Tilling the Soil: An Interview with Allison Fine

I've been following Allison Fine's work for years, and have so enjoyed how our paths have crossed in the Jewish community in recent years.  Allison is the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and co-author (with Beth Kanter) of The Networked Nonprofit.  Recently, Allison has been serving as the president of the board at her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, New York. This position has given Allison the opportunity to put her theory into practice, and to examine intimately the potential and challenges of synagogues as networked nonprofit.

As part of our blog carnival on Connected Congregations, Allison has written a very thoughtful case study of her work at Temple Beth Abrahram, exploring what it has taken to lay the groundwork for becoming a networked nonprofit. You can download it here. I had a chance to ask her some questions about it.

1)  Why did you write this case study?

The role of temple president is enormously time-consuming and difficult. It's a lot like being the president of a local school board with a lot of constituents, technical issues to wrestle with and a fast changing environment. Except that public schools aren't going out of business and synagogues are struggling to stay in business. I wanted to provide a snapshot of my experiences wrestling with the hard questions of what synagogues will look like ten and twenty years from now within the real and difficult demographic, generational and economic shifts that are threatening our survival. How do we stay relevant and meaningful in the lives of our congregants? How do we meet our financial commitments when the dues model is not sustainable? How do we do what we do best and network the rest?

As the case study outlines, just positioning ourselves to wrestle with these questions has taken up much of my tenure as president. The key lessons so far for me is that when we have the courage to look at our ecosystem through a lens of abundance (people want to support us even if it's not at what we now have as full dues) rather than scarcity (people want to game our dues system) good things can happen, like raising over a million dollars to renovate our sanctuary this past summer for the first time in over sixty years. In the future, we are likely to combine programs with other synagogues and our local JCC over the next few years, we are likely to come up with a more flexible donation system that allows people to stay connected to us after their kids are bar mitzvahed, and we are likely to continue to exist into our twelfth decade, but we will be put together differently. Capturing the beginning of that journey to share with others on the same road is why I wrote the case study.

2)  You co-authored the book, The Networked Nonprofit, and clearly have thought a lot about what that means.  What's your vision for how synagogues can and should be networked nonprofits?

The biggest challenge for synagogues in this century is undoing the membership model from the last century. There are too many choices for ways to be Jewish today for temples to say that there is only one right way to be a part of our community. Synagogues need to move away from transactions (how many tickets to high holidays have we sold?) and have an unrelenting focus on relationship and community building.  We need to strengthen the social ties between congregants, not just between members and the synagogue, and engage in meaningful conversations with them on land and online. Synagogues need to be a part of our lives, not an addition to our lives.

3)  In your case study, you talk about how we need to confront congregational culture as a starting point. "… the default settings … had to change because they did not reflect the reality of the congregation or the spirit of a networked organization. And the change had to begin in the boardroom."  Why does the board need to own the responsibility for culture change, and what kind of leader is needed to make that happen?

Boards and clergy are the culture setters in synagogues. Together they determine the values that an organization lives by, which in turn drives the processes. In my case study, this manifested itself in how we treated people asking for financial relief from dues. Are they considered slackers or community members who need our love and care? That determination will create procedures, forms, approaches that make people feel a certain way. The hard work for organizations is identifying and challenging their own assumptions (often old ones that haven't been aired out in a while) about why and how we do what we do to make sure that the systems and procedures that emerge downstream reflect our values.

4) How do you define community in a networked congregation that is different from the traditional approach to synagogue life?

The dues structure itself is at the heart of a lot of the distance congregants feel from their synagogues. It is a bill that people are expected to pay, unless they're struggling and then they have to go through the humiliating process of asking for relief. Everyone should pay their fair share, but they should be treated as adults who can decide for themselves what that amount is, and if synagogues can't make the case that they provide value, that their continued existence is important and relevant to the lives of their congregants, well, then they won't survive. But I think we will, we just have to flex some communication and relationship muscles we've never had to exercise before.

5) What congregations (or other organizations) and/or leaders have you looked to for inspiration and support as you've been pioneering this new approach to congregational life?  What have you learned from them that's been applicable to your synagogue?

As we wrote in the Networked Nonprofit, I found the most exciting aspect of this moment in time is that traditional organizations across issues areas, service organizations and advocacy groups, are remaking themselves as social networks. They are taking down the walls and engaging with their communities, building relationships rather than turning the turnstiles of transactions. And synagogues and Jewish day schools are just beginning this process. The most important part of this journey for traditional organizations is for leadership to have the courage to make themselves uncomfortable by working different, more transparently, learning more about what their community wants from them, engaging them as full partners in problem solving, treating them as smart, generous people not names in a database. It's a very exciting time!

6)  You've clearly made a lot of progress during your tenure as board chair.  What does the congregation need next to continue this trajectory?

I'm not sure where we will be in a year much less three to five years, but I think we've made some progress in changing the relationship between the institution and our membership. The three most important things I see us doing in the future are:

  1. Providing training and support for new leaders to serve on the board and on our task forces.
  2. Unhooking ourselves from the assumption that the number of members is the most important measure of our success.
  3. And remembering to have fun together!

You can download and read Allison's full case study here.

 

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. 

 

AVI CHAI Social Media Academy

We are so excited about Darim’s partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation on their Social Media Academy! The Academy was created to help Jewish day schools integrate social media into their strategies for home-school communications, student recruitment, alumni outreach, and fundraising.

Ten high schools are taking part in a series of 3 face to face full-day meetings, an offering of over 20 webinars, an ongoing Facebook Group discussion, and coaching sessions to help them develop and implement strategic social-media enhanced communications plans for their schools.

The Academy reflects the work that the Foundation has been doing with social media guru Allison Fine over the past year, and was created in response to a recent survey that the Foundation conducted of around 300 day schools regarding their use of social media.

The Academy met twice in March face to face. Participants learned about a number of foundational social media tools, started creating their plans based on a “POST” planning process (inspired by the book Groundswell — People, Objectives, Strategy and Technology), debriefed what they’ve experimented with and implemented between the two meetings, and shared emerging best practices with each other.

The good people from Big Duck guided the group through determining appropriate metrics for analyzing social media and creating social media policies. Big Duck will also provide individualized coaching sessions to each school team on a regular basis.

Kudos to AVI CHAI for taking such great strides in modeling the learning process that they have undertaken themselves as a learning organization, and extending their active support to other professionals in Jewish education. We can’t wait to share more of what we are learning as well!

Read more about the Allison Fine’s reflections on the Social Media Academy here:

Avi Chai Social Media Academy Begins
Social Media Academy Part II

Avi Chai Foundation Gets Social

Cross posted from Allison Fine’s blog, A Fine Blog In partnership with my friends at Personal Democracy Forum, I have had the great pleasure of working with the Avi Chai Foundation since last May. Our engagement has two sides; working with the foundation staff to help them use social media, and developing efforts to strengthen the ability of their grantees and community, particularly Jewish day schools, to become more adept at using social media to build and strengthen their own networks. The foundation has been very courageous and forward thinking about using social media. They are sunsetting in 9 years and want part of their legacy to be a growing “tribe” of Jews that are connected with one another and Judaism. It’s a fascinating notion. They’re not interested in leaving buildings and legacy organizations but want to leave the capacity of a network of people to continue to grow and thrive. We are beginning with a set of experiments with day schools including a training academy for which we will have the great fortune of working with Darim Online, a video contest and online fundraising match. The foundation has taken concrete steps to enter the social media waters. Staffers have started tweeting. Deena Fuchs, the director of special projects and communications, came up with a great idea yesterday. For the next two weeks, the staff is going to have a contest to see who can gain the largest number of new friends on Twitter. We couldn’t decide on a prize. Any ideas? In addition, we agreed on social media policies to provide guidance for staff and boundaries for management. A very interesting point that someone brought up at the meeting is that these really are communications guidelines, that there shouldn’t be an artificial distinction between policies related to social media versus traditional media. Here are their policies. I think they’ve done a great job of keeping them simple, manageable and direct: The AVI CHAI Foundation Social Media Policy AVI CHAI encourages staff and Trustees to be champions on behalf of the Foundation, LRP, day schools and overnight summer camps. The rapidly growing phenomenon of blogging, social networks and other forms of online electronic publishing are emerging as unprecedented opportunities for outreach, information-sharing and advocacy. AVI CHAI encourages (but does not require) staff and Trustees to use the Internet to blog and talk about our work and our grant making and therefore wants staff and Trustees to understand the responsibilities in discussing AVI CHAI in the public square known as the World Wide Web. Guidelines for AVI CHAI Social Media Users 1. Be Smart. A blog or community post is visible to the entire world. Remember that what you write will be public for a long time – be respectful to the Foundation, colleagues, grantees, and partners, and protect your privacy. 2. Write What You Know. You have a unique perspective on our organization based on your talents, skills and current responsibilities. Share your knowledge, your passions and your personality in your posts by writing about what you know. If you’re interesting and authentic, you’ll attract readers who understand your specialty and interests. Don’t spread gossip, hearsay or assumptions. 3. Identify Yourself. Authenticity and transparency are driving factors of the blogosphere. List your name and when relevant, role at AVI CHAI, when you blog about AVI CHAI-related topics. 4. Include Links. Find out who else is blogging about the same topic and cite them with a link or make a post on their blog. Links are what determine a blog’s popularity rating on blog search engines like Technorati. It’s also a way of connecting to the bigger conversation and reaching out to new audiences. Be sure to also link to avichai.org. 5. Include a Disclaimer. If you blog or post to an online forum in an unofficial capacity, make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of AVI CHAI. If your post has to do with your work or subjects associated with AVI CHAI, use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t represent AVI CHAI’s positions, strategies or opinions.” This is a good practice but does not exempt you from being held accountable for what you write. 6. Be Respectful. It’s okay to disagree with others but cutting down or insulting readers, employees, bosses or partners and vendors is not. Respect your audience and don’t use obscenities, personal insults, ethnic slurs or other disparaging language to express yourself. 7. Work Matters. Ensure that your blogging does not interfere with your other work commitments. 8. Respect Privacy of Others. Don’t publish or cite personal or confidential details and photographs about AVI CHAI grantees, employees, Trustees, partners or vendors without their permission. 9. Don’t Tell Secrets. The nature of your job may provide you with access to confidential information regarding AVI CHAI, AVI CHAI grantees, partners, or fellow employees. Respect and maintain the confidentiality that has been entrusted to you. Don’t divulge or discuss proprietary information, internal documents, personal details about other people or other confidential material 10. Be Responsible. Blogs, wikis, photo-sharing and other forms of online dialogue (unless posted by authorized AVI CHAI personnel) are individual interactions, not corporate communications. AVI CHAI staff and Trustees are personally responsible for their posts.

Networked Nonprofit Book Club

I pre-ordered The Networked Nonprofit and cracked it open the day I received it last summer. Authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are gurus of nonprofit social media and the implications for organizations, and I was eager to continue to learn from them. What I didn’t realize is that the book would provide both conceptual and tactical frameworks for advancing any organization’s work, regardless of where you are starting from. While I’ve recommended the book to many, here at Darim we were eager to really engage with others about what this means for Jewish organizations, their leaders, and the community as a whole. On Monday, we’re launching Darim’s Networked Nonprofit Book Club. Based in the new Facebook Groups, we’ll be posing discussion questions from one or two chapters each week. We hope to learn what you’re thinking, doing, learning, and struggling with. And we hope to learn from each other, help each other solve problems, and also get a sense of where Darim’s efforts could make an important difference for you and others. We’re also learning, as this is our first book club adventure and our first large scale experiment with the updated version of Facebook Groups. So far, 137 people have joined — which has far exceeded our expectations! Even authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are on board. We hope the opportunity will help participants learn the “ins and outs” of this new tool along with us, and consider how it can be useful in their communities too. We welcome your input, suggestions and reflections on it — leave a comment here, in the group, or email us at [email protected] to share your thoughts. Want to join us? No cost – just swing on by: http://on.fb.me/netnonbookclub We have posted some initial info and guidelines for the Book Club. In the interest of sharing and encouraging others to experiment with Groups, book clubs, and online community facilitation, we’re posting the information here (see below) and will be sharing updates in future blog posts. Everything on this blog will be tagged "bookclub" and "#netnon". Tweeting? Use #darim and #netnon (which is the hashtag for the book in general). Hope to see you there! It kicks off Monday, though you’re welcome to swing by and join the conversation anytime. How We’ll Work Together We will focus on one or two chapters each week beginning January 10. Each week, Darim staff will kick off the conversation with one or two questions per week that relates to themes in that chapter and implications for Jewish organizations. Together, we will reflect on what that means for our work as Jewish professionals and lay leaders. Respond to our discussion questions by commenting on that post. You can also pose questions to the group, or share links or other information by posting your own status updates to the group. We encourage you to participate in ways that are most meaningful to you. Feel free to jump into – and even initiate – conversations, and to post relevant links and resources to share with the group. If you prefer to dip in and out of the discussions, that’s cool too! There are no preconceived expectations — we want you to learn, experiment, share and connect with others. Tips for Using Facebook Groups Notification settings: BY DEFAULT, You will receive any status that is posted to the group. If you comment on it, you will also receive notifications of any additional comments on that posting. If you’d prefer NOT to receive these notifications, you can click “unsubscribe” next to that specific posting. If you’d like to receive notification about a posting that you haven’t commented on, you can click “subscribe” next to it. To change your default settings, please visit “edit settings” in the top right corner of the group. Adding members: You probably noticed that you can add your Facebook friends to the group if they are on Facebook. Please feel free to add anyone who would like to join – we only ask that you check with them first to see if they are interested. You will find the “Add Friends to Group” link under the Members photos on the right hand column. You can also email them the link to our Group so they can opt in if they’d like. http://on.fb.me/netnonbookclub Group Chat: You can chat with group members who are online in real time by clicking on the “Chat with Group” link under the Members photos on the right hand column or by clicking the tab at bottom of the page. This is a fun way to make a personal connection with others in the group. When the chat box opens, you’ll see photos of group members — those with a green box are currently online. You can elect to have group chat messages sent to you going to “edit settings” and selecting that option. Living Room Policy: While we have very few rules, we do want to make the Book Club experience as fun, useful and efficient as possible for everyone. Thus, we ask you to abide by the Living Room Policy, which is basically this: If I were to invite you into my living room, I would expect you to be courteous and sociable. You are welcome to disagree or challenge me or anyone else, but you must do so respectfully. Also, vibrant discussions require good listening and asking questions or others, not only talking about yourself. Finally, please refrain from using this as a platform for marketing unrelated products or programs. And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask us at [email protected] It may take a little time for you to determine your personal preferences and customize them to fit your needs. Don’t be afraid to take them out for a test ride, tweak as needed, and/or ask us if you need help. Interested in more technical details? You can learn more about Facebook Groups here: http://bit.ly/fvSAor Resources for the Book Club If you have not already done so, please be sure to order your copy of The Networked NonProfit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. Here is a link to Amazon: http://bit.ly/aOa6nX And please feel free to view the recording of the recent Darim webinar with Allison Fine and Lisa Colton in which they discussed networked nonprofits and Jewish organizations: http://bit.ly/c8Iudm Are you tweeting? #netnon is the hashtag for the book, and #darim is for our community. Want to learn even more?! Join us at NTC in DC! Join us at NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). And by “us” we mean a whole bunch of Jewish leaders like you – in addition to the fabulous NTC program (where top notch thinkers like authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine regularly speak), the Schusterman Family Foundation and Darim Online are hosting a series of events for our members. Click here to learn more about it: http://bit.ly/igDAzB – we hope to see you there!

Need A Hanukkah Gift For Your Boss?

YScreen shot 2010-11-19 at 3.34.26 PMou’re looking for the gift that keeps on giving, right? I’ve got just the thing for you. Pick up a copy of Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s book The Networked Nonprofit. A fun read with great stories and case studies, this book will help any nonprofit leader better understand the impact and opportunities of working in a networked world. THEN SIGN UP FOR OUR ONLINE BOOK GROUP! That’s right. Starting in January, we’ll be hosting a free online book group to discuss the concepts and their application to our work in the Jewish community. Bonus: experience the joys of the new Facebook Groups feature while you’re at it. You can join the book group now, and we’ll kick off discussion in January. That gives you just enough time to get copies for your co-workers, plus one for yourself, and read it in mid-December while everyone else is still scrambling for that other holiday, or by a cozy fire, or on the beach in Hawaii or where ever you might take a winter vacation… Have you read the book yet? What are you interested in discussing? What ideas grabbed your attention?

New Darim Book Group: The Networked Nonprofit – Join Us!

The Networked NonprofitAs part of our 10th Birthday Celebration, Darim is thrilled to announce our new book club! Following on the success of our recent webinar with Allison Fine, we are starting a book group to dive more deeply into The Networked Nonprofit and what it means for transforming Jewish organizations.

The Details

Darim is excited to launch our very first book club to deepen our understanding of "networked nonprofits," and to help each other adopt these approaches into our work. Starting January 10th we’ll be discussing a chapter of The Networked Nonprofit each week.

Step this way to the Darim Online Book Club!. Just click on "request to join" and we’ll add you to the group. The book club will take advantage of Facebook’s new "Groups" (note that this is different than the previous "group" structure; extra bonus – in addition to great conversation, you’ll become more familiar with this new Facebook feature.)

In January we’ll start posting questions to guide our discussion. Share your thoughts and questions as we learn from each other!

Please note: there is no cost to participate, but you will need to login to Facebook to join the group. Join us – and get reading! You can buy The Networked Nonprofit by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter here.

It’s Our Birthday – Party Favors For Everyone!!

Photo credit: Flicky user camnjeanaccess We’re 10 years old and positively giddy about it! To celebrate, we are giving out gifts throughout the year! We cordially invite you to our upcoming webinar, Foundations of Social Media, Oct. 19th, 1-2pm ET. This free event is open to everyone — Darim members and those who are not yet members. Click here to register and enjoy this taste of Darim as our guest!* The celebration continues with two more complimentary webinars: our November 3rd event featuring Allison Fine, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit (register here!*), and our January 11th event with the creative team behind Shalom Sesame (register here!*). Sign up for one, two, or all three – but hurry – space is limited!* *Can’t make these webinars? They will be recorded and available to the public; no need to register in advance, we’ll post the links on our blog. Check in for more goodies throughout the year! A very special thank you to our members for being such an important part of our community! As one of our gifts to you, we’re excited to announce our new Open Office Hours program. Drop by for free advice and schmoozing with Darim staff. Click here for our full list of Fall/Winter Events. These webinars are free to all staff and lay leadership of Darim Online member organizations. Not yet a member? Find out more and join us today. Feel free to be in touch with any questions or comments at [email protected]