“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. 




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