Happy Healthy Nonprofit A Review

At this time of year, we take time to reflect on ourselves over the past year, and to set intentions for how we will be in the coming year.  All of us have room for improvement (think about Carol Dweck's "growth mindset") to become our best selves.  Our personal well-being — physical, mental and spiritual health — is key to unlocking the best of who we are, at the office, with our families and friends, with with ourselves.  Beth Kanter's new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, written with co-author Aliza Sherman, is a fantastic resource for leaders and managers in our community to reflect on both their own well-being and to consider how to foster healthier professional environments to help all of us thrive.

Over the past few years at See3, we’ve been working hard on building a company culture that values the personal well being of our employees and invests in our team to be a productive family based on shared values. This attention is paying off, with happy and hard-working staff who are generous with each other and our clients. We take time to celebrate each other’s accomplishments in the office and outside of it. We are also attracting talented and diverse new employees who want to advance their careers and have a great quality of life while doing it.

Because we’ve been thinking about these issues a lot, we are particularly excited about this new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. In it, these two superstar authors tackle head-on an issue which those of us working in the nonprofit world know so well — burnout. If you want to find people who work really hard, in often challenging circumstances for low pay, look no further than your nearest nonprofit organization.

Beth’s previous books looked at how nonprofits can change to be more nimble and function better in our newly connected digital world. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the issue of employee health and burnout avoidance comes next. With the quickening of the pace of communications, more competition for donors' attention and more scrutiny of nonprofit work than ever, it’s no wonder that burnout is finally on the agenda.

The authors point out that nonprofits have unique challenges with these issues because sacrifice is often in the DNA of social movements. They write:

Self-sacrifice becomes a cultural norm in organizations and movements. Leaders who give up their personal lives for the cause often evaluate staff members’ value or commitment to the organization by how much they, too, deny themselves work-life separation and boundaries.

That sounds really familiar! While this is true for so many of us in the sector, we couldn’t help but think about how this concept of self-sacrifice may unfortunately be particularly acute for women, who may have expectations of the need to work harder to attain leadership positions, not only in the nonprofit sector, but everywhere.

One of the things we love about this book is how Beth and Aliza cite so many practical examples of organizations supporting employee and team health and well being. These real life stories provide inspiration for what you might address at your organization, and a template for your action, too. We’re honored (and proud!) that Beth and Aliza included See3’s HR and dog policy as an example of how organizations can change policies that impact quality-of-life for everyone working there.

See3, a digital agency working with nonprofits, put several policies in place that promote well-being and that affect the way its staff works and manages work-life issues. The agency doesn’t count sick days or personal days, and it offers paid maternity and paternity leave policies, flexible schedule options, and work-from-home flexibility. See3 also has an office policy baked right into its employee handbook that allows employees to bring their dogs to work.

We were also mentioned for our physical movement breaks as a way to reduce stress and promote health:

“Our team regularly breaks around 2:00 in the afternoon to do a 10-minute workout,” says Bridgett Colling from the marketing agency See3. “We find workouts on YouTube or Pinterest and do them as a group using yoga mats we keep in the office. Taking some time to step away from my desk and get my blood pumping usually gives me a much greater energy boost than another cup of coffee or something filled with sugar.”

While some of this attentiveness to culture and health has come from our company’s leadership, a lot of it has grown out of listening to our staff and empowering people to take the initiative to shape our company culture. Bridgett initiated the 10-minute yoga and by doing it in the common spaces and inviting others to join her, she has made a significant contribution to both the health of the participants and the culture of our company overall.

Our vision boards hanging on the walls of our office integrate productivity, professional learning and health and wellness goals. By making all of these goals explicit, our staff is better able to support each other and celebrate our achievements. 

Stopping Burnout Before it Starts

In The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, Beth and Aliza help readers understand what causes burnout and why self-care is critical for your nonprofit’s success. This book is a must read for nonprofit CEOs and managers, as well as anyone in this profession who wants to be happy and successful over the long term of their career.

The self-care process they outline starts with basics — sleep, nutrition and exercise — but moves on to care that relate directly to job stress, such as mindfulness and gratitude. At See3, we have a tradition (based on research that suggested gratitude is a key ingredient to happiness) of including something we are grateful for in our staff-wide daily email check-in, such as support from a team member or spouse, for family health, or for a comical cat video. The Happy Healthy Nonprofit also includes powerful self-assessment tools to help you define your own challenges with self-care as a way to begin addressing them personally and across your organization.

What we particularly love about this book is that it gives individuals the tools for their own self-care, without victimizing those who are feeling "less than optimally healthy”. We can’t solve this issue without changes to our organizations — and Beth and Aliza don’t let the organization off the hook. Organizational structures and policies have perhaps the greatest impact on employees’ ability to work with less stress and avoid burnout. The book gives very clear examples and guidance for organizations looking to promote a healthy culture.

Thanks to Beth for sharing an advance copy with us. For months we’ve been excited for this book’s release, and it meets all of our very high expectations. Order a copy for yourself, and while you’re at it, consider ordering an extra to give as a gift to your leadership or coworkers as well. While health may start with yourself, a happy, healthy nonprofit is good for everyone.

The Happy Healthy Nonprofit is available everywhere books are sold. You can buy it here on Amazon.

 

About the authors: Lisa Colton is the Founder and President of Darim Online, and the Chief Learning Officer at See3 Communications.  Michael Hoffman is the CEO of See3 Communications.

An Instagram is Worth…

Editors note:  We often use this blog to highlight the wisdom and experience of those within our network.  Isti Bardos is the Communications Director at Temple Israel in Memphis.  On a recent webinar he was giving great advice to those getting started on Instagram, and we asked him to share some tips that make his Instagram efforts successful.

 

A picture is worth…Yup. We all know.

I would argue, however, that pictures – and videos – are worth much more than words, 1,000 or not.  Imagery evokes feelings, creates empathy and fosters meaningful, lasting relationships.  Isn’t that what our work in congregations is all about: building community and lasting relationships?

By sharing highlights and snippets of everyday life through Instagram, you are illustrating how your congregation is a community of meaning and purpose, not only an institution with "tushes in seats".  While some people may feel nervous about showing photos of people in your congregation, Instagram (and the sharing culture) is happening with or without you.  Be thoughtful about releases in your membership and registration materials (and avoid those who don't want their photos shared), but also recognize that many of the ever-so-coveted 20s/30s demographic are prolifically sharing their photos (and wanting to see those of others). A full 90% of those using Instagram are 35 or younger (data as of June, 2015 — older demographics are beginning to flock to Instagram too).

In addition to engaging the younger demographic, Instagram is a worthy social media platform because

1) It's in your congregation’s best interests to put your best face – literally and figuratively — out there!
2) Participating in Instagram a way to “show off” your congregation.
3) It's good to show a wide array of smiling faces, activities, and slices of life of your congregation!
4) By using Instagram, your congregation will be perceived as hip and modern, on top of the newest technologies.

Two questions people often ask are:

1) What should we post?
2) How often should we post?

To me, the answers are the same: Post good content when you have it.  But make a point of integrating great photography (on your phone!) into your routine so you have content at least a couple times a week.

#SHABBATSHALOM

If you don’t know where to start, start with a #ShabbatShalom message every Friday afternoon. (That # symbol, in today’s social media vernacular, is a hashtag. Hashtags allow you to search for items. For example, if you used the hashtag #ShabbatShalom, you would see only photos/videos from around the world that have that hashtag associated with it, which is pretty cool.)

So, simply take a photo of a smiling child at religious school.  While the culture of Instagram is to post photos immediately after they are taken, you can also have some "timeless" images that can be saved for a Friday post.  With these #ShabbatShalom postings, you will be sharing a photo at least once a week!

#TBT

Another example which could guarantee another weekly post, is #tbt. #tbt stands for “throwback Thursday.” It’s simply an easy way for you to post a video or photo of something that happened in the past, whether it was a year or 100 years ago.  This could be a childhood photo of your rabbi, or a memorable event in your congregation's past, like this picture from our congregation's 2008 trip to Israel.

So between #ShabbatShalom and #tbt, you already have guaranteed yourself at least two compelling Instagram posts a week, which a great start!

But you have an endless supply of other good, compelling content — here are some ideas and examples from our congregation:
volunteers
staff
families
events/programs
women’s and men’s clubs
beautiful facilities/campus
religious/Hebrew school tutors/teachers
different segments of your congregation
creative snapshots of congregational life
and, of course, smiling children

By the way, it’s important to use photo of people who are smiling, because smiling… is a cause of happy feelings!  …is contagious! …can make you healthier! …can be a predictor of how long you’ll live!   But also remember that Instagram's community values really great photography, including abstract shots of mundane things, insights into everyday moments, bold color and gorgeous patterns.  Like this photo of Hamentashen from OU Hillel.

Also, there is a sense of immediacy and connectivity with Instagram. For example, what is more interesting and interactive: reading – a month after the fact in a black and white newsletter – the sentence “Students watched a science demonstration involving Mentos and Diet Coke” or watching a 10-second video clip of a “volcano” erupting  a few minutes after the event took place – and then having the ability to provide immediate feedback?

Posting photos and videos to Instagram is less about the information and more about making emotional connections.  As people scroll through their Instagram feed, make sure that your congregation has a presence! Scroll through your Instagram feed periodically to see the "bigger picture" that new followers might find if they look at everything you've posted recently. 

If your congregation doesn’t use Instagram, start using it today. If you have an Instagram account, step your game up!  After all, if your congregation REALLY IS a vibrant, warm and welcoming congregational family, then SHOW IT!

Isti Bardos is Communications Director at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Power of an Invitation

Uber and AirBNB are proving the power and opportunity of a bottom-up model of organizing.  Empowered with technology, their own creativity and initiative, people today are less reliant on institutions than ever to achieve their own needs.  At the same time, smart platforms are critical for activating their curiosity and motivation.

So too in the Jewish community. We are beginning to see the shift in the market, and the emergence of new platforms to help people self-organize and build Jewish community and meaning.  While this brave new world may feel scary to organizational leaders, in my book it's a very healthy sign.  The question is, how are we as a field adapting to this new "economy"?

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Steven Price have been following these trends, and are re-energizing a very traditional idea: The Book Club.  Together, we've been asking ourselves, "How can we get more people developing deeper, more meaningful relationships, building Jewish community, and feeding their intellectual and spiritual curiosities together?"

Our research showed that the vast majority of people who aren’t currently in a book club, Rosh Chodesh group or another similar club are overwhelmingly interested in being part of such an experience.  Their primary reason for not yet being in a club?  No one has invited them.

Thus, we've designed Gather to find and empower initiators to start new groups, and invite others to join them.  It doesn’t mean they have to be the ongoing leader — they are simply the initiator.   There's no long term commitment, no expectations of what your group will be, no prescribed content. But we do have ideas, suggestions, discussion guides, and a concierge ready to help answer any questions. Gather is a platform to help those curious about Jewish learning and community to launch new group (with friends, acquaintances, family and/or new contacts) to build and strengthen relationships, and to engage in discussion around Jewish content and values.

We're just launching our beta phase, and we're inviting (see — get the theme here?) members of the Darim network to take it for a spin.  You can start a new Gathering yourself, and/or you can invite your own network to start their own groups.  Gather is a tool that can help places like synagogues and schools become more connected (and educated and engaged) communities, so it's an easy and powerful platform to help organizations dip their toe into the self-organizing, platform model that is such a powerful approach in today's culture.

Anyone can start a club, and any community can have multiple. For example, a dad with kids in the early childhood program might want to start a dads club, or maybe families with post-b’nai mitzvah teens might want to start a parent/child social justice book club.  Maybe 20-somethings want to get together to cook out of the Jerusalem and Zahav cookbooks, or members of your LGBTQ community want to get together more regularly in addition to Pride Shabbat.

Consider this your invitation — we would love for you to consider using Gather to engage with and support your community, and if you’re interested, help you plan the next steps. If you want to share with your community, we’re happy to create customized pages that promote the content that aligns most closely with your mission and goals, and the interests of your audiences (e.g. culture, cooking, music, Jewish classics like Buber and Heschel, etc.), and give you a link which will track participation from your network (and we're happy to share data with you).

Ultimately, we hope that these initiators become the leaders in your own community, and help to engage their peers in your mission and programs too. 

We know the power of an invitation is profound.  Who will you invite?

Want to take it for a spin?  Click here to see how simple it is to start your own Gathering. Want to invite your own community or network to initiate Gatherings? Feel free!  If you want your own link to track adoption, just drop Elyse Kort, Gather Project Director, a note.

Freedom From the Status Quo

Of the many inspiring Passover messages that I read this year, the one that most caught my eye was by Rabbi Jill Jacobs,"Where Slavery Ends and Freedom Starts.", March 30, 2015. Rabbi Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, shares "it's not always so clear where slavery ends and freedom starts. Did the Israelites become Pharaoh’s slaves only after he set taskmasters over them? Or did we lose our freedom when we became dependent on Egypt’s largesse? Did we become free when we crossed the sea, or only when we established a homeland of our own? … The line between slavery and freedom is not always clearly marked by a parting sea."  Rabbi Jacobs applies this to the context of oppressed workers in the modern economy, people who are bound not by shackles and chains but by poverty, fear, emotional abuse, or lack of education.

Freedom is not only about our physical reality, but also our mindset.  Even while the Israelites were physically free, they reminisced that “in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!” (Exodus 16:3).  It’s hard to let go of what we know, what’s our “normal” even if it’s not ideal, or even serving our interests.

People (and collectively, organizations) who think they are “free” can also be “enslaved” by old ideas and ingrained patterns of behavior. Whenever we keep doing things in a certain way because that is the only way we’ve know to do them, we run the risk of self-enslavement. This is especially true when the old ways aren't working anymore, and the need for change is increasingly clear. Let’s look at this in three areas of American Jewish congregational life.

Financial Models
For a hundred years or so, most American synagogues have been organized with a dues-based membership model. This model has been nearly universally adopted, and the norm for multiple generations — such that, just like in Egypt, it’s hard to imagine any other way.  But today there is abundant evidence that this model isn't working as well or reliably as it used to for many congregations. There are, however variations, changes, and new and different models that some are successfully utilizing. While different synagogues may need different approaches designing how their communities support them, across the field we are starting to feel the questioning and active pushback that are hallmarks of a new kind of freedom to explore different kinds of synagogue funding models.

Engagement
Most American synagogues have also shared the idea that if we build the biggest building, create the best programs, boast the most creative religious school, and hire the right rabbi, then the Jews will come running to become members. But for Americans today (and especially for younger generations), the whole notion of membership (to any organization) doesn't seem quite so certain or resonant.  Those of us who do care about our synagogues, who do find meaning, purpose, and connection in this kind of social and religious organization have to find new ways to make other people see that value and spark, and to care too. That means seeking out, creating, and experimenting with variations, changes, and new and different models of engagement.  Too often our mindset is that “engagement” equals “membership” and “attendance”, but engagement is as much about a mindset and relationships as it is about attendance. Here too, let’s free ourselves of assumptions about our engagement models, and explore a new normal.

Leadership
Most American synagogues rely on boards and committees, volunteers, lay leaders, and professional staff who spend hours and hours in meetings and parking lots making important and not-so important decisions, and then making them again on phone calls and in more meetings. We struggle to find new leaders and new volunteers in part because our current leaders are feeling over-burdened, and in part because the structures of our leadership (multi-hour meetings on weeknights that conflict with kids’ activities, sports games, and other interests) are out of synch with the ways prospective leaders organize their time and attention.  What if, just what if, we ask ourselves to consider variations, changes and new and different models of leadership?  Remember when Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, pushes him to think differently?  “'The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone" (Exodus 18:17). Let’s free ourselves of these structures, and instead look afresh at what makes the most sense for our needs today.

As we count the omer and move from a celebration of the exodus to the receiving of the Torah, may be take the opportunity to recognize, with 20/20 vision, the places where we may be limiting ourselves, even “enslaving” ourselves to old ideas and previous models that are no longer in our best interests.  As the Israelites wandered the desert, there were many questions, few clear answers, and plenty of “figuring it out as they went”.  So too are congregations today in a time of pioneering a new era.  Let us embrace the questions, explore possibilities, and be free to pioneer the future.

This blog post is cross posted on the Connected Congregations website.  Learn more about Connected Congregations here.

Debbie Joseph is president and founder of Debbie Joseph Consulting, Inc. She is a nationally recognized expert in working with synagogues on exploring alternative dues and membership models, strategic planning and leadership development.  She is a contributor to UJA-Federation of New York’s Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Synagogue?” report and a contributor to “New Membership and Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue” by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky.

LBTV (Leo Baeck TV)

Given the power of online videos, we inaugurated LBTV Action News as a vehicle for telling the school’s story. In 60 to 90 second installments, students did standup spot “news reports,” on selected events and subjects. It was effective in terms of growing our social media reach. Parents are our main audience on Facebook – which is our main social medium — and they love seeing children doing the presenting as well as being the subjects of a video. It lent an additional appeal, as opposed to watching the expected administrator or teacher talking head tell about the school. And they were eager to share the Facebook postings, as well. Some of our most shared and far-reaching videos on Facebook were LBTV Action News items.

It is a win-win: not only does this provide a framework for packaging video items, but it’s a worthwhile learning experience for the students, who gain amateur TV reporter experience. One Grade 8 student even mentioned in her reflection at graduation ceremony that being an LBTV Action News reporter was one of the highlights of her year.

My background as a radio news reporter came in handy in developing a few basic guidelines for the students: how to prepare an intro, segue to an interviewee and how and what to ask, and summing up in an extro/sign off. They learned the proper way to stand, hold a mic, and to think in terms of their audience of Internet viewers watching a small frame video screen.

The Middle School teachers selected a news team; I called upon those students in turn when a newsworthy event came up. It was interesting to observe the qualitative growth of each reporter over time.

Some of the highlighted news reports included coverage of Toronto’s Jewish day school Debate Tournament, hosted at our school; coverage of the Jewish day school Cross Country Meet; Talent Shows; and innovative programs that engaged parent and grandparent participation in the curriculum.

Videos of course go far in opening the walls of the school for parents to witness the “magic” of what goes on in school between drop off and pick up. But adding this TV news “packaging” allows for student involvement and a ready-made format.
 

David Bale is the Director of Communications at The Leo Baeck 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 2013-14 nationwide cohort of 15 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here with the tag #jdsacademy

Complete the Social Media Self Assessment for your school at http://www.dayschoolacademy.org/assessment

Games for Change: Shooting for the Moon

As part of the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival taking place April 22-24, Schusterman is teaming up with Games for Change to sponsor a game design contest! Games for Change is a nonprofit organization that catalyzes social impact through inventive digital games. They are known for bringing together and propelling the brightest minds passionate about incorporating gaming into daily life in order to advance society.

Schusterman is excited to partner with Games for Change in helping to advance the understanding of games and game thinking within its network of young Jewish change makers! We believe that this initiative will tap into a network of young Jewish adults eager to apply technology for social good in Israel, the Jewish world and beyond.

As part of our partnership with Games for Change, Schusterman invited eight representatives from organizations in our network to come together for a two-day workshop at Soho House in New York City. The workshop helped to advance understanding of the potential of digital games to engage new audiences and to move each organization’s mission forward.

As a result of this workshop, SpaceIL was selected to see their plan through, and we are now calling on game builders far and wide to apply their skills to a worthy mission!

SpaceIL, an Israel-based nonprofit organization and one of the leading teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, is aiming to land a spacecraft on the moon by 2015. Through this endeavor, SpaceIL aspires to create a new “Apollo effect,” inspiring the next generation to think differently about science, engineering, technology and math.

The game contest invites designers and developers to envision an interactive experience that encourages players to learn about space exploration and, at the same time, captures comprehensive real-world data that will inform the mission of SpaceIL.

Ideally, the game will allow the SpaceIL team to learn about potential spacecraft designs and possible orbits from online players who are able to land virtual spaceships on the final frontier.

The Games for Change Festival will take place as part of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Three finalists will present their ideas on stage in front of attendees, potential funders and a juried panel, and the winning team with the most innovative proposal will receive a grand prize of $25,000 and have the opportunity to collaborate further with SpaceIL on their mission to the moon!

We are officially on the hunt for creative entries and are excited to see young innovators in our network put their skills to the test! Click here to submit your proposal.

Want to go to the Games for Change Festival but not interested in building a game? No problem! You can purchase tickets here and receive 10% off festival registration using the Schusterman code: schusterman-g4c14! Festival-goers will get to experience presentations from icons of the gaming world. Please visit the Festival website for more about this exciting event!

Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today: Insights from the Author

Thank you to Rabbi Hayim Herring for sharing his expertise with us on a webinar last week and on our online book group throughout the month of June, as we discuss his book, Tomorrow’s Synagogue Today.

Over 50 people registered for our webinar to learn from Hayim and discuss the concepts he shared and their application to their congregational settings.  We discussed the very tachlis details of who leads change and how, and big (and sometimes purposefully theoretical) questions like "will synagogues as we know them continue to exist in the next few decades"?

You can find the recording of the webinar and related resources shared during the webinar here.

Our online book group — held in a Facebook Group — continues, and we welcome you to join us!  Current conversations have been around testing and piloting new ideas, what has changed in synagogue life in the last 10 years, and how do we retain a sense of sacred community while still being respectful of the desire for individualism and self-directedness?  Come on over to the book group to respond, and/or to pose your own questions too!

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.

When Failure Isn’t Failure

Too often we get hung up on THE NEXT GREAT IDEA that will save or transform the Jewish community.  Following stark headlines birthed by the recent Pew study, I suspect the urgency around this may even grow.  Yawn.

I'm more interested in looking at the world and our challenges opportunities through new lenses.  Sometimes a tweak here and there is a great approach for improving your work. Sometimes we need to think bigger. But as the scale of the idea (and the investment required to make it come to life) increases, the risk of possible failure increases as well.  Our fear of failure therefore often acts as the glass ceiling of our biggest ideas and freshest thinking.

Those making really profound progress in our rapidly evolving world aren't afraid of failure.  As detailed in The Lean StartUp, it's not always about the A landslide victory of your idea, it's about developing it in a smart and nimble way. It's about seeing the small failures and improving upon them.  Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy started by making videos for his family, and realizing the value, scale the idea to help others.  Rarely are great, big ideas great or big right out of the box.

At The Nonprofit Technology Conference a year ago, Beth Kanter led a panel discussion called "Placing Little Bets" (based on the book, Little Bets), where the discussion turned to failure.  Fascinating.  Of course your little bets (experiments) can't grow into big discoveries unless you fail.  Like in a science lab, you learn as much (maybe more) by the experiments that don't turn out as you hypothesized.  My take away:  the tech/innovation field understands this, and encourages, rewards, and invests in this cycle.   They think big (but start small), know how to let go of the mediocre ideas, and how to identify failure, learn from it, and improve upon it. 

In the Jewish community, I am afraid we're too afraid to fail. In fact, we're so afraid of our own failure (writ large — declining numbers, declining engagement, struggling institutions) that we embody that fear of failure in everything we do.  Sure, there are people placing bets, people with fresh ideas, and a whole 'innovation' sector.  But I'm speaking to the collective ethos of organized Jewish life. We need to think (and feel) differently about failure.

The Jewish Education Project, in partnership with Upstart and UJA Federation of New York, is hosting a FAIL FORWARD CONFERENCE in November, with  Ashley Good, the CEO of Fail Forward.  I'm thrilled to see this issue rising to the surface of our communal conversation.  We need to be talking about this, sharing our 'failures', collaborating to decide where and how to invest in the places where we can improve on that failure, and how we can learn from it.

But here's what I think it really boils down to:  We have many connotations with the word FAILURE that we need to let go of.  Or maybe we need to fine an alternate word (suggestions welcome in the comments).

  • For Jews, failure signifies the END of something.  That's a concept all too real, and very traumatizing to leaders of the Jewish community.  So let's get this straight: Failing forward isn't about extinction of an idea (or a whole people). It's about refining and strengthening that idea so it will flourish.
  • Failure often carries connotations of blame — of negligence, or stupidity, or defeat.  And of course we (personally or organizationally) don't want to be associated with that.  We need to write over those connotations with positive associations.  What will those be?

How do you think about failure?  How do you talk about it in your work (or why do you struggle to talk about it)?  Do you or your organization have practices that help embrace, celebrate and learn from 'failure'?  Where have you failed and learn from it? What new associations can we add to the word "failure" to help us embrace failing forward for all of its goodness and potential benefit to our community?

I'm giving away two great books from people who have looked at this idea, or challenged it in profound ways.  Share your experience of and ideas about failure and enter to win with The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, or The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan.  (Make sure to note which book you prefer, and follow the comments so you'll know if you won.)

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 idana@ravsak.org

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 yechielhoffman1@gmail.com

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.