Network Weaving is Like Starting a Band

All this talk about ‘developing a network’ and ‘organizational change for the connected age’ can feel both daunting and vague. But really, it’s just like starting a band! (And you’ve always wanted to be a rock star, right?) Here’s how it works in five easy steps.

  • If you don’t already have a band/network, what kind do you want to start? Ah, the all-important question of purpose; the question we so often avoid (or forget, or ignore). Whether you’re starting a band or a network, you’ve gotta know why. For a band, the goal may be to have the equivalent of a Saturday night poker club, or it may be to spread a particular message, or it may be to hit the Top 40 and win a Grammy or two. Whatever it is, the whole band has got to be on the same page in order to meet that goal. For a network, what is the change you are trying to make in the world? It may be to push through a particular piece of legislation, to revitalize a neighborhood, or to overhaul an entire educational system. The answer to this question – ultimately a question of your communal DNA – will have bearing on all the other questions you’ll need to ask yourself moving forward. Look at your community; how would you define your communal DNA?
  • What instruments/skills do you need to make the music? Who do you already have, and who do you need? (And does everyone know their role?) To answer this question, it’s important to reference tried-and-true templates, but also to think outside the box and be open to serendipity. A rock band may typically be drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, but magic can happen when you throw in an electric violin or, dare I say it, an accordion. A network focused on housing issues needs governmental connections, lawyers, activists…but what happens when you engage those benefiting from the work of the organization? Or schools? Or artists? You may also want to ask what other skills folks bring to the table. It’s exciting – and useful – when you find out the saxophonist is also a graphic designer, or the artist in your network has a background in urban planning. What ‘instruments’ are already making music in your community?

(Photo credit: Flickr user ryry9379)

  • How are the musicians/members going to work together? The logistical bit. Basically, what does band practice look like? How formal are your gatherings? What kind of space, physical and/or virtual, do you need? How often will you meet?  Does everyone read sheet music or do you need to pair people up to teach one another the tunes? And, of course, how will performances (if you perform at all) be arranged? The same is true for networks. Some are like closeted chamber choirs who work diligently at their craft but are rarely seen in public, while others are punk bands who use gigs as rehearsal time. This is also the place to consider folks’ other obligations. Is the drummer the only one in town who can keep time and is playing weddings with other groups every weekend? If so, what does that mean for the band? Are there other organizational affiliations or time constraints among the members of your network you need to consider? What are your community’s priorities, and where is the overlap with your goals? How can other priorities be a challenge, and how are they an advantage?
  • What other connections do you need in order to be successful? A danger in both bands and networks is that the core becomes too tight. The group only looks inward and becomes an echo chamber. This often doesn’t make for good (or, at least, popular) music because it doesn't produce what the audience really wants to hear, and never makes for a healthy network. Therefore, it’s important to develop what I call peripheral vision; the ability to see the edges of your network and bring in new ideas. Who’s at the edge of your network, and what role can they play? Or put another way, of the things you need, how much of that can you get from your close connections in your current network/band, and how much do you need to look for elsewhere (build new connections)? For a band, it might be fans, venues, other musicians, or social media marketers. For a network, these folks might be network strategists, thinkers in parallel fields, like-minded groups in other geographical areas, or folks from other faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, or age cohorts. Take a peek out of the corner of your eye; who’s in your peripheral vision who can help your community make real change?

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ross Mayfield)

  • Is it working? As always, ya gotta go back to your goal! Are you accomplishing what you set out to do? In order to know that, you have to think about how you can measure your success. As with all measurement, there are quantitative and qualitative approaches, and both are necessary. The quantitative element may have to do with how many people are hearing the music, or coming to shows, or whether people are sharing it with their friends, or which songs are getting the most airplay, etc. Qualitatively speaking, you want to think about other things. Does the music sound good, does it feel good? Are the personalities meshing and the communal DNA evolving? Are you making people dance? Is your song getting stuck in people’s heads? It’s the same with networks. Take a balcony view of the folks in your group. Are the right connections in place to make great things happen? Where can you leverage existing connections, and where can you work on building new ones? And, perhaps most importantly, who can help you make it even better?! No network weaver is an island, after all. How do you measure the health and effectiveness of your community?

Regardless of whether you’re starting a community of practice for Jewish educators or the next great 80’s tribute band, these are a few crucial questions that will help make the whole enterprise sing.

What are the other key ingredients? What else has made your network (or band!) successful?

Many thanks to my bandmate and husband, Alan Sufrin, for being awesome and helping me think through this post.

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.

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.

Connecting: An Explicit Goal of Program Directors

Guest post by Laura Intfen, Member Services Coordinator at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, KS

My pulpit rabbi, Rabbi Mark Levin, likes to tell this story:  A young boy shares Shabbat dinner with his father, who is complaining, once again, about going to services the next day.  “I don’t even know if I believe in God.” states the father.  The young boy asks his father, “If you don’t go to talk to God, then why do you go to synagogue at all?”  His father looked down at him and explained, “I go to synagogue each week with my old friend Shlomo.  Shlomo goes to talk to God, and I go to talk to Shlomo.”

An age old problem for Program Directors, is guessing what gets people in our building.  But, here we are in 2012, and now the question has changed.  The future of modern Reform Judaism is not figuring out how to get people through our doors, but figuring out how to get people connected to each other.
 
As a Member Services Coordinator of a modern Reform Congregation, I am privileged to belong to the Program Directors of Reform Judaism.  But I've learned from my colleagues that Program Directors have a variety of names and even a wider variety of duties.  There are Community Coordinators, Directors of Family & Congregational life, Directors of Membership Engagement and Community Engagement Mangers. 

As we communicate with each other and share ideas and goals, one thing is clear: building our programs in the traditional, top down, guess what people want, throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks method is not working. This is an expensive and antiquated way to serve our congregants.   While many of the benefits of a synagogue can be found elsewhere (especially online), there is one thing we can uniquely offer: Community, where our members find recognition, validation and support.  This is the tripod by which our programming must be built upon. One might call it "engagement programming".  So here at Congregation Beth Torah, we have begun to program using the lens of engagement.  To start the transition, we looked at our caring committee. 

When you join Congregation Beth Torah, you are automatically part of our k’sharim (caring) Committee.  Every single family unit is included.  The entire congregational roster is divided by twelve.  With approximately 650 families, this equals about 53 families per month.  As a member of Beth Torah, you are part of a team for one month a year, and you are never alone.  When there is a need in the congregation for a meal, or a ride, or attendance is needed to make a minyan at a shiva service, an email blast goes out to the 53 families on the team.  Members of that month’s team contact each other, schedule with each other, and coordinate efforts with each other.  Not only does this alleviate the problem of caring committee burn out by having the same people do everything, but our congregants in need get care and warmth from other members of the congregation AND the members of that month’s team form a functioning affinity group. 

By connecting members outside of our building doing k’sharim work, they have much stronger connections when they happen to be in our building at worship.  They already know each other (recognition), know the other person has done a caring deed for one of our members (validation) and has been offered a meeting place, here in our building to further their relationship with this other person (support). The purpose of our K’sharim committee is, of course, to care for our congregants.  But our caring community has an additional goal: to connect people.

This is a true culture change for our congregation.  What started with a Rosh Hashanah sermon by our rabbi, in which he asked our congregants to become citizens, and not be consumers, became a repurposing and reassessing of our current programs and an eye towards future programming.  Our staff has created a mission statement to support this change in culture:

We are a visionary team carrying out the mission of the congregation. Through our dedicated team’s collaborative culture, we engage our various congregants and affinity groups to develop innovative ways to meet the needs of our congregational community.  We will work, supported by the Board of Trustees, to accomplish these goals in the most creative, efficient and cost conscious means possible.

The results of this change have been immediate and amazing.  Some programs have been discontinued.  Every program must have at least ten participants.  It is not up to me to come up with ten people, but up to whomever owns the program.  We did not have a men’s club as of three months ago.  I had a couple of men approach me about some activities for such a group.  My response was to come up with at least eight more men and some program ideas and then I would meet with them.  I am proud to say that a group of nearly 30 men met on a recent Monday evening in a member’s home for some smoked brisket, some football and some beer.  But mostly they met to be a community. 

Because more members are meeting more members, our worship numbers have risen.  Our traffic in the building has actually increased with these groups and I love walking through our building and hearing a group of twelve people in a room discussing their interest in mystic Judaism next door to our 50 and More group planning their next book club meeting, next door to our Adult B’nei Mtizvah class.  All the rooms contain more than ten people and all the rooms are starting places for new relationships.  All the rooms are places where our members are recognized, validated and supported.

We have just begun our journey.  As Program Directors, or Engagement Managers, or Member Services Coordinators, we have the exciting and challenging task of recognizing the affinity groups that organically arise, validating these groups as important to our congregants and supporting these groups through resources and expertise.

Laura Intfen is the Member Services Coordinator at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, KS. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.  
 

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.

 

11 Ways to Reach the Unengaged

All of us in Jewish life are wondering how to reach the unengaged–and particularly young adults. At NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation, we work with both mainstream and grassroots organizations, including many synagogues, to help them find new ways to connect with Birthright Israel alumni and their friends. While I do this work professionally, I’m also part of the demographic we’re trying to reach. Here, I’m offering eleven ways that synagogues can connect to the unengaged:

  1. Lead with your “Why?” Most of us market what we do– the products or services we offer–  instead of why we do it– the worldview, or passion driving us.  It’s not enough to say what you offer, you must lead with your mission in all things. How does Judaism and Jewish community provide value for young adults, or for that matter, for the world?  How does your spiritual community offer access to these ideas and a platform for building these relationships?
  2. Relationships > Membership. Young adults get our positive social reinforcement through relationships, not through our membership.  Think about how people come to be in relationship to your congregants, staff, and content.  Where do those relationships form? Who is responsible for them? And how are you following up with people? A rabbi who takes meetings in a coffee shop will seem a lot more approachable than one stuck in her/his office. Do you have a welcoming team who can commit to setting up one coffee date a week with someone new to the community and do follow-up? 
  3. Content matters. You aren’t competing with other synagogues, you are competing against bars, restaurants, concerts, movies, and television. Your value-add is depth and meaning, so don’t shy away from it, don’t water it down, and don’t infantilize.
  4. Take your show on the road. Young adults are far more likely to be living in the dense urban core of your city. If your building isn’t where the young people live, bring your services (metaphorically and literally) to them.  Many emerging spiritual communities take advantage of galleries, living rooms, coffee shops, and other unconventional and yet, accessible venues. What they lack in grandeur or pomp, they more than make up for in warmth and intimacy. 
  5. You have two ears and one mouth. Listen more than you talk. Are there young adults who are children of congregants, who might be willing to come in for an evening? Hold a focus group and buy them dinner, or take someone who just moved to town out for coffee. Understand what needs they have that a synagogue/spiritual community might be able to deliver.  Then, help them create it. 
  6. Put your money where your mouth is. As in much of the Jewish nonprofit sector, synagogues talk about young adult engagement, but find it more challenging to actually invest in it. Designate a point person who has the bandwidth, resources, authority, and autonomy to actually engage. If you don’t invest in young adults, and give them real opportunities to learn, lead, and live Jewishly, they will find other things to do with their time.  Give young adults a chance to speak from the bima, to participate in discussion, and to organize events, but don’t force them onto a board or a committee.
  7. Be open, welcoming, inclusive, and genuine. We Jewish young adults are from more diverse backgrounds than ever. We are LGBTQ, we are from families with two, or one, or no Jewish parents, we don’t understand movements or denominations in the same way our parents did, and we might not know any Hebrew or melodies.
  8. Understand who is it you want to connect to. Do you really want to connect to young adults who are probably not making a lot of money? Or are you really looking for young families? Be honest about who you want to reach and why.  Young adult programming shouldn’t be targeting young families; the two are at different life stages and won’t relate as well to each other.  Have you thought about empty nesters, who used to be members but don’t come anymore now that their children are out of the house? Maybe you should reach out to them–they are a lot less fickle than young adults!
  9. Recognize your assets. Are you hiring a lot of part-time Sunday school, Hebrew school, or b’nei mitzvah teachers? Look to hire from the local student or young adult pool.  You probably pay more an hour than most of us are used to, we are more accessible role models for your students, and you can organize educational and social events for this cohort of young adults you’ve just recruited to come to your space.
  10. A rising tide floats all ships. Recognizing that you're not alone in your challenges is important, but more important is adopting a collaborative mindset. How are you working with the other organizations who also want to invest in young adults? Can you pool resources to multiply impact? Work with your local Moishe House, federation Young Leadership Division, or whoever is available to provide your rabbinic expertise towards their programmatic goals.
  11. Social media is a multiplier, not a savior. Social media can amplify the great things that you are already doing, but it only works if the people that believe you are doing great things share those things. 

Yoni Sarason is the Midwest Regional Director at NEXT: A Division of Birthright Israel Foundation. For ideas about how to implement some of these ideas in your community, you can reach Yoni at yoni@birthrightisraelnext.org.

 

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.

Network Weaving is Like Starting a Band

All this talk about ‘developing a network’ and ‘organizational change for the connected age’ can feel both daunting and vague. But really, it’s just like starting a band! (And you’ve always wanted to be a rock star, right?) Here’s how it works in five easy steps.

  • If you don’t already have a band/network, what kind do you want to start? Ah, the all-important question of purpose; the question we so often avoid (or forget, or ignore). Whether you’re starting a band or a network, you’ve gotta know why. For a band, the goal may be to have the equivalent of a Saturday night poker club, or it may be to spread a particular message, or it may be to hit the Top 40 and win a Grammy or two. Whatever it is, the whole band has got to be on the same page in order to meet that goal. For a network, what is the change you are trying to make in the world? It may be to push through a particular piece of legislation, to revitalize a neighborhood, or to overhaul an entire educational system. The answer to this question – ultimately a question of your communal DNA – will have bearing on all the other questions you’ll need to ask yourself moving forward. Look at your community; how would you define your communal DNA?
  • What instruments/skills do you need to make the music? Who do you already have, and who do you need? (And does everyone know their role?) To answer this question, it’s important to reference tried-and-true templates, but also to think outside the box and be open to serendipity. A rock band may typically be drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, but magic can happen when you throw in an electric violin or, dare I say it, an accordion. A network focused on housing issues needs governmental connections, lawyers, activists…but what happens when you engage those benefiting from the work of the organization? Or schools? Or artists? You may also want to ask what other skills folks bring to the table. It’s exciting – and useful – when you find out the saxophonist is also a graphic designer, or the artist in your network has a background in urban planning. What ‘instruments’ are already making music in your community?

(Photo credit: Flickr user ryry9379)

  • How are the musicians/members going to work together? The logistical bit. Basically, what does band practice look like? How formal are your gatherings? What kind of space, physical and/or virtual, do you need? How often will you meet?  Does everyone read sheet music or do you need to pair people up to teach one another the tunes? And, of course, how will performances (if you perform at all) be arranged? The same is true for networks. Some are like closeted chamber choirs who work diligently at their craft but are rarely seen in public, while others are punk bands who use gigs as rehearsal time. This is also the place to consider folks’ other obligations. Is the drummer the only one in town who can keep time and is playing weddings with other groups every weekend? If so, what does that mean for the band? Are there other organizational affiliations or time constraints among the members of your network you need to consider? What are your community’s priorities, and where is the overlap with your goals? How can other priorities be a challenge, and how are they an advantage?
  • What other connections do you need in order to be successful? A danger in both bands and networks is that the core becomes too tight. The group only looks inward and becomes an echo chamber. This often doesn’t make for good (or, at least, popular) music because it doesn't produce what the audience really wants to hear, and never makes for a healthy network. Therefore, it’s important to develop what I call peripheral vision; the ability to see the edges of your network and bring in new ideas. Who’s at the edge of your network, and what role can they play? Or put another way, of the things you need, how much of that can you get from your close connections in your current network/band, and how much do you need to look for elsewhere (build new connections)? For a band, it might be fans, venues, other musicians, or social media marketers. For a network, these folks might be network strategists, thinkers in parallel fields, like-minded groups in other geographical areas, or folks from other faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, or age cohorts. Take a peek out of the corner of your eye; who’s in your peripheral vision who can help your community make real change?

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ross Mayfield)

  • Is it working? As always, ya gotta go back to your goal! Are you accomplishing what you set out to do? In order to know that, you have to think about how you can measure your success. As with all measurement, there are quantitative and qualitative approaches, and both are necessary. The quantitative element may have to do with how many people are hearing the music, or coming to shows, or whether people are sharing it with their friends, or which songs are getting the most airplay, etc. Qualitatively speaking, you want to think about other things. Does the music sound good, does it feel good? Are the personalities meshing and the communal DNA evolving? Are you making people dance? Is your song getting stuck in people’s heads? It’s the same with networks. Take a balcony view of the folks in your group. Are the right connections in place to make great things happen? Where can you leverage existing connections, and where can you work on building new ones? And, perhaps most importantly, who can help you make it even better?! No network weaver is an island, after all. How do you measure the health and effectiveness of your community?

Regardless of whether you’re starting a community of practice for Jewish educators or the next great 80’s tribute band, these are a few crucial questions that will help make the whole enterprise sing.

What are the other key ingredients? What else has made your network (or band!) successful?

Many thanks to my bandmate and husband, Alan Sufrin, for being awesome and helping me think through this post.

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.

Three Legs of the Connected Congregation Stool

Connected Congregations are synagogues that function as communities in the deepest sense of the word.  They are not about the building, the events, the rabbi.  At least not alone. They are about a group of individuals and families with shared values, practice and goals, who feel a sense of sacred obligation to one another.  It FEELS GOOD to be part of a community like this.

As we've been researching connected congregations, working in networks, being a network weaver, and organizational change, we've learned that becoming a connected congregation is more than a new way of developing programs.  It's more than helping people get to know each other better (and deeper) — though that's important too.

Becoming a connected congregation really means reprogramming your synagogue's DNA.  Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.  We've boiled this down to three main categories. Within each category are several main levers of change that you'll need to examine:  staffing and communications.  More on that below.

  • Programs. This may seem like the most obvious one, but it's really quite profound.  People come to programs as much (or more so) for the people than for the content of the program.  It's true.  Studies confirm it.  So, even if the content is a strong driver of our mission and goals as a congregation, let's design for the social value.  How can you maximize social connection before the event?  Facebook events allow folks to see who else might be going, for example.  Or social content that participants will want to share through their own networks. How can you maximize the social connections during the event?  And how do you share back with the community about the event afterwards?  What is the role of a "program director"?  How does this person incorporate network weaving into their job, or as a primary function of their job?  In the recent Vision and Data Report from UJA Federation of New York, one congregation reflected on how a small adjustment in programming made an important difference:

“We had tried social programming in the past but never got the turnout we hoped for, which led us to conclude (wrongly) that people did not want to make social connections through the Religious School. Measuring Success helped us develop a targeted follow-up survey to probe deeper about social connections. That led to an “aha moment” when we learned that people do want to make social connections, they just do not want us to add new events to their calendars. When we realized that, we took steps to build socializing and community-building into existing events.”  —Barri Waltcher, Vice President and Chair of Religious School Committee, Temple Shaaray Tefila

  • Finances.  If you've read The Networked Nonprofit or been on our Network Nonprofit webinars, you heard us use the metaphors of a fortress and a sea sponge.  They represent the poles of a continuum, where on the one end there are big, tall, exclusive fortress walls, and on the other end, the networked organization that needs a constant flow of nutrients, is open and porous, and live in symbiosis with other organisms.  Look at the financial model of your synagogue through that lens.  Dues and membership are one major component (see here and here for examples of synagogues that have done away with dues as we know it), but there are others.  Temple Beth Abraham questioned whether their offer of reduced dues stepped from a place of loving kindness, or as the local IRS (see case study here).  Too often our synagogues become places of "transactional Judaism", which ultimately doesn't benefit the individual, the synagogue or Jewish life.
  • Governance. Clearly governing policy and culture is critical as a connected congregation.  It's also a key part of how you become a connected congregation.  For example, a current synagogue president may be very interested and committed to this idea, but if the next 2-3 synagogue presidents are not also on board, the effort may lose momentum.  Measurement is also an important consideration.  How does the congregation understand its mission, and how does it measure its work to achieve those goals? Aligning mission and goals with metrics, data collection and analysis will help leaders clearly appreciate where they are making process towards being a connected congregation, and where further refinement or effort is needed.

Underlying all three of these areas are questions of staffing and communications.  Where do you need staff capacity and expertise?  Where are staff 'over-functioning' in a way that might in fact be disempowering members of your community?  Where is expertise highly valued or needed?  How might you adjust current job descriptions and/or titles to reflect the real need as culture, programs and the need for expertise shift?

And finally, recognize that in today's connected, fast paced world, communication is essential.  The right tools, applications, voice and regularity of communications will grease the gears of all the change and process in program, finance and governance.  Openness and transparency earns trust, and accessibility builds relationships that are the foundation of eveything else.

Where are you experimenting with change around programs, finance and governance? Are there other categories you'd like to add to the list?

The Former Congregant

Originally published on Jewish Connectivity

I recently learned the phrase “the former audience,” a term used to describe people who react to and act in a story as it unfolds rather than observing it. People today are empowered. “We did it!” Dora the Explorer sings from my TV to my preschool kids. (Talk about a “former audience”– now you have to talk to the TV instead of just watch it!) Today we can organize with like-minded individuals for a few minutes or many years, in person or online. We can raise money for our own causes and communicate with massive amounts of people through extensive networks.

Might leaders of synagogues think about “the former congregant”? As my colleague Rabbi Arnie Samlan points out, people don’t want to only receive services any more. They want to be a part of something bigger and take an active role in determining its direction.

Here’s my start at a chart comparing the former congregant of today to the congregant of generations:

There are two crucial reactions for today’s Jewish leaders given this reality.

  1. Figure out what your organization’s added value is. What do you have to offer that “former congregants” can’t do or find themselves? This can be anything from quality conversational Hebrew instruction in a community of friends to ongoing opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to the local community. It can be spiritually uplifting worship or a place that stands for counter-cultural values. Decide why people would need or want to be a part of your organization, and do that well.
  2. Share. Adopt a generous attitude towards resources, partnership, information and leadership. Holding your cards close to your chest is a sure way to find yourself alone at the table while the rest of the gang has left to join a pick up game of basketball. Instead, practice “open source Judaism.” Allow leaders to emerge, help them to implement their ideas and bring together their networks.

Yesterday’s congregants have changed. Today’s congregations have to.

Wendy Grinberg is the founder and director of the Jewish Education Lab and clinical faculty at HUC-JIR’s New York School of Education. You can contact her at grinbergconsulting@gmail.com.

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.

Project Mishpacha

You know how it’s always the best TV shows that get cancelled?  Even though they may not be the most popular, they’re always the ones with the most compelling characters and the best writing, right?  Well, “Project Mishpacha” was kind of like that for me.

A couple years ago, when I was living in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, I was privileged to be a part of the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel community.  They started a program called “Project Mishpacha with the help of the Legacy Heritage Innovation Project back in 2009. No, it was not canceled.  In fact, it’s still going strong.  It was that I moved to Brooklyn, so it was canceled for me, which made me feel like I feel when my favorite TV show goes off the air.

Basically, here’s how to make your own Project Mishpacha in just 5 steps:

  1. Get yourself a diverse congregation.  I mean diverse in just about every sense of the word; age, Jewish background, hashkafa (worldview), race, you name it.  One suggestion for doing this is being a warm and welcoming shul.  Oh sure, we’re all “warm and welcoming” shuls, but no, I really mean it.  This is a group of people with stellar leadership who go out of their way to invite friends and strangers alike into their lives. I could tell some incredible stories about just this aspect of ASBI alone, but I don’t want to get off track.  Suffice it to say that the kindness of the rabbi and his family was enough to inspire an entire musical genre, but that’s a story for another time.
  2. Ask for volunteers to sign up for the program. For a truly warm and welcoming congregation, this should be easy. All you need to tell them is something along these lines:

    1. As is natural in any large group of people, cliques form.  That’s what’s happened in our shul.  Teens hang out with teens, family people hang out with family people, artists hang out with artists, empty-nesters hang out with empty-nesters, etc.  While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, we think it’d be neat for us to become a “connected congregation.” Not in the sense that we become interconnected with other congregations (because we are actually already doing a pretty good job of that), but in the sense that we become more INTRA-connected, and get to know the people in our own community even better than we already do. Let’s break open our cliques and see what happens.
  3. Get a shadchan (matchmaker).  Not the “find me a find, catch me a catch” kind of shadchan, but kind of.  At ASBI, it’s the rabbi’s wife.  She makes it her business to know every single member by name, what their likes and dislikes are, their marital status, occupation, and all information relevant to connecting a person to the community.  And if she’s reading this she might disagree, but believe me, it sure seems that way. Her job in “Project Mishpacha” is to help form the artificial family units, or Mishpachot.”  Depending upon the Mishpacha, the shadchan might need to find groups of people with similar interests, or specifically choose people who have very little or nothing in common at all.  The point is that while she does not need to necessarily be the rabbi’s wife, she does need to really know everyone. From what I’ve been told, it’s a lot like the job a network weaver does.
  4. Create opportunities for each Mishpacha to do things together.  Things like Shabbat potluck meals, Chanukah parties, and mitzvah projects.  Some Mishpachot were themed, like the one where playing board games was a common interest. I will add from personal experience that if your Mishpacha actually does hang out together, it accomplishes the main goal beautifully.
  5. Stand back and watch. Seriously. It’s important not to get too involved in the Mishpachot once they’re formed – kind of like how you’d treat the affairs of someone else’s family. I mean, be attentive to their needs and all, but one of the beautiful things about “Project Mishpacha” is that there is no one person who’s in charge. Being a part of a Mishpacha shouldn’t mean that you feel the need to answer to anyone. Sometimes the Mishpacha relationships don’t work out, and (here’s the tricky part:) that’s just fine –  it’s not a “real” family after all.  But when they do work out, it’s an awesome experience that enriches everyone.

“Project Mishpacha” is no metaphor.  It’s literally a project, an experiment in Jewish communal behavior.  Also, it requires the creation of artificial family units.  If you start with the premise that we’re all already family in the larger sense, being Jews and all, then take it to the next logical step which is acting like it and actually treating other Jews like family.  What’s the next step after that?  Well, let’s play it out, said the ASBI leadership.  That’s what “Project Mishpacha” is.

Not every congregation can do this; I hope I’ve made that clear.  For example, not every shul has a shadchan, and even though we all say we are, not every shul is warm and welcoming. And in the end, there are definitely reasons not every congregation should have a “Project Mishpacha.”  It was not 100% successful by any measure.  Some Mishpachot” didn’t get along very well.  Some got along, but chose not to participate in any of the activities.  All but one have chosen to dissolve their Mishpachot at the end of each year in favor of trying a new one (which, admittedly, could also be construed as a huge success if you think about it).  Many have tried it out and realized it’s not working for them, so they wind up leaving “Project Mishpacha” altogether.  But in the opinion of this emeritus of Mishpachat Ir HaRuach,” (“The City of Spirit Family” or “The Windy City Family”)  its pros way outweigh its cons. I now have relationships with people I probably would never have had were it not for “Project Mishpacha.” I probably would have just stayed with my little clique.  Not only did I feel more connected with my Mishpacha, but also with the ASBI congregation as a whole.

The end of the story is that I now live in Brooklyn, which while very Jewish in some ways, can sometimes be culturally light years away from the warmth  I’ve come to associate with what’s truly Jewish.  I hope my fellow Brooklynites don’t take offense to that; it’s just that we Midwesterners take great pride in our hospitality.  I miss that about the Midwest, and I still keep in touch with my friends and some of my old Mishpacha from ASBI.  And I’m happy to report that I’ve found an incredibly (and truly) warm and welcoming congregation or two in my neck of the woods.  I haven’t found another “Project Mishpacha” out here, but I’m okay with that – for now.  New York City is monstrously (even sometimes overwhelmingly) large in terms of the Jewish options available to someone like me, and right now I’m enjoying the experience of exploring what it is that gives the East Coast its own flavor of “warm and welcoming.”  The Chabad community in Crown Heights is just as supportive and nurturing as the Jewish Renewal community I met at the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center, and everyone in between.  It’s just different from the Midwest is all.

So leaving the Midwest and “Project Mishpacha” was for me kind of like when “Firefly” was canceled, and moving to Brooklyn’s myriad Jewish communities is like when “Jericho” started.  I guess sometimes the good shows need to end in order to make room for great new ones. It’s good to be that kind of excited again.

Alan Sufrin is a musician, producer and Jewish educator. He is half of the 'biblegum pop' duo Stereo Sinai, and has previously worked at the Chicago Coalition of InterReligious Leanring, the Boar dof Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago, Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel synagogue, and the University of Chicago HillelHe has, if you hadn't guessed, recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, NY.

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.  

 

“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. 

 

 

 

Determining Your Communal DNA

What is a synagogue? A congregation? A community?

We are more than a nonprofit organization, or a local center, or a collection of people who share certain practices or get together for holidays. It feels significant to me that words like “congregation” and “community” are grammatically singular but inherently refer to a multiplicity. The duality of meaning here is so critical for how we lead, congregate, and self-identify.

A rhizome is an organism that shares DNA across what appears to be a big, diverse group of organisms. Bamboo is a great example of this: What appears to be a forest of bamboo is actually one organism, with a shared root system. The organism is resilient, strong, and sustainable because even if the majority of it was destroyed, the DNA lives on.

Our congregations should function in a similar way. Together, we establish the culture of a community (let’s call it the communal DNA) which infuses everything we do, from the design of the fliers, to the tone of the announcements made from the bimah, to the thoughtfulness with which we treat each other.

Oftentimes, we talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. We repeat (in announcements, on our websites, etc.) that we are “warm and welcoming,” but how does that really get coded in our DNA? How does this value express itself in every attribute of our community, inside the building and outside, from staff and members, through programs and relationships? Is our being welcoming our saying, “We’re glad you walked in the door”? Or is it actually saying, “We’d like to help you find your place here, so I want to know what’s important to you. And can I introduce you to some people who share your interests?”

Today we are living in a networked, connected world, where relationships trump programs, where participation trumps attendance, and where authenticity and trustworthiness trump everything. Our challenge, then, is not only to clarify our communal DNA but to have it expressed throughout every pore of our community, at all times.

One of the most effective ways that we can infuse our communities with this DNA is through effective communications. What does your website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, or Pinterest board say about your community, your values, and your DNA? Do the people who manage these channels – as well as the people who manage your print newsletter, weekly emails, fliers, and in-person announcements – all operate from the same core DNA of the community? How about greeters and ushers and the person who answers the phone?

In the Social Media Policy Workbook published this fall (free download of the PDF is available here), we offer 10 worksheets to help you think through the various opportunities (and challenges) of effectively using communications to build, support and manage your communal DNA. The very first worksheet is about values because everything grows from there – the roots, the stalks, and the leaves.

What are the essential communal values at your synagogue? How are they expressed by every member of your community? Where could you be doing a better job?

 

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. 

 

This post is also cross posted on the URJ blog.