’s office to let them know we wouldn't be sending our check. Ok, you are always welcome to come back. And that was the end of that.  Really?

I was there for 20 years…at Hanukah we got a Xeroxed copy of a note from the clergy wishing us a happy Chanukah.

I wonder if there could have been another ending? What is the ritual that congregations use when folks walk? Would it make sense for someone in the congregation to come visit us? “I'd like to hear your story? We still will see you as part of the community. Are there ways that we can help you connect to other Jewish organizations? We will still send you yahrzeit info and other events. You will always be a member of our community…it will look different now but we are here for you. How can we support you on your next leg of your journey? Your story will remain with us and we are here for you” Or something right? Could they reinvent membership…like ok you don't pay 3000 dollars, but we are still connected to you.

Who is paying attention to the life stories of congregants?

What makes it hard for a congregation to allow the space for multiple entry points?

Where am I writing this blog? I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Suburban Square. Someone borrowed my power cord by accident and I have no power in my computer.

Do you think I could sit here and just charge my battery?"

The salesman said, "sit here and if you need anything just ask".

I just looked up and the lady in the blue shirt who is supposed to be selling stuff just smiled at me.

Really? Hello synagogues, what's it look like to make room for someone to sit for what they need, not just what you need.

Cyd Weissman is the Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. She blogs at LivingLomed.


This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.


The Neverending Haggadah

Every Passover, Jews around the world gather at the Seder table to re-tell one of the greatest stories ever: the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. As much as we love tradition, this year we are giving the Seder ritual a new twist—and we want you to join us!

So, how will this Passover be different from all other Passovers?

Because we are forgoing ye olde faithful Maxwell House Haggadah! We are working with our friends at Haggadot.com to pilot their new group collaboration tool to create an online (and downloadable) crowd-sourced Haggadah. Are you up to the challenge for collectively creating a never-ending Haggadah? This is your chance to share content that will add color and depth to another Seder and also to find content that will make your Seder more meaningful. It’s a Haggadah of reciprocity!

5 Steps to Contribute

  • Explore Haggadot.com and select 1-2 parts of the Haggadahthat speak to you. Having trouble deciding? We are happy to help you brainstorm.

    • Letter to My Old Master, from a freed African American slave to his former master, asking for his wages for 30 years of service.
    • An English translation of the Seder’s popular, concluding song, “Chad Gadya” (One Goat) with a translation based on the version retold by the Igbo people ofNigeria
    • The Four Adults, a take on the Four Children that reminds us that as adults we have a lot to learn from youth, especially when it comes to social justice. 
  • Upload your content here.  For each section of the haggadah, you may upload original writings, artwork or scan in selections from homemade or non-copyrighted haggadot. . Get creative! Tell your story with a photo, video, tweet, art or a traditional text story. Can you rap? Are you a master puppeteer? Can you say a blessing in pig-Latin? “But hey,” you say, “I already have something created!” Great, new or already published works are welcome! Watch this video that walks users through the simple process of creating and submitting content to Haggadot.com. 
  • Build your Haggadah. Use the content you have uploaded, mix and match it with other contributions on Haggadot.com and, voila, you have your own custom, printable Haggadah. Better add seats to your Seder table!
  • Get your friends to contribute and spread the word. Know some people who might want to contribute content? Know others who would want to mix and match content to create their own Haggadah? Send them this post and our digital toolkit! If you post it online, be sure to use #NeverendingHaggadah. Anyone can contribute and also use the content they find to curate and download a free Haggadah for their Seder. Let’s spread the word.
  • Join our webinar. Still unsure about this whole creating your own Haggadah business? We will be hosting a webinar with Eileen Levinson, the founder of Haggadot.com, on March 13 at 1 pm EST. She will provide tips for creating an interactive Haggadah and how to use it in your Seder. For more information and to register for the webinar, click here.

Learn more about The Neverending Haggadah here. If you have any questions, please send them to [email protected].


Four Rules for Maturing Your Field: The Bootcamp Model for Foundations, Associations and Umbrella Orgs

We’re already a month into 2013, and for many, those New Year’s resolutions are becoming a little less resolute every day.  It’s a curious phenomenon we all see each year in gyms, classes and homes. Individuals have the will to make BIG improvements, but without some guidance, clear goals and even a few incentives to get them over the first few big hurdles, successful outcomes are rare.

The same is true for entire communities that are organized around an issue and the umbrella organizations that support them.

Foundations, associations and other umbrella organizations want to provide value to their constituents and mature the fields in which they work.  Their affiliate organizations need to learn new skills, by doing so they lift up the entire community.  Umbrella organizations are challenged to figure out what kinds of programs – Course learning? One-on-one coaching? Gamification? – will work for them. Over the past few years, both See3 Communications and Darim Online have been working with these organizations to implement year-long “Boot Camps” which provide training, coaching and compelling incentives to help their grantees/affiliates fearlessly try new things to advance their work, and the fields in general. We’ve got some insights to share.

In our training, coaching and consulting work over the past years, we’ve learned four important lessons about making organizational change:

1.  Theory alone isn’t enough. When learning a new skill and even more importantly learning how to work in a new landscape (welcome to the ‘connected age’!), you just have to jump in and do it.  It’s like learning how to ride a bike (you have the feel how to balance) or learning a foreign language (your textbook grammar won’t make you fluent on the streets).

This analogy applies to countless new skills and technologies. Take, for instance, online video.

With a recognition that online video is a critical currency for modern communications, The AVI CHAI Foundation wanted to catalyze more schools to use video in their communications, alumni engagement and fundraising efforts. To help them do this well, the Video Academy had to tackle both the “why” and the “how” of online video.

“The Video Academy started by exposing the participants to the scale and importance of video. We then tackled storytelling theory and techniques, production skills, and the art and science of editing video. Importantly, our curriculum concludes with information about distribution, because the best video serves no purpose if no one sees it,” said See3 CEO Michael Hoffman.

In the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy (also funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation), 20 schools are tackling 3 important projects this year:  a social media experiment, a social fundraising experiment, and the development (or revision) of a social media policy.  By the end of the year these schools won’t just be a little more savvy with Facebook and Twitter, they will have accomplished three major initiatives to mature their social media use, their operations and their culture as well.

2. Coaching amplifies everything.  We can only learn so much at once.  It’s impossible to absorb and integrate 100% of what even the best teacher offers, but little adjustments over time can make a huge difference.   The key is to shape a path of improvement, and take one step at a time. 

Sometimes organizations need help shaping the path, and then are fairly self sufficient in moving down the path. In other cases, staff needs someone to hold their hand as they progress to teach, inform, support and guide.  A coach who can help critique each organizations’ work can help them improve exponentially, by maximizing the quality at each step. In a fast moving social media world, the rate at which each team gets up to speed is important, and this 1:1 approach can ignite important change.

In the Union for Reform Judaism Social Media Boot Camp, we offered a widely accessible webinar series to the organization’s hundreds of affiliates, and then offered 10 slots for more intensive, private coaching.  The organizations which applied and received these services were able to improve their processes and product, and now serve as a model for others to emulate.

3. Incentives raise the bar.  With so many opportunities competing for our attention, we have found that incentives help participants focus, strive for quality and take social media seriously.  In each Boot Camp, offers of additional coaching, cash prizes, or matching grants have helped participants take their work to the next level.

“In the Video Academy, we wanted to see the organizations use their newly learned skills by actually making videos. The best way to do that was to hold a video contest. The contest had two tracks — judges to measure quality, and people’s choice to measure participant’s ability to mobilize their social network,” said Hoffman.

Creating a fun, game-like space for participants to apply their newly learned skills made all the difference. The steps-to-win can vary of course, but the end run incentives are critical. We’ve seen that hold true for other programs too. 

In the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, The AVI CHAI Foundation is offering matching funds to help schools design and implement a social fundraising project.  More than the dollars that the school can earn, the matching funds create excitement around the project, and incentivize schools to take risks and try new things that otherwise would never make it to the top of the priority list.  Last year, the SAR Academy was so effective with their network strategy that they received over 1000 donations of $18 each through Facebook Causes. The Foundation matched $18,000 and they raised over $40,000 total.  It was so successful that a donor put up another matching gift if every alum donated to their annual campaign — even just $1.  It worked.

4.  Sharing with each other raises the field and creates capacity for ongoing learning long after the intensive experience has ended.  There is much to learn, and the participants in these Boot Camps are the ones on the ground making it happen, learning the tiny lessons that accumulate to real success.  Those receiving private coaching through the Boot Camp are developing models that others can learn from and emulate, and are encouraged to share their process, product and insights with the wider group through webinars, blog posts, Facebook groups and other channels.  Pulling the front of the bell curve forward shifts the middle of the curve too.

Each Boot Camp includes structures to promote knowledge sharing and conversation between and among the participants, and the field in general.  In the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, we host “Sharefest!” webinars throughout the year, where 2 or 3 schools share something that they’ve been working on.  Rarely are these home-run success stories. More often they are mid-stage efforts with many lessons learned, and webinar participants can “workshop” the issues with the presenter as well as learn from them. 

In the URJ Boot Camp Facebook group, staff, board and committee members ask questions of each other, provide feedback, share links to great resources, offer peer critiques and provide moral support.  The group becomes a very functional space, where content expertise is valued, but “boots on the ground” experience is just as important too. 

Getting Started

If you’re thinking about creating a program to build assets, skills and capacity among your affiliates, remember our key takeaways:

•    Your affiliates and grantees need to immerse themselves in the tech and processes.  Create a simple curriculum and provide a pathway for them to get their hands dirty and learn by doing.
•    Provide some coaching and you’ll amplify your results in a huge way.  Your affiliates have the will, but zero knowledge to start them on the road to mastering new skills. By making simple coaching available to them, you can speed up their learning and quality and help them to blast through those little things that are trifles for experts but big scary barriers to novice learners.
•    Incentivize what you’re asking them to do. Things like grants, cash, and even small symbolic prizes really drive participation and quality.  Participants keep their head in the game and make thoughtful progress with a goal in mind.  Provide them with a game, or fun program with that prize at the end and you’ll maximize your results.
•    Make sure they’re talking to each other and sharing their struggles as well as their triumphs.  When your program takes on this workshop aspect, your participating affiliates themselves become coaches and a support system to each other.  What’re more: you create a more vital, networked group of professionals learning new skills simultaneously.

The Social Media Boot Camp can be adapted for local communities (like this one for Jewish orgs in Northern New Jersey funded by a Berrie Innovation Grant), or across fields such as the Jewish Day School or URJ programs.  It's an efficient model to catalyze growth and maturity, and to build the field as we go.

“Have We Met Yet?” The Power of Casual Conversation for Organizational Engagement

Cross-posted from Deborah's weekly enewletter and column in the New York Jewish Week.

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." -Carl Jung

In his New York Times bestselling book, "The Power of Habit", author Charles Duhigg shares the research into what makes people more likely to take advantage of their gym membership. Warning: The answer is so simple it might shock you.

It wasn't about fancy facilities, convenience or a wide range of fitness offerings. Those helped, but they weren't the deciding factors.

The single biggest reason why people were more likely to go to a gym on a regular basis was if the staff knew them by name.

That's right: when we believe that someone really notices and cares about whether or not we show, we are more likely to feel engaged.  The simple "Hey, Deb!" I hear from the staff when I check in at my gym makes me feel like I count. (It also makes me feel like someone would notice if I came just to read the People Magazine instead of exercising.)

Most people want to be noticed in some way, to count, and to matter. The staff and lay leaders of our Jewish organizations – synagogues, Federations, schools, agencies, camps, etc. – should consider it to be everyone's job to actively notice and engage the people who come through their doors. People who feel like they have made a personal connection (however small) are more likely to come back.

Let's face it: the future of our Jewish organizations depend on people coming back for more.

Whether you work at a Jewish organization, volunteer for one, or attend one as a member, you have an opportunity more often than not to engage and educate people what your institution and community has to offer them. These aren’t necessarily during informational meetings or members-only gatherings, but during down time, walking-in-the-hallway time, waiting-for-class-to-finish time, nosh time, or any other time when you see someone in the building who could use a warm greeting and a personal touch.


Here are some tips and tools to help you make that connection feel comfortable for both of you.

1.    Read body-language to see if someone is approachable. Don’t approach someone who is dealing with a child having a tantrum, but do approach someone looking lost, lonely or bored.

2.    Ask open-ended questions like, “What brings you here today?” rather than “Did you find what you need?”

3.    Introduce yourself and your role (not just your title), like, “I’m Donna, and I oversee programming for older adults, like our day trips and senior companion programs” or “I’m Ben, and I’m a fourth-generation member here. How about you?”

4.    Ask for someone’s name and use it at least once in the conversation – and at the end. (“Nice to meet you, Bob”….”Well, Bob, thanks for chatting with me. And here’s my card in case you have any questions in the future about our day school’s admissions process.”)

5.    Be a great listener and use what you hear to go deeper into the conversation. (“You’re new to the shul? Welcome! Who have you met so far?”). Note: make sure not to follow that kind of question with negative commentary, like, “Oh, you’ve met Dave? Sorry to hear that. I hope you won’t hold him against the rest of us!”

6.     Share your positive opinions/points of view about the organization (“One of the things that I like most about working here at the JCC is the variety of services. My son comes for camp, my sister works out here and my mom loves the day trips.”)

7.     Find out what someone knows about the organization’s programs or services. (“I see you know about our Federation’s Happy Hours. What other events or programs have you been to?”)

8.     Assume that everyone has something more they can learn about what the organization offers that could be relevant to them or someone they know. (“Next month is our book fair, and I know you have kids, so I wanted to let you know that Wendy Mogel is coming to talk about parenting. Are you familiar with her books?”

9.     Be proactively helpful and memorable. Hand someone a flyer about a program or event you’ve discussed, offer to add them to the mailing list, walk them to wherever they are going, introduce them to the person in charge of the department they are most interested in, buy them a cup of coffee at your café, give them your card and invite them to call you with questions, etc. 

10.  Know how to end a conversation with ease, like “"I won't take up any more of your time but it’s been nice talking with you, Ellen" or “Well, thanks so much for stopping to chat with me. I have a call in five minutes, Jon, and here’s my card in case you need anything” or even better, “It was great meeting you, Sam. Will I see you back here next week?”

By noticing people and acting on it, you just might get a new member, a new donor, a new family or a new client for your JCC, synagogue, day school, Hebrew school, agency, Federation, etc. – and you may even reengage, re-energize and reconnect with some existing ones. And if you are really, truly lucky, you might make a new great friend.

Read more about how Deborah met her friend Amy with the juicy pickup line, “Hi, I’m Deborah. Have we met yet?" in the New York Jewish Week.


This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work. 




Expanding Capacity, Maturing the Field: Darim Online and See3 Communications Together.

Jewish organizations, big and small, are prioritizing digital communications and embracing new models of leadership and organizational development. While this may seem like an obvious statement to some, for those of us who have been banging the digital drum for some time, it truly feels like we’ve finally reached a critical tipping point. The question no longer is “should we?”, it’s “how do we?”

The hunger for training, coaching, models to emulate, and savvy staff to power the work has skyrocketed.

This is a thrill for all of us at Darim Online where, for over a dozen years, we have been advancing Jewish organizations’ use of current technologies in ways that help to achieve their missions and open Jewish communal life to be more accessible, appealing and compelling. What started as a selfish pursuit to support my own Jewish life while living in Vermont as a 20-something just back from Israel, became a personal and professional passion, a rapidly growing business, and a widely recognized lever for institutional and communal advancement. The needs of the Jewish community are continually evolving and diversifying. I have often said that every 18-24 months it’s like I have a new job: From websites and email, to Facebook and Twitter, and most recently expanding into network weaving and Connected Congregations.

For the past few years I have worked quite intentionally to expand the talent that can support this work in our community. Rather than growing the Darim Online staff, I have sought to bring the best of the best into the Jewish community.  Rather than creating our own conference, with support from The Schusterman Family Foundation and The Jim Joseph Foundation, we have brought Jewish leaders to the Nonprofit Technology Network Conference. Rather than build a team of staff consultants, we’ve engaged Big Duck to provide their top-notch services in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy. And rather than develop the Social Media Policy Workbook on our own, we partnered with Idealware to create a rich product that is also a resource for the general nonprofit community.

And even after all of that, we’ve reach our capacity. The Jewish community increasingly understands how critical it is to become smart users of digital media and are seeking assistance to achieve this. Darim alone is unable to fully serve all those that need our help. To fulfill our mission of helping Jewish organizations thrive in the digital age, we need to expand our capacity and increase our expertise in core areas including video, campaign strategy, online distribution and SEO and others.

We are thrilled to announce that Darim Online is merging with See3 Communications, a Chicago-based agency helping nonprofit organizations succeed online. See3 completely aligns with our mission, culture, and commitment to the Jewish community. I have followed and admired See3’s work for many years, and worked closely with their founders, Michael Hoffman and Danny Alpert, and am thrilled to be joining their amazing and talented team. See3 has the infrastructure and expertise that enables us to expand our work in the Jewish community, increase the depth and breadth of professional development and offer a suite of implementation services to organizations that are ready to take action on dynamic online efforts.

See3 is an interactive communications agency that works exclusively with nonprofits, foundations, associations, and social causes, and specializes in online strategies and campaigns, video production, and web development. See3 already has a special focus in the Jewish community, working with The Foundation For Jewish Camp, The AVI CHAI Foundation, American Jewish World Service and others. See3 is currently producing the Jewish Day School Video Academy, in partnership with The AVI CHAI Foundation, now in its third iteration, and has raised the level of capacity of day schools to produce videos for recruitment and fundraising.

In addition to augmenting Darim’s work with expertise in many new technical areas, See3 also brings a wealth of experience working with large, national and international organizations, which we believe will be an asset to the organized Jewish world. Some of these See3 clients include the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, UNICEF and many others.

As our integration is completed, you can continue to rely on the Darim brand, including our website, Facebook page and groups, and Twitter channel to provide the best and most relevant content and discussions for the Jewish community.

As we enter 5773 next week, I am excited to share this new beginning, and open a new chapter of collaboration, creativity and excellence with so many of you. May all of us working to support the Jewish community and its institutions go from strength to strength. L’shana tova!


More info at http://www.see3.com/darim-faq

Social Media Policy Workbook for Jewish Organizations

Some organizations jump into social media with great excitement. Others with great trepidation. What we know is that the rules of engagement in social media are in many ways fundamentally different than those of other communication tools we’ve used in the past.  A good social media policy provides clear guidelines as to how staff should represent themselves and the organization when posting and interacting with the community, freeing them up to think more strategically. A social media policy is also likely to help leadership feel more comfortable with the less formal nature of social media by letting them establish boundaries for its use. Often to gain comfort and confidence, we need to reduce the fear, get clear on expectations, and be on the same page with our staff, supervisors, board members, and the community.

This Workbook is designed to help you, as an organization, ask important questions about social media, and how you will manage it and use it to your advantage, thoughtfully.  The Workbook is offered as a PDF download free of charge, thanks to our sponsors, The AVI CHAI Foundation, The Union for Reform Judaism, and See3 Communications.

So, are you ready? Download the PDF below, then gather your team together, start the Social Media Policy Workbook, and enjoy the journey!  Make sure to report back and share your progress! Interested in learning from others who are working on their social media policy too? Join the discussion in the Social Media Policy Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/socialmediapolicy