Designing for Social: Nefesh bNefesh New Contests

Marketing is one thing.  Designing intentionally for social engagement is another thing all together.   This is a story of a very fun creative process that has resulting in two contests announced this week.

Nefesh b’Nefesh (the Israel org that promotes and facilitates aliyah by minimizing the financial, professional, logistical, and social obstacles to doing so) approached us eager to “amplify the conversation about aliyah in the American Jewish community”.   While they have helped bring tens of thousands of new immigrants to Israel, discussion of aliyah isn’t really normalized in the American Jewish community. So, what can social media to do help?

The key to social media is the social more than the media.  The challenge was to create content that wasn’t talking AT people, but talking WITH people.  And further content that people in those conversations would want to share with their friends and family, leveraging networks to spread the word. That’s designing for social.

First, we identified key target audiences who are ripe for considering aliyah and are also highly engaged in social media.  While many who are retiring may consider moving to Israel, they are not the target “highly social online” demographic we sought.  The two we landed on: Those getting married and starting to shape a new life together; and those seeking exciting employment in a tough economy.

Next, how to get those groups talking about aliyah?  We helped Nefesh b’Nefesh design two contents: The Best Job Contest and The Wedding Gift Challenge.   In the Best Job Contest winners will be awarded paid jobs with top rate companies based in Israel such as SodaStream, IBM, and The Times of Israel, among others.  In the Wedding Gift Challenge, winners will prize money to help start their life in Israel, and/or IKEA shopping sprees and vineyard tours. 

In the contests, participants are evaluated based on votes on their contest page, and in the Job Contest, also on creating online content (blogs, video, tweets, etc.) about their process of deciding and planning to make aliyah.  By incentivizing those considering aliyah to make their thinking and planning transparent, the participants themselves are amplifying the conversation about aliyah in their social networks.  Which, we assume, largely also fall into the target demographic we seek to reach.

Every organization has a mission, but that doesn’t mean the staff alone are responsible for bringing that mission to life.  If your goal is wide communal action, change of perception, or something as bold as amplifying a conversation about aliyah through the American Jewish community, you can’t rely on direct messaging alone, whether that’s by mail, email, Facebook page or otherwise.   It’s time to engage your constituents as your ambassadors and evangelists.  How are you doing it?

Know someone considering aliyah?  There’s loot to be won!  Check out the Best Wedding Gift and Best Job Contest and spread the word!

The Neverending Haggadah

Every Passover, Jews around the world gather at the Seder table to re-tell one of the greatest stories ever: the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. As much as we love tradition, this year we are giving the Seder ritual a new twist—and we want you to join us!

So, how will this Passover be different from all other Passovers?

Because we are forgoing ye olde faithful Maxwell House Haggadah! We are working with our friends at Haggadot.com to pilot their new group collaboration tool to create an online (and downloadable) crowd-sourced Haggadah. Are you up to the challenge for collectively creating a never-ending Haggadah? This is your chance to share content that will add color and depth to another Seder and also to find content that will make your Seder more meaningful. It’s a Haggadah of reciprocity!

5 Steps to Contribute

  • Explore Haggadot.com and select 1-2 parts of the Haggadahthat speak to you. Having trouble deciding? We are happy to help you brainstorm.

    • Letter to My Old Master, from a freed African American slave to his former master, asking for his wages for 30 years of service.
    • An English translation of the Seder’s popular, concluding song, “Chad Gadya” (One Goat) with a translation based on the version retold by the Igbo people ofNigeria
    • The Four Adults, a take on the Four Children that reminds us that as adults we have a lot to learn from youth, especially when it comes to social justice. 
  • Upload your content here.  For each section of the haggadah, you may upload original writings, artwork or scan in selections from homemade or non-copyrighted haggadot. . Get creative! Tell your story with a photo, video, tweet, art or a traditional text story. Can you rap? Are you a master puppeteer? Can you say a blessing in pig-Latin? “But hey,” you say, “I already have something created!” Great, new or already published works are welcome! Watch this video that walks users through the simple process of creating and submitting content to Haggadot.com. 
  • Build your Haggadah. Use the content you have uploaded, mix and match it with other contributions on Haggadot.com and, voila, you have your own custom, printable Haggadah. Better add seats to your Seder table!
  • Get your friends to contribute and spread the word. Know some people who might want to contribute content? Know others who would want to mix and match content to create their own Haggadah? Send them this post and our digital toolkit! If you post it online, be sure to use #NeverendingHaggadah. Anyone can contribute and also use the content they find to curate and download a free Haggadah for their Seder. Let’s spread the word.
  • Join our webinar. Still unsure about this whole creating your own Haggadah business? We will be hosting a webinar with Eileen Levinson, the founder of Haggadot.com, on March 13 at 1 pm EST. She will provide tips for creating an interactive Haggadah and how to use it in your Seder. For more information and to register for the webinar, click here.

Learn more about The Neverending Haggadah here. If you have any questions, please send them to share@schusterman.org.

 

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.

Connected Congregations: Launching a Blog Carnival

We are stepping through the threshold of a new age.  Connected, individually empowered, globalized, diverse and personalized.    The technologies of today are far more than digital communication tools – they are transforming society at an increasingly rapid rate, with important implications and opportunities for the Jewish community.

Synagogues in particular are in the spotlight in this moment of transformation.  When communities are self-organizing, and individuals are seeking “anytime, anywhere” involvement, the structures of synagogue business models, programs and culture are often resonating less and less with those we seek to engage.

In partnership with UJA Federation of New York, and inspired by the work of Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, June Holley and many others, Darim Online is launching an initiative to explore what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits.  We call them Connected Congregations. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.

As we seek to create rich, connected congregations, investing in relationships is the foundation on which everything else is built.  Like fabric that’s made up of individual threads woven together, the strength of the community is dependent on the strength and character of both each individual thread (relationships) and the tightness and pattern of their weave.

But being a weaver and knitting a healthy and vibrant community takes more than good intentions.  It means knocking down ‘fortress walls’ (in the language of The Networked Nonprofit), pivoting our culture, evolving our staffing structure, and remaking our structures of leadership.  It takes real change, and active stewardship of that change over several years. There’s a lot of research and work to come for all of us. 

As we get started, we’re launching a blog carnival on Connected Congregations.  Over the next few months we’ll be handing the microphone of this blog to many smart people both from within and outside of the Jewish community, and some who straddle both worlds.  We’ll be encouraging them to share their ideas, their work, their insights and observations in order to develop a narrative and invite you into a conversation about being – and becoming – a Connected Congregation.

You can follow this series of posts on our blog by searching for #connectedcongs on our site, and following the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #connectedcongs.   Do you have a story or insight to share?  Contact Lisa Colton if you’d like to be considered for participation in the blog carnival.

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.

Becoming the Leader of a Networked Nonprofit: The Jewish Enrichment Center

Right before Thanksgiving, Caren Levine (Darim’s Learning Network lady extraordinaire) suggested that I write a blog post about how we think about out work at the Jewish Enrichment Center as a networked nonprofit. We are not a networked nonprofit, I thought. At least not yet. But now, months later, I can see that we’ve come a long way.

Early in our planning, a few of us read The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. I was inspired by the book’s vision of a nonprofit that’s connected with its volunteers, transparent in its business, and nimble – able to shift internally, quickly, to meet emerging needs. “Do what you do best, and network the rest,” Kanter and Fine told me. As a startup with limited resources, it sounded heavenly to have a community of volunteers sharing the workload. I was hooked.

But I'm not naturally a network person. I'm the kind of person who reclassifies emails as unread, pretending I’ll answer them someday. At the time I read the book, I had never written a blog post, was never chosen by my family to take pictures (who wants a blurry, back-lit photo?), and couldn’t imagine why facebook was a good use of my time.

But Kanter and Fine had held out this tantalizing vision of what the Jewish Enrichment Center could be, and I was certain we COULD realize it in our community, if only I’d learn some new skills – online and off. So I applied for help through Darim’s Boot Camp. How would my much younger sister-in-law put it? Oh, yeah. Best. Decision. Ever.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about being a networked nonprofit:

  • Listen. The most important thing I can do is go out and listen, online and on the ground. I’ll find out what people in my community care about. I’ll discover where parents are already online talking with each other, and I can join in the conversation.
  • Permanent beta. It’s a gigantic (and rewarding!) task to create an innovative new model of Jewish enrichment. Our mindset has to be permanent beta: what matters is that we stay true to our vision of partnering with children in Jewish exploration. The logistics of it all – they’re fluid. So we experiment, trying new ways to partner and new online tools to build relationships around Jewish engagement. We embed regular reflection into all aspects of our work. And when something doesn’t work, well, it’s frustrating, but also okay, because we knew from the start that not everything would sparkle. We move forward.
  • Be transparent. Speak authentically. As nervous as I was about opening up our work to the public, creating a blog that details our day-to-day partnership with children may have been the single most important step we took in connecting with our community. Those pictures of children really DO tell a thousand words. Parents, grandparents, folks local and national – all can get a true taste of what it’s like to be part of the Jewish Enrichment Center.
  • Listen harder. Because our deepest human desire is to be seen, to be known for who we are. I want every child, every parent, every person who interacts with the Jewish Enrichment Center to know that their contribution matters.

The response has been extraordinary. It seems that the more we share and the harder we listen, online and in person, the closer people grow to the Jewish Enrichment Center and to each other. When I share our needs or struggles (now THAT took some getting used to), people offer their help. Or at least their empathy, which I appreciate, too. We seem to be developing a communal sense that we’re all in this together. Our success is shared success.

We still have a long way to go. I want to do a better job facilitating relationships around Jewish engagement, and I don’t yet understand how to use our Facebook page and tweets to keep in-person conversations going. I also want us to be braver, making even more parts of our organization transparent. For example, I love this dashboard at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and wonder how we might make our own finances and stats more transparent (and generate a little more financial love in the process).

What have you learned on the path to becoming a networked nonprofit?

Rabbi Rebecca Milder is the Director of The Jewish Enrichment Center, and was a participant in the Social Media Boot Camp for Educators, which is generously funded by The Covenant Foundation.  She tweets at @remilder

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!

Drum Roll Please*… Announcing Our New Cohort of Educators

Darim Online is thrilled to announce our 2012-2013 cohort for our Social Media Boot Camp for Educators. The Social Media Boot Camp for Educators is a year long experience for Jewish educators and Jewish educational organizations to help them advance their use of social media for marketing, communications, family engagement and curricular uses.  The program has been generously funded by the Covenant Foundation since 2008.

This cycle Darim received dozens of compelling applications from a wide range of organizations.  The cohort was selected based on organizational readiness, innovation in organizational structure and/or program, risk taking, and team formation, among other attributes.  Those chosen represent a diverse group of established and start up organizations seeking to mature their operations, advance their curriculum, and take important risks to move themselves and their communities forward.  Of note this year, the number of Jewish Day Schools applying for the program swelled significantly.

And now, please welcome the members of our 2012-13 Social Media Boot Camp for Jewish Educators:

Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, Chicago, IL
www.bzaeds.org
Integrate social media learning platforms for student, educator, parent collaboration and engagement, with accompanying professional development.
Team Leader: Derek Gale, Director of Communications

Congregation Shearith Israel, Dallas, TX
www.shearith.org
Convey Jewish education and positive identity through the model of the Mishkan by shifting the current learning model from grade based classroom to  learning centers, family education opportunities, celebration of Jewish holidays, retreats, religious services, trips, and more.
Team Leader: Dina Eliezer, School Director

Edah: Center for Jewish Living and Learning/Jewish Community Federation, Oakland, CA
www.edahcommunity.org
Outreach to unaffiliated or unusually affiliated Jews to engage them in Edah programming as well as in Jewish life more generally; and, tap the potential of online, at-home family learning opportunities.
Team Leader: Ariela Ronay-Jinich, Education Director

Graduate Center for Education, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, CA
http://maed.ajula.edu
Expand the Center’s reach as a convener of conversations and disseminator of ideas for educators and parents/lay community; incubate new learning models that effectively wed learning objectives with social media; and, recruit talent into the field of Jewish education.
Team Leader: Miriam Heller Stern, Ph.D., Dean, Graduate Center for Education

Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, Providence, RI
www.jcdsri.org
Integrate 21st Century skills into teaching across the curriculum, into marketing and outreach, internal marketing, and into ways the school collaborates internally and externally not only with the greater Jewish community and agencies, but with the larger Providence civic community as well.
Team Leader: Shari Weinberger, Curriculum Coordinator

LanderGrinspoon Academy, The Solomon Schechter School of the Pioneer Valley, Northampton, MA
www.lgaschechter.org
Create a portal through which parents experience Jewish education that will result in increased parent engagement and enthusiasm with Judaism at home and in their own lives, that will in turn, support student learning and enthusiasm in classrooms; and, help parents feel more confident in their own Jewishness and inspire their participation with wider Jewish community organizations and activities.
Team Leader: Marla Shelasky, Director of Admissions & Marketing

Mensch Modules: Jewish Virtues for Living, A Collaborative Effort of The Women’s Jewish Learning Center and The Learning Shuk, Scottsdale, AZ
http://womenlearning.org
http://www.thelearningshuk.com
Create Do-It-Yourself educational modules for parents on character development in children. Drawing on texts from the Mussar tradition, these modules will offer digitally friendly but intellectually compelling content that will allow parents to consider topics of great importance to family life and child-rearing.
Team Leader: Rabbi Elana Kanter, Director of The Women’s Jewish Learning Center/Content Creator for Mensch Modules

Portland Jewish Academy, Portland, OR
www.portlandjewishacademy.org
Leverage social media to enhance student learning and engagement across the curriculum, and to embed digital citizenship and media literacy skills as a natural part of the instructional experience.
Team Leader: Sarah Blattner, Technology Integration Specialist

RAVSAK: Community Day School Network, New York, NY
www.ravsak.org
Further develop their work as a networked organization to better connect school leaders and enhance their abilities to learn together and from one another through peer-mentoring, website resources, online forums and face to face gatherings.
Team Leader: Idana Goldberg, Associate Executive Director

Temple Sinai, Denver, CO
http://sinaidenver.org
Create authentic connections with families and develop user-friendly ways to provide them with materials to supplement in-school experiences with parallel “home shul” experiences, both academically and socially.
Team Leader: Elyse Adlen, Preschool Director

In addition to the coaching and consulting offered to each of the chosen team, Darim will be presenting a series of webinars over the coming year with a focus on innovation and social media in Jewish education. These webinars are open to the entire field at no cost.  To be notified of the schedule as the series is confirmed, please register to join the Darim Online Learning Network at http://www.darimonline.org/register

*We promised you a drum roll… click away for your choice of audio accompaniment!

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.

Social Media: The Illuminated Megillah

There’s a lot of buzz about the increasingly image-driven nature of social media. At the forefront of this discussion is the latest hot social network, Pinterest. But it’s not only this virtual pinboard. Everywhere you look, memes are being generated to better marry words and pictures, kinetic typography videos are turning letters into animations, and infographics illuminate otherwise meaningless statistics. Pictures are the most highly engaged content on Facebook. Where is all this coming from? pinterest boards Image Credit: Thomas Hawk I’ve recently been reading a book by Dan Roam called “Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work.” It’s a fun and thoughtful read, definitely recommended. At the heart of Roam’s argument is essentially this: our brain works in details (words) and big ideas (pictures). We’re enamored with words, and we’re very good at them, but we’ve lost some connection with the picture part of our brain. Pictures are primal; they represent the earliest form of visual communication (think cave drawings). Pictures are evocative, emotional. They really are, as the saying goes, worth a thousand words. The image trend in social media is helping us reconnect with this essential part of ourselves. cavepainting Image Credit: williamcromar Just as importantly, pictures help us tell stories. I love graphic novels for just this reason. There’s a big difference between describing a frightening moment, or a sensual smile, or tears of joy, and literally drawing that out. While words help us understand and frame thoughts, pictures bring those thoughts to life in powerful ways. And we need them both – words and pictures work together to give us a fuller picture of the world around us. This is a huge opportunity for Jewish organizations. Words, pictures, and stories – this is what social media is all about…and we’ve got plenty of all three elements to share. Perhaps even more importantly, though, is the opportunity social media offers us to listen to others’ stories; their words and pictures strung together, the way they’ve framed their ideas and the things they care about. Social media gives us the structure to open up in new and meaningful ways, and there’s a wealth of things to learn. So in the spirit of Purim, I challenge every one of us to think deeply about the pictures we use, the words we choose, and the stories we tell. Social media spaces can help us craft our own illuminated Megillah, telling and celebrating the narratives of our people. It can also help us hear others’ stories, if we only listen. megillah1 Image Credit: victor408

The Emerging Field of Network Weavers

After in-depth conversations with around 30 network-weavers in the Jewish world as part of my Network-Weaver Series, I have seen that there are a lot of really passionate people building networks that are quite impressive – and the term “network-weaving” resonates with many of them quite deeply. It puts a descriptive word to what they do in connecting others toward a greater cause; and more importantly, it acknowledges that they are not alone in doing it. On a parallel level, more and more organizations are becoming aware of the possibilities of working with networks that can drive forward causes and campaign, build and unite communities, and provide support and resources that bolster Jewish identity. Yet there is confusion and imprecision in terminology – most notably, the term “network” itself. Once a network is properly understood to be a system of interconnected individuals or groups who share some factor(s) in common, it is not always clear how to integrate work with networks into one’s day-to-day activities. How do we support and strengthen the execution of this role in our organizations, and in the community as a whole? Based on my conversations, I believe three parallel tracks are necessary to make the Jewish world’s already invaluable efforts – in education, social services, community-building, social justice, and on – more effective and connected:

  1. Training: Organizations, their leadership, and their professionals well-positioned to build and sustain networks should gain a greater understanding of how networks operate and how to work in a networked way. This training will be most effective if it includes a continuum of learning the theory and practicing it in action.
  2. Connecting: Network-weavers across organizations need to be connected to support one another, share frustrations and best practices, find resources (including people, information, and funds), and collaborate;
  3. Professionalizing: These steps and others will build toward the professionalization of the field of Jewish network-weaving – which will create a commonly accepted terminology of network-weaving, its challenges and benefits. With this understanding, it will become more standard for organizations to incorporate network-weaving into their job descriptions and their strategy.

The fact is that professionals across the spectrum of Jewish nonprofits are already weaving networks – that is, connecting people with resources and each other for greater goals. Communications and alumni relations professionals and those in outreach, education, and young adult engagement are just some examples. In my interviews, I have observed many common themes amongst those who excel at network-weaving positions. These include a desire to get to know others due to an insatiable curiosity for and fundamental love of people; a knack for retaining knowledge about others so as to formulate helpful connections between disparate parties on the spot; and an ability to employ these talents and others for the sake of driving forward projects, and ultimately missions. Yet while many of the network-weavers I interviewed spoke of the innate and intuitive “people skills” their work entails, there are tools, technologies, as well as theory and strategy behind building networks, which have a firm academic foundation that can be learned and applied. Furthermore, I believe that network-weaving throughout the Jewish world will become increasingly effective as network-weavers learn to practice a greater degree of intentionality – a consciousness first and foremost of the larger vision they are seeking to achieve, and then an understanding of how networks operate and how they can be strategically leveraged toward those goals. The process of training, connecting, and professionalizing that I have laid out will help those who are currently in network-weaving roles to become more effective – as well as those who are naturally adept at network-weaving characteristics (such as relationship-building) and would like to fill professional network-weaving roles to grow into them. This, therefore, would also tremendously benefit the organizations network-weaving positions are housed in, and the Jewish world as a whole. Considering that so many organizations and individuals are currently exploring the path of building networks, I believe it only makes sense to find ways to weave our efforts together. Network-weaving sounds highly theoretical until you try to put it into practice. At the point when talk begins to translate into action, everyone will need to support one another through the challenges and combine our energies and resources toward the solutions. What do you think needs to happen in order for this field to be professionalized? What do you need in your organization and/or as a network-weaver? How have you created organizational change, and what do you dream of for the future? If you would like to be a part of these efforts, please contact me! Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor and Publisher of PresenTense Magazine. This post is cross-posted on Deborah’s blog, hachavaya.blogspot.com, as a part of her ongoing conversation series with network-weavers about their best practices. Deborah has published many of these interviews and other network weaving thoughts on eJewishPhilanthropy.com too.