Using Collaboration to Create Content


Our goal upon entering the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy was to utilize social networks as a means to tell our story.  So many wonderful things happen at the school every day, and we felt with Facebook, in particular, that we had a great opportunity to re-energize our current parents and to reach new audiences in a visually compelling and easy-to-share (or “like”) format. 

We took a very strategic approach to launching our Facebook page, from the type of content we wanted to post, how we would promote the page, and who we would target.  We found our social media strategy to be an outgrowth of our website strategy.  When we launched our new website nearly three years ago, we took very deliberate steps to tell the story of the school through photos on the internal (password-protected) pages of our website.  So whereas many schools struggle to produce quality content on a regular basis, we had already laid the groundwork that would become essential to our success.  Our experience with the JDS Social Media Academy pushed us to refine this process of collaborating with our community members to drive the content that tells the story of the school.

Our content curation strategy began with us trying to figure out where the story was, and realizing we would need input from faculty members, administrators and parents.  We have to rely on these key players to let us know the compelling events and stories happening day by day.

We felt the best way to truly paint the picture of life at CESJDS was through cultivating these relationships.  I reached out to faculty members individually, urging them to let me know when they had special projects taking place in their classrooms.  And every time a teacher contacted me, I went to take photos which would later be posted to the Facebook page and school website.  It didn’t take long for them to get excited about being featured; it validates their hard work in the classroom and gives our community a window into life at the school.  It soon became second nature for them to email with interesting classroom news or projects. 

A great example of how parents contribute to our strategy is Families in Action Day, a day of service where 800 people volunteer at more than 20 projects in the area.  I coordinate directly with the parent volunteers to generate photos from the various locations, something I could not do alone.  We use this approach for many of our larger events–Dor L’Dor, Color War, Arts Chai-Lights—and find it works well because people are excited to be a part of the story.  I also work with our student photographers (from the student newspaper and photography class) to feature their work online.

Many other individuals in the school have news to share, and we have worked to make sure this news gets passed to us to post to Facebook and the school website.  The athletic director, guidance and college counselors, development director, and other members of the administrative team routinely share news, accomplishments and other updates.  All of this helps to tell the story of CESJDS.

By changing the dynamic of the school, we established a network of collaboration where others create content and invite me to the story, rather than me searching it out.  This process has been vital to accurately portraying life at CESJDS through our Facebook page and school website.


Kimberly Dudash is the Marketing Associate at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.  The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy
The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.


Networking the Unintentional Network: RAVSAK as a Case Study in Progress

Are there limitations to networked thinking? Can networked learning be taught and learned? Rabbi Hayim Herrings's blog post last month on eJewishphilanthropy, "How to Minimize the Risk of Network Un-Weaving," questions whether a relationship-based network approach to community building and shared learning might be too antithetical to the hierarchical systems embedded in much of our institutional structures. We believe the two are not mutually exclusive. Schools are certainly places where institutional hierarchy remains important in ensuring educational excellence and the fulfillment of mission and vision, yet in our work we have found that formal and informal networks as well as networked thinking provide tremendous opportunities for shared learning and growth.

RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network offers an opportune case study in the evolution of networks and networked thinking. Founded as a grassroots network of Jewish community day school leaders, at a time when the fax was the latest technology, we have nonetheless only recently begun to recognize the implications of the word network and its centrality to how we fulfill our mission. As each of us separately began to realize the power of cultivating networks to satisfy our personal and professional goals, we started to consider how this way of thinking could stimulate change in the field of Jewish education.

Today, RAVSAK understands the need to embrace strategies and tools to maximize the potential of our Jewish community day school network for the broad cross-section of our 130 member schools and their own internal networks of professionals, board members, students and stakeholders. Over the past year we have been working with Darim Online’s Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation, which has invested in the development of many networked approaches across the field.

When we started with Darim, we thought it was all about finding the right technology, but as we’ve worked with our internal team (made up of committed professional staff and lay people) and our terrific coach, Lisa Colton, we’ve realized that it’s actually about finding the right people and building the right relationships, and only then figuring out what the right technology might be to help these relationships thrive. As a network, RAVSAK is in many ways an unintentional one. Its members share certain affiliations, yet often have interacted primarily through the professionals in the RAVSAK office. In our attempts to change the culture of our network from a hub and spokes model of learning, we are promoting new ways to decentralize knowledge and increase peer-peer learning and interactions, through the creation of a variety of network sub-groups.

We understand that successful networks emanate from relationships that inspire trust and are considering new ways to engender this trust, by emphasizing common interests, pre-existing relationships and shared needs. We know that learning stems from listening and we are beginning to implement new ways to hear the conversations that are happening within our own network and those that intersect with ours, as well as finding opportunities to generate new conversations. Beyond just providing the technology for a network conversation, we are experimenting with various approaches to designing and facilitating the learning experience in the network. By engaging in an intentional process of trial and error, we can measure the effectiveness of different tools, platforms and facilitative strategies. By training and supporting a network facilitator, we can simultaneously design the network, deepen relationships and cultivate a network culture of reflection amongst the network’s members.

Critical to this culture shift’s success within our network is to shift attention from the network as a product, and focus on cultivating the individuals who build these relationships and think deeply about how networks work – the network weavers. That’s why RAVSAK recently brought Yechiel Hoffman on board to work with us on transforming our unintentional network into an intentional one. Together, we hope to elevate RAVSAK's network engagement by understanding the nature of the network's member's needs and positioning within the network.  We are working together and with our members to create a model that reflects RAVSAK's strategic plan, and embodies and inspires the values and learning goals of the network’s participants. We need to recruit, train and coach the network facilitators to support RAVSAK’s networks and become part of a new cohort of network weavers impacting our field.

Eventually, we may not need individual network weavers woven into our institutions and networks. Eventually, every Jewish educator, communal professional, board member and Rabbi will naturally gravitate to fostering, nurturing and facilitating those in their networks to connect, grow and collaborate. But as referenced in Rabbi Herring's blog post, until institutions embrace networks and systems thinking, we depend on those who gravitate personally and professionally to this mode of thinking and behaving.

At this moment when technology has created disruptive opportunities for decentralized systems and shared learning, questions like Rabbi Herring’s are important opportunities for interrogating what formal and informal networks offer to Jewish organizations, the field of Jewish education and our work as Jewish professionals. We have found the theoretical and historical frameworks underlying network theory as well as the demonstrated learning and growth that comes from utilizing and activating natural and designed networks to be valuable in our own work. Rabbi Herring may be accurate in determining that many organizations rely on vertical hierarchies operating under command and control, and are more activity driven than mission driven. We believe the horizontal platform model of networks, oriented around influence rather than power, is the very reason we need networks and network weavers in our system. We should not be afraid that new models demand a shift from old paradigms, but rather explore how these new models prepare us for the inevitable new paradigms. The question becomes less how we un-weave our networks, but how we cultivate a field in which learning through networks becomes commonplace and as essential to leadership as any other skill.

Dr. Idana Goldberg is the Associate Executive Director at RAVSAK. You can reach her at [email protected]

Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, is an Educator, Nonprofit Leader and Community Organizer, who is working as a consultant to RAVSAK on their network-weaving efforts.   He can be reached at [email protected]

RAVSAK participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.




You & Your Technology: Making the Right Shidduch

Technology wizard is not a name that the three women behind Mensch Modules would bestow upon themselves. Both The Women’s Jewish Learning Center and The Learning Shuk – the two organizations that came together to build Mensch Modules – have relied on others to build our websites and suggest software that will be useful for our organizations.

When the two groups came together on a project through the Darim Online Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, it was time to fumble through the intimidating process of selecting the proper piece of technology for our online project. Our mission was to create flexible, digitally friendly, do-it-yourself learning kits designed to help facilitate learning around Middot (qualities of character) and, specifically, the trait of gratitude.

Under the guidance of our mentor, Miriam Brosseau, we began to consider the seemingly endless options that lay before us. Were we going to create a website as a platform for curating content, designing context around it and package it for the self-directed study of Hakarat HaTov? Were there better methods for delivering our materials to educators and parents to use with their 3rd through 5th grade students?

We examined many possibilities, tried out a few, and, in the end, we determined that MentorMob was the best platform to deliver our Mensch Modules. We appreciated its flexibility, the ease with which we could make changes, and the ability to embed a live site or video directly into the playlist we created on MentorMob.

Selecting the right technology for a project can be daunting. We have a few suggestions we think will help:

Know your strengths. At the beginning of our project, we envisioned animated video clips to help introduce the topic of Mussar and character development to children. We quickly realized that video production was not our forte and that we would be spending too much time (and money) to put together the quality of video we wanted to provide. An examination of our strengths – individually and as a group – helped lead us to a better choice.

Know your needs. It is difficult to select the proper piece of technology if you do not know what you need it to do. It is important to consider your needs today, how your needs might change in the future, and the needs and skills of the people you are designing your project for.

Talk to others.Not only did we seek the guidance of Miriam, our treasured advisor, but we sought out other organizations and projects that we could learn from. Some of those were Jewish educational institutions but many were not. When we saw a website using a technology tool that we thought would be useful for Mensch Modules, we contacted them, asked questions, and played around on their site.

Experiment and be willing to change.Once we moved away from the desire to create videos, we explored several different pieces of technology. Often times, we would find something that seemed like it would work but after using it for a few days or weeks, we discovered that it was lacking some of the features we identified as needs. While it’s difficult to throw away “all that work”, moving on helped us find something even better. Assessing a technology platform based on a list of what it can and cannot do will not provide you with all of the information you need. It is important to get your feet wet and play with it.

Repurpose the tool.  Once you are comfortable with the technology you have selected for your project, it is easier to envision additional ways you can use that piece of technology.  In our experience, for example, we created the Mensch Module of Gratitude (HaKarat HaTov) on Mentor Mob and shared it with local educators who piloted the program. The Learning Shuk went on to use Mentor Mob to create curated online learning playlists on a variety of Jewish learning topics that are now being shared with parents and educators on local and national levels.

Selecting the proper piece of technology can be a daunting task – especially if you are not the most savvy of techies. We hope the guidelines above will make your process of selection a peaceful and successful experience. We invite you to share additional considerations for technology selection, software or technology platforms you use and love, or your thoughts on non-techies trying to look techie.

Lisa Pinkus is a member of the Mensch Modules team, which participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.





I recently drove my son to his doctor appointment. I hadn’t been to this doctor’s office in nearly a year and didn’t have directions, but I had a pretty good idea of how to get there. As I approached the general vicinity of the doctor’s office I realized I wasn’t as familiar with the area as I thought and the landmarks I was counting on just weren’t showing up!

After navigating a few semi-familiar twists and turns I did manage to get him there – although we were a bit late. Once there, I quietly vowed that I would always get directions before I embarked on another “leap of faith” trip (G-d help me if my wife reads this!)

So, what does my son’s doctor’s appointment have to do with the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy? Well, as I “hoped” my way to the appointment I also realized the quiet anxiety I encountered was the same feeling I had setting up and managing our school’s social media pages. I kind of knew where I was going; I figured I would see familiar places and instinctively know where to turn and when. That is no way to drive to an appointment and definitely no way to oversee a social media campaign.

Through our coaching calls and exercises in between, I’ve learned to map out a specific direction of where we want to go and how we plan to get there. I feel so much better now than I did embarking on this journey. The ambiguity I subtly felt has faded. It has been replaced with clarity and with that – a sense of relief.

Now that I am clear on our direction and how to achieve our set goals, I feel as though I finally have the flashlight I needed to help us find our way through the dark! OK, enough with the metaphors. The bottom line is that I really feel as though a weight that I was barely aware of has been lifted. OK, now enough of the metaphors.

Our social media experiment, along with that of our social media fundraising project, is well underway and our goals are clear. I am able to articulate these goals and the objectives along the way to our Board Members and to our staff. We have seen our membership grow, our “likes” increase substantially and, most importantly, we are effectively fundraising in a new and unique manner that I believe will become more and more familiar and commonplace as time passes.

Looking back over the whole process it reminds me of the simplicity of writing down a “to-do” list and then crossing off each item as I accomplish them. Oops, one last metaphor slipped in.

Harry Katcher is the new Director of Communications and Marketing at San Diego Jewish Academy. He replaces the outgoing Director of Marketing and Communications (note the subtle difference?). Harry has a BA in Journalism, a M.Ed. in Education, and a GPS for directions.


The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.



Edah: Bringing our Community Together with Online Communications

edah_with_megillah.jpgEdah’s Jewish learning programs for K-5 students were already ahead of the curve when it came to understanding how to engage students, families and communities. Edah’s experiential and project based learning infused with rich Hebrew and Judaic content has been reaching children who participate in its programs since 2010. Parents directly benefit from Edah too. The regular updates on educational units, family programming, and retreats provide family learning opportunities connected to the Jewish calendar. Even our organization’s name “Edah” meaning “community” speaks to the intergenerational and social nature of our educational philosophy and approach. Until recent months, Edah’s communications existed in a very basic set of website, email, and facebook group channels.

Participation in Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp for Educators was an indication of Edah’s intention to strengthen our community’s online networks by increasing our web presence and utilizing digital communications tools. One message that came across in all sessions of the Boot Camp was that a functioning, enhanced online network could strengthen Edah’s community. By community, they meant not only our community of participants, but also our larger community of stakeholders and funders that have supported our emergence and growth. Joshua Venture Group’s May 29, 2013 report Change the Conversation, Change the World echoes the need to remain visible to funders and align with funding priorities – two aspects of organizational sustainability and growth that can be achieved in large part through the online communications world.

edahs_basic_social_system.jpgIn spring 2013, Edah built a Facebook page, connected it with our Twitter account, launched a new colorful website and set up a blog. While Edah has been building an extensive library of multi-media documentation of our innovative “complimentary” Jewish educational program, we now have tapped into the critical digital systems that will more efficiently present our work to families, stakeholders, and colleagues alike. The private Edah Facebook group that was set up when we began in 2010 continues to serve its purpose well, as a hub where parents, staff, lay leaders, and our wider network members share information about Edah and community interests.

For our afterschool and out-of-school programs, the outstanding Edah educators put in tremendous effort to provide our students with integrative learning stations, and to equip our youth with authentic and engaging ways to absorb Hebrew and Judaism and deepen their personal Jewish identity. For our camp and special day programs, educational leaders have the freedom to develop adventurous participatory storytelling, creative and artistic multi-sensory exploration, and project-based studies. Bright excerpts of Edah life can now be viewed, understood, shared, and enjoyed through our new social channels.

The biggest internal change that was required by our renewed focus on social media is that Edah is building communications into our business infrastructure. It takes time to grow comfortable in all the online platforms in order to manipulate each to serve its purpose effectively for the organization, so it helps that our staff person responsible for the communications system has experience utilizing the online tools. Now that our basic system is almost in place, our next step is to establish a regular communications calendar routine that involves educators, administrators, and leadership to capture and share the exciting Edah curriculum and media out into virtual realms.

In Edah’s environment of thriving Jewish learning, leaders and educators do not struggle with concepts like emotional intelligence, empathy and middot, digital learning, inclusivity or design thinking. Our savvy leadership has its finger on the pulse of research regarding learning, in general, and Jewish learning, in specific, and helps apply that to our own program as well as through Nitzan – a network of innovative Jewish afterschool programs throughout North America that Edah leaders catalyzed and facilitate. We look forward to applying our social media strategies and new online systems to upgrade our broader professional collaborations through Nitzan’s website and other upcoming web-based venues.

Wendy Kenin is the Coordinator for Edah.  This year Edah participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.

Launching Teacher Blogs at JCDSRI


This year we were lucky enough to be accepted into the Social Media Boot Camp for Jewish Educators. We were provided with a coach to help us achieve our goal of school wide classroom blogs.  We met with our coach, Shira Liebowitz, about the milestones we met, the challenges we faced, and to chunk up our goals for month to month, measurable, small successes. Shira was a great sounding board and provided us with wonderful suggestions to help us reach each objective.  

Through a combination of the Darim Boot Camp and our school's own 21st century learning initiative, we have made great strides in teacher blogging.  We used WordPress to create an overall cohesive structure and designed look where we share classroom news, student work, and ideas with our parents, community, and the greater educational world.   With our blogs, parents, and grandparents, without stepping foot in the classroom, have been able to see what we do and engage with their children in a meaningful way. 

“With Darim's guidance, we were able to bring blogging to a new level,” said Sari Guttin, 2nd grade teacher.  “Not only have our blogs replaced newsletters, but they have become a forum for discussion between parents and students, students and administration, and students and teachers.”

Blogs help to extend the school day by providing discussion topics for families to think about at home.  Because all our blogs are hosted on the same platform, it allows for uniformity and connectedness between individual classrooms and the school.  

jcdsri_blog.png“Starting a classroom blog this year has allowed me to be a reflective practitioner and invite others into the classroom,” said Jessica Perlman, Kindergarten teacher.  “By composing the blog posts and questions for readers, I have been able to truly reflect on the learning and goals of each lesson, as well as the steps taken, allowing the curriculum to become a living document.” 

Initially, our blog postings were weekly summaries. As the year progressed, they emerged into detailed accounts of classroom activity, complete with photographs and direct student quotes.  Additionally, teachers incorporate questions aimed to encourage parents and students to want to engage in further discussions. 

“Our blogs have enabled me, a part-time, specialty teacher, to stay connected with class happenings,” said Karolyn White.  “I can easily check the blogs to learn what’s new. I especially appreciate the depth of the blogs, which frequently include explanations, goals, results and descriptive photos. Our blogs encourage me to reflect on the class updates, collaborate with teachers and modify content or format of my library lessons, making them more informative and pertinent.” 

Our blogs have become valuable resources that promote our students, families, faculty and administration to stay connected.  The mentoring provided by Darim has helped scaffold this process as well as provide a great sense of comfort and support.  As a faculty, we are feeling excited about this "21st Century" way of communication and collaboration and we thank Darim Online and The Covenant Foundation for launching us on our way.

Shari Weinberger is the Curriculum Coordinator at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, and wrote this post with input from team members, Sari Guttin, Grade 2, Jessica Perlman, Kindergarten and Karolyn White, Librarian and Communications Manager.  To view our blogs click on the link

This year JCDSRI participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.





Becoming Social: Risk Taking, Transparency and Innovation

Prior to participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, our school culture was pretty conservative when it came to social media, so many ideas that we brought home from the kick off meeting felt very risky and foreign to us.

Within the first week of this program, we turned on the tagging function on our Facebook page to allow for interaction and transparency. At the time, letting go of this control felt unintuitive and scary.

zumba.pngThat same week, we noticed a student-led Zumba class happening in the courtyard and we impulsively took a 30-second video. We never would have posted something like this previously because it felt personal and exposed in terms of the students, and it was also an activity that was wholly social and not connected to any mission-specific message. In short, it was just fun. In response to the post, we received an unprecedented number of likes, comments and shares from students, parents and community members. This “experiment” started a ripple effect in terms of taking risks.

The only video that had ever been leveraged for fundraising at JCHS was very high-end, in that it was professionally shot and produced. So Lisa Colton’s suggestion to “be brave” and do quick and dirty videos was intriguing and exciting. The discussion at the kickoff meeting about how to deal with negative online feedback made us feel as if we could jump and go for it with our own videos.

We shot a short video with teachers and students that showed areas the Annual Fund supports at JCHS such as athletics, drama and science.  We shared this video on our web page, through eBlasts and on Facebook which added a much-needed spike in parent momentum/interest. The video resulted in 12 online gifts the first night we posted it – which was also unprecedented. From here we became addicted to both making fun, creative videos and the momentum they inspired. We got sillier and people liked it.

As the year progressed, through the Annual Fund and into our Darim fundraising challenge and spring fundraising event, we became comfortable – and quite happy – with this new cultural norm of risk taking, transparency and innovation. Our “capstone” project for the Academy was a fundraising challenge to our 271 alumni. The greatest percentage of them to give in one year to date had been 9%. We challenged ourselves to receive at least 50% participation from our alumni during the month of April to receive a matching grant from AVI CHAI. JCHS is only 12 years old. Most of our alumni are still in college and not financially independent, so this was a big challenge for us.

teacher.pngWe kicked off our alumni campaign with a slide show of 8 JCHS graduation ceremonies.  This video created our first wave of momentum, but we noticed immediately that the “fire” required constant stoking to keep gifts rolling in. We then came up with a teacher campaign asking students to give Our alumni mavens were key in tagging these photos and creating a buzz that increased with each new teacher photo. During this photo campaign, one of our alumni mavens suggested that what would really work with older alumni is to see photos of their teachers from the early years who are no longer teaching at JCHS. As one of us has been here for 10 years, reaching out to these teachers on Facebook was easy and they all responded quickly and enthusiastically.  See an example of the reactions on Facebook. 

Not only did we achieve our 50% goal, but in the final push, which was very targeted from alum to alum, we achieved 61% alumni participation (166 alums). The impact from this challenge continues to show through feedback about how much they enjoyed talking to each other and reminiscing about JCHS, to a record number of alumni attending the spring fundraising event. This year of social media was educational, fun, and it truly shifted our culture in a way that supports community at JCHS.

Julie Vlcek-Burke has been at JCHS since 2003 and is the Director of Development. Maura Feingold has been at JCHS since 2007 and is the Marketing Manager.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.

Using Social Media to Strengthen Culture of Welcome

Temple Torah’s executive staff utilized Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp to strengthen the culture of welcome at our synagogue. Over 25 years, Temple Torah evolved from a seniors-only congregation to a full-service, multi-generational congregation. We now operate a pre-school and two after-school supplemental religious programs.

Our challenge is that there is a sense of bifurcation in the congregation and a lack of a  holistic sense of community. People in different segments of the congregation often express a “fee-for-service” mentality. Furthermore, many feel that the expenditure of financial and human resources on one segment of the community means that other segments will not get served. Older people often complain that “all this money is spent on young families who never come to synagogue.” Younger families complain that they don’t feel welcome in other segments of the congregation and that programs and services offered outside of the school wing are not relevant to their lives.  Our staff team sought to use social media as one tool to break down barriers and spark conversations online and offline that would increase the sense of community.

Initially, we sought to embark on this endeavor through short YouTube videos. We succeeded in making one video that re-oriented people to the main synagogue entrance in a post-Newtown, CT, concern for security.  We were unable to sustain the energy, creativity and commitment to produce more videos, so we switched gears to focusing on Temple Torah’s Facebook page. The page had been under-utilized and was overshadowed by Facebook groups run by various arms of the synagogue.

It took some time for us to find a groove where people would like and comment on the page. Pictures of events that were posted received positive attention, but event announcements might as well have been invisible. In March, we fine-tuned our efforts to revamp our Facebook page with a contest asking people to share the manner in which people are welcomed at their seder. Whoever received the most likes would receive a prize. It seemed like a good question that people could relate to, yet we received only minimal response.

A couple weeks later for Yom Haatzmaut, we discovered a secret sauce: Constant Contact. We were able to drive much more traffic to the Facebook page by sending a Constant Contact email to the congregation, posing a question and directing them to the page. We received more lively online dialogue on why people love Israel.
boyton-beach.jpgHaving discovered Constant Contact as an effective means to drive traffic to the page, we then went right to the issue of creating a culture of welcome at the synagogue. People were asked to complete the sentence: “My first time being welcomed to Temple Torah was…,” and there was great response. One older congregant was bold enough to post that she didn’t feel so welcome, but I utilized this opportunity to reach out to her publicly and privately, and she appreciated that.  That same week, I gleaned from the discussion to deliver a “social sermon” on Shabbat, one in which congregants take part in the writing through their online comments before Shabbat. The sermon was then posted after Shabbat to allow the posting to continue.

For the rest of this spring, each member of our staff took a turn posting a question for discussion that was rooted in his or her area of expertise. The result is more traffic on our Facebook page and more interaction among different segments of our population. We hope to continue creative ways to drive traffic to the page, spark conversations and build real live relationships among our congregants.

Rabbi Ed Bernstein is the rabbi of Temple Torah in Boyton Beach, Florida.  He also blogs on The Huffington Post.  This year Temple Torah participated in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, a year long program generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  This series of blog posts this spring chart the learnings of the 10 teams in this year's cohort.

Its not just about the money

As participants in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, we have faced many exciting challenges this year.  Getting our social media presence up and running was the first hurdle – daily posts, monitoring the likes, the reach, the insights overall – it has been a whole new world of lingo.

Once we had established some social media “cred”, we then ventured to the next madrega (level) – social media fundraising.  While initially we were most excited about the potential funds raised through the campaign, in hindsight we realize that we gained much more from the experience than the funds.  The obvious benefit was the prospect of raising important funds that could be matched an additional $10,000 from the AVI CHAI Foundation.  The side (and possible more useful?) benefit was watching as our school transformed into a community of PR ambassadors and fundraisers within a matter of hours.

Here’s how we did it:   

  1. Strategically craft a campaign – we spent a considerable amount of time deciding specifically what the campaign would support.  Once decided upon, the next step was to ensure that the administration “bought in” to the idea and would follow through on the expenditure of this money.  We made sure to select programs that would benefit the entire PreK-12 student body and would have broad appeal. Hence, our campaign was dubbed the “Music and Movement Challenge” supporting enhancements to the athletic and music co-curricular programming at RMBA.
  2. Create a fundraising campaign on – a social media fundraising website which allows individual campaign champions to set up their own pages and tell their stories to their personal social networks of why our school (and this program in particular) is a worthy cause.
  3. Tell the world – send out messages to the entire school community letting them know about the exciting matching opportunity and seeing who would rise up to be a champion of our campaign.
  4. Train the champions – in a Powerpoint presentation, we told the campaign champs how to create their own personalized pages.
  5. Incentivize the champions – by announcing gift cards to the champions who raised the most money, and who secured the largest number of individual donations, we created a more energized team.
  6. Watch the money roll in – within hours, our champions were talking up the campaign and bringing in gifts.

The rewards:

a.       $15,000 toward the enhancement of our music and athletic program.

b.       A dedicated group of champions who spent their time talking up the school and encouraging others to donate to our cause.

c.       Virality – champions were talking about our school to their cousins, employers, college roommates – anyone who might support them and their school.

We were overwhelmed with the positive response garnered by the campaign.  The utilization of our champion’s personal social networks created a fun, yet competitive, vibe which motivated all to push themselves for success. 

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.


Social Media Brings Alumni into the Conversation at Brandeis Hillel Day School

As a two-campus school serving 600 students and their families in the San Francisco Bay Area, we keep our community engaged and informed through a robust website, two packed weekly e-newsletters, class-specific updates and other publications. Yet, as our 50th anniversary approached last year, we wanted to quickly and effectively invite alumni and alumni families – along with the rest of our community – into the celebration (and conversation).

At the time, our Facebook page was in its infancy, with a few “likes” and content mirroring our website. Our separate alumni Facebook page had waxed and waned – and seemed disconnected from our daily life as an institution. Then came the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy– and everything changed.

Within the first few months, we developed a plan to invite alumni back into our daily conversation – as part of our extended BHDS family. We decided to focus our social media efforts on just one Facebook page, where our entire community could celebrate our 50th anniversary – as well as our daily life. We thought more creatively about making putting the “social” back in our social media by inviting more two-way conversations – and by experimenting with content and types of media. 

Some posts worked well – some did not. We learned as much from our failures as we did from our successes. Most importantly, we “discovered” much of what we knew all along – that our alumni have treasured memories from their years at BHDS, and that they they like photos and video from school days. We also noticed that they like to see news from the present…and that they care about helping the school build its future.

Encouraged by our coach, we decided to take a big chance on online fundraising. Thanks to the generosity of the AVI CHAI Foundation and all our learning through the JDS academy, we designed a fundraising drive to challenge our alumni to a 2:1 match to a donation of $18 or more to the school through Razoo, a social media fundraising site. The results were thrilling. Thanks to the enthusiastic response from our alumni and their families, we raised an unprecedented amount for BHDS in two weeks. More importantly, we brought our alumni and their families into our conversation and celebration in a way we never had before.

We learned a great deal from the chances we took this year – how to set up a social media-based fundraising drive, how to think through posting challenges and how to connect with our alumni in a more authentic way. Most importantly, we ended up with perhaps more even more valuable takeaways from our failures – knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does.

Our social media foundation is strong. Our Facebook page has become a critical tool in our daily interaction as a community, more than tripling in users and updated with frequent, fresh posts several times per week. We recently launched our YouTube page, and we’re experimenting with best practices there as well. We’re considering additional social media tools, and look forward to build on the progress we’ve made. Along the way, we plan to take chances, experiment, and continue to learning as we move forward.

Join our conversation! Visit us on Facebook or contact Sonia Daccarett, Director of Communications at Brandeis Hillel Day School at [email protected].

Joan Fishbein Feldman is the Director of Communications of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, Maryland. Beth Tfiloh Dahan is the area’s largest coed Jewish day school, with students from PreSchool through Grade 12.

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy

The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.