Vision and Data: Essential Building Blocks for Successful Synagogue Change

UJA Federation of New York has recently made investments in helping local congregations collect and analyze data in order to make strategic, data-driven decisions about their work and their future.  The results of the project have been extraordinary, ranging from leaders learning how they need to collect different kinds of data, to learning how to use databases for more than contact management, as well as how they can shape their programs and culture to build a sustainable future.

Following this important work, which was lead by Measuring Success, SYNERGY at UJA Federation of New York has released a very informative and readable report, which can be downloaded for free on their website.  It's worth downloading, and sharing with your synagogue staff and board members.  It's illuminating, and accessible.

The congregations in the project helped leaders examine their assumptions not based on anecdotal evidence or gut reactions, but with hard data.  In many cases, the difference was profound.

“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," reported Barri Waltcher, Vice President and Chair of Religious School Committee, Temple Shaaray Tefila.

“Our congregation’s leadership engages in ongoing discussions regarding how to best spend our resources to fulfill our mission. I now understand that we have been acting in a bubble, often divorced from the needs, desires, and perspective of our membership," shared Rabbi Michael White from Temple Sinai of Roslyn Heights.  They now have greater focus on where they should be making investments to achieve their goals, and ultimately strengthen their financial sustainability too.

On October 17, 2012 leaders from congregations involved in the Sustainable Synagogue Business Models program will be sharing insights from their experience.  Learn more about the lunchtime webinar (12pm-1pm eastern) and sign up here.

Data Is The New Soil. What Are You Growing?

It is no surprise that we’re increasing inundated with data. The amount of information collected and recorded is unprecendented. The question is: what will we do with it, and what value does it have. In for-profit business, the data about online purchases, demographics, or reasons for calls to a customer service line help a company be more effective, efficient, and ultimately profitable.

As I’ve worked with many Jewish organizations, I’ve learned that few are tracking data in useful ways, and even fewer are using this data to improve their programs, communication or allocation of resources. Data collection and analysis goes far beyond what funders may ask for in grant reporting, and productive data usage requires first and foremost that you’re asking the right questions.

In this TED video, David McCandless shows the power of data visualization. While the raw data may be overwhelming and not particularly useful, visualizing data may bring important patterns and relationships to light, and laying data sets on top of one another (frequency and geography, for example) can uncover important stories that otherwise would have been invisible. This “knowledge compression”, as he calls it, makes data useful. For those of us not yet collecting much data at all, these new ways of looking at the data may inspire us to start!

David says the word in the street is that “data is the new oil,” meaning it’s ubiquitous resource that can be used for different purposes. He adapts this to “data is the new soil”. And data visualization is flowers blooming from this fertile foundation. Check out the video from TED for more, including a few laughs: