Happy Healthy Nonprofit A Review

At this time of year, we take time to reflect on ourselves over the past year, and to set intentions for how we will be in the coming year.  All of us have room for improvement (think about Carol Dweck's "growth mindset") to become our best selves.  Our personal well-being — physical, mental and spiritual health — is key to unlocking the best of who we are, at the office, with our families and friends, with with ourselves.  Beth Kanter's new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, written with co-author Aliza Sherman, is a fantastic resource for leaders and managers in our community to reflect on both their own well-being and to consider how to foster healthier professional environments to help all of us thrive.

Over the past few years at See3, we’ve been working hard on building a company culture that values the personal well being of our employees and invests in our team to be a productive family based on shared values. This attention is paying off, with happy and hard-working staff who are generous with each other and our clients. We take time to celebrate each other’s accomplishments in the office and outside of it. We are also attracting talented and diverse new employees who want to advance their careers and have a great quality of life while doing it.

Because we’ve been thinking about these issues a lot, we are particularly excited about this new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. In it, these two superstar authors tackle head-on an issue which those of us working in the nonprofit world know so well — burnout. If you want to find people who work really hard, in often challenging circumstances for low pay, look no further than your nearest nonprofit organization.

Beth’s previous books looked at how nonprofits can change to be more nimble and function better in our newly connected digital world. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the issue of employee health and burnout avoidance comes next. With the quickening of the pace of communications, more competition for donors' attention and more scrutiny of nonprofit work than ever, it’s no wonder that burnout is finally on the agenda.

The authors point out that nonprofits have unique challenges with these issues because sacrifice is often in the DNA of social movements. They write:

Self-sacrifice becomes a cultural norm in organizations and movements. Leaders who give up their personal lives for the cause often evaluate staff members’ value or commitment to the organization by how much they, too, deny themselves work-life separation and boundaries.

That sounds really familiar! While this is true for so many of us in the sector, we couldn’t help but think about how this concept of self-sacrifice may unfortunately be particularly acute for women, who may have expectations of the need to work harder to attain leadership positions, not only in the nonprofit sector, but everywhere.

One of the things we love about this book is how Beth and Aliza cite so many practical examples of organizations supporting employee and team health and well being. These real life stories provide inspiration for what you might address at your organization, and a template for your action, too. We’re honored (and proud!) that Beth and Aliza included See3’s HR and dog policy as an example of how organizations can change policies that impact quality-of-life for everyone working there.

See3, a digital agency working with nonprofits, put several policies in place that promote well-being and that affect the way its staff works and manages work-life issues. The agency doesn’t count sick days or personal days, and it offers paid maternity and paternity leave policies, flexible schedule options, and work-from-home flexibility. See3 also has an office policy baked right into its employee handbook that allows employees to bring their dogs to work.

We were also mentioned for our physical movement breaks as a way to reduce stress and promote health:

“Our team regularly breaks around 2:00 in the afternoon to do a 10-minute workout,” says Bridgett Colling from the marketing agency See3. “We find workouts on YouTube or Pinterest and do them as a group using yoga mats we keep in the office. Taking some time to step away from my desk and get my blood pumping usually gives me a much greater energy boost than another cup of coffee or something filled with sugar.”

While some of this attentiveness to culture and health has come from our company’s leadership, a lot of it has grown out of listening to our staff and empowering people to take the initiative to shape our company culture. Bridgett initiated the 10-minute yoga and by doing it in the common spaces and inviting others to join her, she has made a significant contribution to both the health of the participants and the culture of our company overall.

Our vision boards hanging on the walls of our office integrate productivity, professional learning and health and wellness goals. By making all of these goals explicit, our staff is better able to support each other and celebrate our achievements. 

Stopping Burnout Before it Starts

In The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, Beth and Aliza help readers understand what causes burnout and why self-care is critical for your nonprofit’s success. This book is a must read for nonprofit CEOs and managers, as well as anyone in this profession who wants to be happy and successful over the long term of their career.

The self-care process they outline starts with basics — sleep, nutrition and exercise — but moves on to care that relate directly to job stress, such as mindfulness and gratitude. At See3, we have a tradition (based on research that suggested gratitude is a key ingredient to happiness) of including something we are grateful for in our staff-wide daily email check-in, such as support from a team member or spouse, for family health, or for a comical cat video. The Happy Healthy Nonprofit also includes powerful self-assessment tools to help you define your own challenges with self-care as a way to begin addressing them personally and across your organization.

What we particularly love about this book is that it gives individuals the tools for their own self-care, without victimizing those who are feeling "less than optimally healthy”. We can’t solve this issue without changes to our organizations — and Beth and Aliza don’t let the organization off the hook. Organizational structures and policies have perhaps the greatest impact on employees’ ability to work with less stress and avoid burnout. The book gives very clear examples and guidance for organizations looking to promote a healthy culture.

Thanks to Beth for sharing an advance copy with us. For months we’ve been excited for this book’s release, and it meets all of our very high expectations. Order a copy for yourself, and while you’re at it, consider ordering an extra to give as a gift to your leadership or coworkers as well. While health may start with yourself, a happy, healthy nonprofit is good for everyone.

The Happy Healthy Nonprofit is available everywhere books are sold. You can buy it here on Amazon.


About the authors: Lisa Colton is the Founder and President of Darim Online, and the Chief Learning Officer at See3 Communications.  Michael Hoffman is the CEO of See3 Communications.

An Instagram is Worth…

Editors note:  We often use this blog to highlight the wisdom and experience of those within our network.  Isti Bardos is the Communications Director at Temple Israel in Memphis.  On a recent webinar he was giving great advice to those getting started on Instagram, and we asked him to share some tips that make his Instagram efforts successful.


A picture is worth…Yup. We all know.

I would argue, however, that pictures – and videos – are worth much more than words, 1,000 or not.  Imagery evokes feelings, creates empathy and fosters meaningful, lasting relationships.  Isn’t that what our work in congregations is all about: building community and lasting relationships?

By sharing highlights and snippets of everyday life through Instagram, you are illustrating how your congregation is a community of meaning and purpose, not only an institution with "tushes in seats".  While some people may feel nervous about showing photos of people in your congregation, Instagram (and the sharing culture) is happening with or without you.  Be thoughtful about releases in your membership and registration materials (and avoid those who don't want their photos shared), but also recognize that many of the ever-so-coveted 20s/30s demographic are prolifically sharing their photos (and wanting to see those of others). A full 90% of those using Instagram are 35 or younger (data as of June, 2015 — older demographics are beginning to flock to Instagram too).

In addition to engaging the younger demographic, Instagram is a worthy social media platform because

1) It's in your congregation’s best interests to put your best face – literally and figuratively — out there!
2) Participating in Instagram a way to “show off” your congregation.
3) It's good to show a wide array of smiling faces, activities, and slices of life of your congregation!
4) By using Instagram, your congregation will be perceived as hip and modern, on top of the newest technologies.

Two questions people often ask are:

1) What should we post?
2) How often should we post?

To me, the answers are the same: Post good content when you have it.  But make a point of integrating great photography (on your phone!) into your routine so you have content at least a couple times a week.


If you don’t know where to start, start with a #ShabbatShalom message every Friday afternoon. (That # symbol, in today’s social media vernacular, is a hashtag. Hashtags allow you to search for items. For example, if you used the hashtag #ShabbatShalom, you would see only photos/videos from around the world that have that hashtag associated with it, which is pretty cool.)

So, simply take a photo of a smiling child at religious school.  While the culture of Instagram is to post photos immediately after they are taken, you can also have some "timeless" images that can be saved for a Friday post.  With these #ShabbatShalom postings, you will be sharing a photo at least once a week!


Another example which could guarantee another weekly post, is #tbt. #tbt stands for “throwback Thursday.” It’s simply an easy way for you to post a video or photo of something that happened in the past, whether it was a year or 100 years ago.  This could be a childhood photo of your rabbi, or a memorable event in your congregation's past, like this picture from our congregation's 2008 trip to Israel.

So between #ShabbatShalom and #tbt, you already have guaranteed yourself at least two compelling Instagram posts a week, which a great start!

But you have an endless supply of other good, compelling content — here are some ideas and examples from our congregation:
women’s and men’s clubs
beautiful facilities/campus
religious/Hebrew school tutors/teachers
different segments of your congregation
creative snapshots of congregational life
and, of course, smiling children

By the way, it’s important to use photo of people who are smiling, because smiling… is a cause of happy feelings!  …is contagious! …can make you healthier! …can be a predictor of how long you’ll live!   But also remember that Instagram's community values really great photography, including abstract shots of mundane things, insights into everyday moments, bold color and gorgeous patterns.  Like this photo of Hamentashen from OU Hillel.

Also, there is a sense of immediacy and connectivity with Instagram. For example, what is more interesting and interactive: reading – a month after the fact in a black and white newsletter – the sentence “Students watched a science demonstration involving Mentos and Diet Coke” or watching a 10-second video clip of a “volcano” erupting  a few minutes after the event took place – and then having the ability to provide immediate feedback?

Posting photos and videos to Instagram is less about the information and more about making emotional connections.  As people scroll through their Instagram feed, make sure that your congregation has a presence! Scroll through your Instagram feed periodically to see the "bigger picture" that new followers might find if they look at everything you've posted recently. 

If your congregation doesn’t use Instagram, start using it today. If you have an Instagram account, step your game up!  After all, if your congregation REALLY IS a vibrant, warm and welcoming congregational family, then SHOW IT!

Isti Bardos is Communications Director at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Maturing Your Social Media Practice for Synagogues: Follow Up Resources and Archives

Effective use of social media is critical today for being seen and understood, and developing relationships between and among your community members. This free 5 part series on the most important social media topics for synagogues today covers important and timely topics to help synagogue leaders — from novice to expert — take their digital practice to the next level.  These webinars run live in February and March, 2016.  You can sign up here for the next sessions in the series, and archives from previous sessions are below

Thanks to UJA-Federation of New York for supporting this series!





Pause Before You Post Video
G-dcast videos  (good for curation!)
iMedia Connection
Connected Congregations (more on building relationships and community)

A few synagogue Instagram accounts as examples:
Central Synagogue, New York (promotional)
Temple Israel, Memphis (people focused)
Sixth and I, Washington DC (events and great visuals)

Buffer App
Creative Commons Licenses





More about the trifecta of owned, earned and paid media.

Google Grants — apply here!

Google Ads keyword planner

Facebook Ad Resources here and here.

Get started with Facebook ads!





The first TV commercial and a bit more about broadcast vs. social:

Examples shared:

Temple Israel on FB:

Chevra Ahavas Yisroel:

Sixth and I:

Blog post from The Community Synagogue:


Social Media Policy Workbook:

Facebook Pages vs. Groups:

Making Facebook Groups Rock (Miriam Brosseau on Beth Kanter’s blog):

What is a hashtag?

Good times to post on social media (but do your own testing and see!  Facebook Pages have great “insights” data):





Finding your voice:  Social Media Policy Workbook

Editorial calendar template

Darim’s guest blogging guidelines




Links to platforms:

NTCjews: Join Us at the Nonprofit Technology Conference

Have you been to the Nonprofit Technology Conference?  No?  Oh boy, you've gotta come.  It's a gathering of about 2000 of the country's most interesting do-gooders who use technology in any part of their work — from marketing and communications, to fundraising, to data management, and innovative leadership for cutting edge organizations.

Each year, we gather the Jews at NTCjews — many who work for Jewish organizations, and some who are Jewish and work for other organizations.  We share knowledge and experience, learn together, eat together and strengthen our network for support and inspiration year around.  We love bringing people from Jewish organizations here to learn about the best of what's happening across the nonprofit field.

This year NTC is March 23-25, 2016 in San Jose, California.  You should come! If you're interested in learning more about what we're doing there (learning sessions, networking, dinner together, Purim celebration) drop your name and email in the form below so we can make sure to keep you updated.

More info on the conference is here:

Get a little insight into why we love this conference:


Share your info below and we'll keep you posted on NTCjews plans and events!

The Power of an Invitation

Uber and AirBNB are proving the power and opportunity of a bottom-up model of organizing.  Empowered with technology, their own creativity and initiative, people today are less reliant on institutions than ever to achieve their own needs.  At the same time, smart platforms are critical for activating their curiosity and motivation.

So too in the Jewish community. We are beginning to see the shift in the market, and the emergence of new platforms to help people self-organize and build Jewish community and meaning.  While this brave new world may feel scary to organizational leaders, in my book it's a very healthy sign.  The question is, how are we as a field adapting to this new "economy"?

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Steven Price have been following these trends, and are re-energizing a very traditional idea: The Book Club.  Together, we've been asking ourselves, "How can we get more people developing deeper, more meaningful relationships, building Jewish community, and feeding their intellectual and spiritual curiosities together?"

Our research showed that the vast majority of people who aren’t currently in a book club, Rosh Chodesh group or another similar club are overwhelmingly interested in being part of such an experience.  Their primary reason for not yet being in a club?  No one has invited them.

Thus, we've designed Gather to find and empower initiators to start new groups, and invite others to join them.  It doesn’t mean they have to be the ongoing leader — they are simply the initiator.   There's no long term commitment, no expectations of what your group will be, no prescribed content. But we do have ideas, suggestions, discussion guides, and a concierge ready to help answer any questions. Gather is a platform to help those curious about Jewish learning and community to launch new group (with friends, acquaintances, family and/or new contacts) to build and strengthen relationships, and to engage in discussion around Jewish content and values.

We're just launching our beta phase, and we're inviting (see — get the theme here?) members of the Darim network to take it for a spin.  You can start a new Gathering yourself, and/or you can invite your own network to start their own groups.  Gather is a tool that can help places like synagogues and schools become more connected (and educated and engaged) communities, so it's an easy and powerful platform to help organizations dip their toe into the self-organizing, platform model that is such a powerful approach in today's culture.

Anyone can start a club, and any community can have multiple. For example, a dad with kids in the early childhood program might want to start a dads club, or maybe families with post-b’nai mitzvah teens might want to start a parent/child social justice book club.  Maybe 20-somethings want to get together to cook out of the Jerusalem and Zahav cookbooks, or members of your LGBTQ community want to get together more regularly in addition to Pride Shabbat.

Consider this your invitation — we would love for you to consider using Gather to engage with and support your community, and if you’re interested, help you plan the next steps. If you want to share with your community, we’re happy to create customized pages that promote the content that aligns most closely with your mission and goals, and the interests of your audiences (e.g. culture, cooking, music, Jewish classics like Buber and Heschel, etc.), and give you a link which will track participation from your network (and we're happy to share data with you).

Ultimately, we hope that these initiators become the leaders in your own community, and help to engage their peers in your mission and programs too. 

We know the power of an invitation is profound.  Who will you invite?

Want to take it for a spin?  Click here to see how simple it is to start your own Gathering. Want to invite your own community or network to initiate Gatherings? Feel free!  If you want your own link to track adoption, just drop Elyse Kort, Gather Project Director, a note.

Words vs. Word of Mouth: The Difference Between Owned, Earned and Paid Media

“We need to be reaching more people.” The constant refrain we hear from organizations that believe they have something valuable that the world should be paying more attention to. It’s true. But we’re living in an attention economy, where everyone is so flooded with messages, content and noise that all we want to do is filter it out.

Yes, we need to be reaching more people. But to do that, we need strategies to break through the clutter and penetrate people’s eyes, ears, hearts and minds.

It’s important to understand three different approaches to get seen and heard, and then to determine what mix is going to help you achieve your goals. The trifecta: owned, earned, and paid media.

Owned Media: Your House, Your Rules

Owned media includes the channels you have created, and the content that you own. This might be content on your website and your blog. It also includes your Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitter accounts and other social media channels. A great approach to owned media requires creating strong content and having a strong social strategy to back is up and leverage the time you put into creating that content. If you’re looking to mature your owned content strategy, read up on the practices of “content marketing” and “multi-channel strategies."

Paid Media: Spending Smart

Paid media is, simply, media exposure you pay for. Google AdWords, Facebook advertising, SEO campaigns and other opportunities to pay to get your content showing up in more places. Smart paid media is surgical in its focus – you don’t want to be paying for Google to serve up your ad to the wrong populations – and the content itself needs to have compelling calls to action to even get audiences to engage.

While “digital marketing” and “paid media” used to be synonymous, they are no longer. Paid media may still have its place, but in today’s attention economy, people are much more likely to listen to the recommendations of their friends and to allocate their attention to brands they trust and already have a relationship with in some way.

Earned Media: Network Amplification

Between owned, earned and paid, I would argue that earned media is the most valuable of all. Earned media is when other people, channels and sometimes even brands are talking about you and/or sharing your work and messages. Hopefully these mentions are good. But a bad Yelp review, for example, is also “earned media”. Earned media often is a mention or review of your work, but it can also look like an interview on someone’s blog or a guest blog post where you’re work appears on someone else’s blog.

Earned media is related to other forms of media. When someone shares or amplifies your content on Facebook or posts a link to your blog on Twitter it’s because you did a good job with your owned media. You may use paid media to increase exposure which then helps people pick up on it and share it, tipping into the earned media category.

The benefit of earned media is that it piggybacks your brand on the brand equity of the person or brand that’s sharing it. The hard part of earned media is that you have to earn it. You have less control than owned media (where you create and manage it) or paid media (where you decide what’s worth paying for an how much). What you give up in control however, you gain in other ways, as earned media has greater trustworthiness and authenticity, and can extend to entirely new audiences you otherwise would never be able to reach.

How to Increase Earned Media Coverage of Your Organization 

Any smart content strategy includes owned, paid and earned media. I find, however, that many organizations neglect to pay enough attention to earned media, or to really work for it. Some earned media happens by good old fashion luck, but there’s much you can do to cultivate opportunities.

Here are 6 things you can do to increase earned media coverage of your organization:

  1. Identify the brands, people and influencers whose channels would be valuable to you. It might be about scale, relevance, audience, or adding the character of their brand to yours.
  2. Build relationships with them. Follow them on Twitter, share their content, comment in their channels to add value for them and their audiences.
  3. Listen and learn what’s authentic to their audience. Notice where they are offering earned media to others (mentions of other projects, guest blog posts, what they retweet and share). You need to fit into their culture and brand identity – having insight will help you thread that needle.
  4. Create content worth sharing. It should be valuable, and add to the social capital of those whom you want to share it. It can be really useful or really funny. Top 10 lists, infographics and well produced videos travel well too. Don’t forget to include share buttons on your owned media to make it easy for people to share it!
  5. Use content creation as an engagement strategy. When you’ve told a story or thanked someone in your content, a natural next step is to let them know through social media, which will likely encourage them to share it.
  6. Use your relationships with others to find guest blogging opportunities (and offer them in return as well). Make sure to position yourself as adding value to their community, not only trying to self promote. Do a good job and you’ll likely be invited back.

How else have you earned your earned media? What people, channels or brands have given you an important boost?


This post is cross posted on the See3 Communications blog.


Organizational Transparency: An Introductory Guide for the Perplexed

“Openness is the chief virtue of the digital age.”

– Virginia Heffernan, "Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet"


Transparency itself isn’t a new concept. In the US for example, nonprofits must publicly file 990s annually. This ensures accountability, and is a requisite for tax-exempt status. But transparency does not begin and end with financial information. There are new dimensions, new imperatives emerging from technology, and perhaps most profoundly, transparency is now a critical leadership skill. That feels pretty new to many of us.

But today’s leaders need to understand that transparency is no longer optional.  When the rules of the game have changed, leaders necessarily need to adapt their approaches. What roles does transparency play here? According to Charlene Li, author of Open Leadership, “transparency is not defined by you as a leader, but by the people you want to trust you and your organization. How much information do they need in order to follow you, trust you with their money or business?” (pg. 193).  It’s all about trust — and trust (and its corollary, attention) are the currency of our current attention economy.

Understanding that transparency is a critical value and essential element of effective leadership has powerful implications for organizational sustainability too. Previously, organizations literally served an ‘organizing’ function. Institutions held the data, finances and authority. Today, individuals are self-organizing and shifting the power center. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms decode this in their HBR article “Understanding ‘New Power’”. Simply, “the goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.” As society is increasingly skeptical and rejecting of old structures, transparency becomes even more important. It becomes a way to activate and channel new power.

Some people mistake transparency for cracking open your financials and letting it all hang out. But it isn’t just about opening up your books or making leaders function as if they are naked. Transparency (of any sort) is values-based, centered on respect (hakavod), virtues (middot), and, the big one, truth (emet). Think about your relationships with your spouse, business partners, and good friends.  Yes, there’s the planning — taking kids to soccer, paying the bills, making doctors appointments. But what if you didn’t trust your partner, and had little input in decisions? The logistics would be joyless. Strong relationships are built on respect, honesty and open communication (transparency). So too relationships with our donors, members, volunteers and advocates.

Jed Miller, who helps human rights organizations align mission and digital strategy, says that “Institutions may be afraid that by opening up about internal processes they give critics a map of their weak spots.” He warns that this kind of initial fear is inherently limiting. “The key,” he says, “is to think about your public—however you define them—as participants in your mission, not as targets or threats.”  What kind of insight — into processes, decision making, etc. — is needed for them to trust you as a champion of the cause?

When we, as leaders in the Jewish world, hold ourselves and our leadership apart from the community, how can we expect to engage our communities with full and sanguine spirit?  We cannot hide or disable conversations, or operate in a vacuum and expect the public to consistently trust us with their dollars. Those days are over. Today, we need to embrace these values of open leadership.

Organizational transparency is where Jewish wisdom nests with innovative thought. I’ve spoken to rabbis about salary transparency, and searched Jewish orgs with high ratings on charitable indices. Comparing synagogue websites, I’ve sought open plans, board minutes and budget spreadsheets.  While there are bright spots, the norm is much more closed and opaque. In the Jewish professional community, we tend to compare ourselves to each other to establish a norm, when in fact we need to be widening our gaze to understand the role and importance of transparency in today’s marketplace. My sense is that the Jewish world is not keeping up, or worse, we are not pushing ourselves forward. It is time that we recognize the shifting norms, acknowledge the benefit to our organizations and community as a whole, and take real steps to integrate transparency into our normative business practices. 

In a time when many Jewish organizations are seeking to get more people to trust and follow them, we must heed Open Leadership author Charlene Li’s words of wisdom. Transparency is the information people need in order to follow and trust you as a leader, or as an organization. While leaders may be initially resistant to the idea of transparency, we must all take it seriously to build strong, sustainable and vibrant communities.

Stay tuned for future posts on specific examples of how various leaders are putting this ethos into action.

Gina Schmeling is a non-profit consultant based in Brooklyn. Find her at @nyginaschmeling or in the park with the runners.


Freedom From the Status Quo

Of the many inspiring Passover messages that I read this year, the one that most caught my eye was by Rabbi Jill Jacobs,"Where Slavery Ends and Freedom Starts.", March 30, 2015. Rabbi Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, shares "it's not always so clear where slavery ends and freedom starts. Did the Israelites become Pharaoh’s slaves only after he set taskmasters over them? Or did we lose our freedom when we became dependent on Egypt’s largesse? Did we become free when we crossed the sea, or only when we established a homeland of our own? … The line between slavery and freedom is not always clearly marked by a parting sea."  Rabbi Jacobs applies this to the context of oppressed workers in the modern economy, people who are bound not by shackles and chains but by poverty, fear, emotional abuse, or lack of education.

Freedom is not only about our physical reality, but also our mindset.  Even while the Israelites were physically free, they reminisced that “in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!” (Exodus 16:3).  It’s hard to let go of what we know, what’s our “normal” even if it’s not ideal, or even serving our interests.

People (and collectively, organizations) who think they are “free” can also be “enslaved” by old ideas and ingrained patterns of behavior. Whenever we keep doing things in a certain way because that is the only way we’ve know to do them, we run the risk of self-enslavement. This is especially true when the old ways aren't working anymore, and the need for change is increasingly clear. Let’s look at this in three areas of American Jewish congregational life.

Financial Models
For a hundred years or so, most American synagogues have been organized with a dues-based membership model. This model has been nearly universally adopted, and the norm for multiple generations — such that, just like in Egypt, it’s hard to imagine any other way.  But today there is abundant evidence that this model isn't working as well or reliably as it used to for many congregations. There are, however variations, changes, and new and different models that some are successfully utilizing. While different synagogues may need different approaches designing how their communities support them, across the field we are starting to feel the questioning and active pushback that are hallmarks of a new kind of freedom to explore different kinds of synagogue funding models.

Most American synagogues have also shared the idea that if we build the biggest building, create the best programs, boast the most creative religious school, and hire the right rabbi, then the Jews will come running to become members. But for Americans today (and especially for younger generations), the whole notion of membership (to any organization) doesn't seem quite so certain or resonant.  Those of us who do care about our synagogues, who do find meaning, purpose, and connection in this kind of social and religious organization have to find new ways to make other people see that value and spark, and to care too. That means seeking out, creating, and experimenting with variations, changes, and new and different models of engagement.  Too often our mindset is that “engagement” equals “membership” and “attendance”, but engagement is as much about a mindset and relationships as it is about attendance. Here too, let’s free ourselves of assumptions about our engagement models, and explore a new normal.

Most American synagogues rely on boards and committees, volunteers, lay leaders, and professional staff who spend hours and hours in meetings and parking lots making important and not-so important decisions, and then making them again on phone calls and in more meetings. We struggle to find new leaders and new volunteers in part because our current leaders are feeling over-burdened, and in part because the structures of our leadership (multi-hour meetings on weeknights that conflict with kids’ activities, sports games, and other interests) are out of synch with the ways prospective leaders organize their time and attention.  What if, just what if, we ask ourselves to consider variations, changes and new and different models of leadership?  Remember when Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, pushes him to think differently?  “'The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone" (Exodus 18:17). Let’s free ourselves of these structures, and instead look afresh at what makes the most sense for our needs today.

As we count the omer and move from a celebration of the exodus to the receiving of the Torah, may be take the opportunity to recognize, with 20/20 vision, the places where we may be limiting ourselves, even “enslaving” ourselves to old ideas and previous models that are no longer in our best interests.  As the Israelites wandered the desert, there were many questions, few clear answers, and plenty of “figuring it out as they went”.  So too are congregations today in a time of pioneering a new era.  Let us embrace the questions, explore possibilities, and be free to pioneer the future.

This blog post is cross posted on the Connected Congregations website.  Learn more about Connected Congregations here.

Debbie Joseph is president and founder of Debbie Joseph Consulting, Inc. She is a nationally recognized expert in working with synagogues on exploring alternative dues and membership models, strategic planning and leadership development.  She is a contributor to UJA-Federation of New York’s Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Synagogue?” report and a contributor to “New Membership and Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue” by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky.

What Do We Mean By “Capacity Building”?

We work on capacity building for organizations seeking to align their organization with the revolution in modern communications. In fact, we think this is so important that it has become a central part of all of our consulting work and this work on capacity gives the best long-term ROI of any activities we can do. But what do we actually mean by capacity building? What does capacity mean in the context of a nonprofit organization?

The Tsunami of Tactical Advice

All of us are overwhelmed every day by articles, blogs posts, slide presentations, emails and workshops that focus on the tactics of communication. Whether it is about image size or frequency of posting on Facebook, or whether Pinterest is worth investing in, or the top donation page design, there is no shortage of information about the latest thinking in digital communications tactics. And while this information is useful —it is not the central difference between those who win online and those who think they could be doing a lot better. It is hard to absorb all that information and rarely do we see the information we need when we most need it. Overlooked in all of this advice is the capacity of organizations to make use of it, to integrate it into their plans and to see the bigger picture about how tactics ladder-up as part of strategy.

Remember PPTC

When we talk about capacity, we mean PPTC, which stands for People, Process, Technology and Culture.

In order to have the capacity to be effective, you need to align these four areas of your operations. Once aligned you don’t need to sweat the tactics because they naturally flow into the organization through the people paying attention, the continuing improvement in process and the technology you’ve adopted to get the job done.

Let’s look at each of these areas a little more closely:


Having your 20-something office admin who loves SnapChat does not mean you have capacity to succeed with social media. The people who can do a particular body of work are critical and it is almost never one person. Your whole team needs to understand how digital communications is part of a “theory of influence” that moves your issues forward. An important rule of thumb: don’t let front-line staff make business decisions on the fly. Imagine, for example, you have a crisis and this needs to be communicated. The young intern who knows how to use social media would be great to post things and respond to people asking questions — but only if the leadership decided what to say, how to say it and how to navigate the minefields and nuance of the story. Bottom line: When we talk about People and capacity, we mean the whole organization understanding the principles behind these new digital communications tools and being able to give organizational leadership on the approach. And we mean having strong, technically savvy front-line staff able to execute and understand tactical best practices and analytics.


While “rock stars” can have a lot of success with heroic efforts — all nighters, last minute deadlines, a brilliant idea — it does not represent capacity. Capacity is about enabling the same high quality results over and over again. And this consistency of results can’t be achieved without process. Process sets a baseline where we ask the same questions, have check-lists and a well-honed step-by-step approach. The content changes, but the process remains consistent.

The process also has a built-in feedback loop for continual improvement. What worked on this campaign? How can we do better? We ask these questions every day and when we find ways in which the process can get improved, the improvements get incorporated.


Nonprofit communications and operations require technology. Technology is used from the basic — can we answer the phones? — to the complex — can we share data between online and offline donors? Having technology that is aligned with the business goals is an important part of capacity. Sometimes, organizations are spending far too much money on technology that has marginal benefit and not enough on technologies that are core to the long-term vision of success. For example, there is simply no way to treat your donors and constituents as individuals without technology that allows you to monitor, track and be able to respond to them individually. If your content management system doesn’t allow for updating critical content in a timely way, you have a business problem. In the world of dominant digital communications, this technology is critical.


For many consultants, they don’t see culture as a capacity issue, but we do. In fact, we think it’s the most important one. In many ways, the people, process and technology are a prisoner to the organizational culture. A culture that is old-school and slow, timid in its approach to communications, and where employees fear risk and failure will never be a top performer in digital communications. They can hire the best people, publish books of standard operating procedures, and buy top-of-the-line technology and it won’t do them any good. The new initiatives will collapse under the weight of an outdated culture.

Here, we create plans that help organizations:

    -Find and train the right people as well as educating people through-out the organization
    -Institute continuous improvement processes
  –  Support and manage the time consuming and sometimes painful process of technology alignment

But how, you might ask, can we influence culture? We’ve given that a lot of thought and field testing. For us, it’s similar to the military counterinsurgency “oil spot” theory. In this approach, the military seeks to hold a small territory, build trust and commitment there, and then build out from those strengths until it encompasses the whole town or society. Similarly, we focus on the design and implementation of strategic projects whose often unstated purpose is to create new pockets of culture inside an organization. Often, we label these projects as experiments, which takes the pressure off of them and allows for a greater range of action. These pockets of new culture energize the organization and become a magnet for people wanting to get involved and other internal investments. The follow-on projects bring the culture change to more people internally and eventually, it’s the tail of the new culture wagging the dog of the old organization.

Culture change also benefits greatly from leadership buy-in and the bully pulpit that encourages a set of new values, such as taking risk and failing fast. But we cannot overstate the challenge of bureaucratic silos, where incentives are aligned against change and cross department projects are the exception. The bottom line is that if you really want to win in digital communications, if you really want to become high performing and raise more money, if you want your cause to be one that people rally around, you have to go headlong into the complex world of organizational culture.


Portions of this blog were cross posted on the See3 blog.

Content That Travels: Engagement that Jumps From Online to Offline

As organizations invest in building online networks and deeper engagement with constituents, we constantly need to refocus on how that engagement leads to mission-centric action.  It’s not just enough to have eyeballs, or even likes.  What does it look like to design and implement an online strategy that has on the ground impact?  Specifically, how can your content jump offline?

One primary driver of this jump is value.  What content is of value to your audience, and what will they do with that value?  I like to think about this as a Venn diagram — one circle is your mission and goals, and the other are the very specific and honest needs of the people you’re trying to engage.  Only when you are able to create content in that “sweet spot” in the center can you really move the needs.  For your content to travel (online and offline), it needs to build the social capital of the people who are going to share it.  Why would someone want to claim your content as their own?  What does it say about their identity, values and/or interests?  Being brutally honest about this intersection is the first critical skill to solve this part-art-part-science question.

The second driver of traveling content is momentum. What is happening on the calendar, in politics, in local or world events that has created momentum in the news and in social media?  How can you surf that wave?  Remember when the lights went out at the Superbowl in 2013? Within minutes Oreo had launched “You can still dunk in the dark”  — a fantastic example of taking advantage of the momentum online at that moment.  Where is there natural moment that aligns with your mission and goals, and how can you create content to surf that wave?

The Jewish community at this time of year is a great example of such a wave — everything is about Passover.  The Passover seder is the most widely observed tradition in Judaism today.  As we recall the exodus of the Israelites from centuries of slavery in Egypt, themes of renewal, redemption, and freedom illicit a kind of surge of content from Jewish organizations of all types.  Individually, people are planning their seder — who to invite, how to make it special, and how to stretch the themes of the seder to be applicable to our modern world (and a diverse group of people around the table).

Many organizations publish Passover seder inserts – readings to complement the traditional Haggadah (book that tells the story of the exodus and sets out the order for the seder).  It used to be that these came in the mail to donors (and prospective donors). Today, they are published online and emailed as well as circulated through social media.  This approach is both cheaper (no printing and mailing!) and also allows the content to reach farther than an organization’s own mailing list.  

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American Jewish World Service (AJWS) has always been one of my go-to Passover sources.  Their mission to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world aligns so well with the themes of the holiday, This year, they published a seder supplement written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt focusing on the role of 5 women in the exodus.  Not only did the content align AJWS with the themes of the seder, but it capitalized on the theme of women.  This resources has been shared more widely in Facebook than anything I’ve seen lately.  As you can see here, 22 shares from the AJWS main Facebook page, and countless more links to it through individual profiles and organizational pages.  

Users then print the PDF and read from it at the seder, carrying the AJWS brand and mission to the table.  (I even once sent the PDF to FedEx Office to have it printed and laminated to use year after year.)  AJWS leverages the alignment of their mission with opportunity of the seder, and offers value to the audience by bringing a highly relevant and much adored voice — the Supreme Court Justice — to your own table.  A very smart and effective effort.

This year, Interfaith Israel is thinking about how to market their new summer Israel trip for teens from interfaith families.  They realize that educating people about the opportunity, plus making the case to send a teen on an overseas trip for the summer is not easy.  Their best success has been a very high-touch approach at in person events — but it’s very hard to scale.  They realized that there’s a larger conversation underlying their program. “Why this summer in Israel?” which echoes in the line from the Haggadah, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

Building off of this connection, Interfaith Israel has developed a seder supplement that simple seeks to cultivate a conversation about how we can be on a constant journey to explore our heritage, roots and values. Their addition to the seder invites reflection at multiple levels.  What does Jerusalem represent for you?  For your family? For the World? And then progresses to ask about modern Jerusalem today, and how visiting this center of multiple religions is an important experience for all Jews, and perhaps especially those with multiple heritages in their family.  By providing a widely accessible and applicable value-added resource, Interfaith Israel is getting their brand and their upcoming teen trip into the homes of thousands.

So the lessons here for you?  First, make sure you’re insightful about what is TRULY valuable to your target audiences.  Second, develop content that rides the wave of attention, capitalizing on holidays, social trends, or other big events.  Third, to jump from online to offline, create content that real applied, practical value in offline settings.  

Stay tuned for a future post about designing for engagement that starts offline and jumps online! Have a good example?  Share it with us!