2014 NTCjews

I have attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) three times, but this year's conference was my first time participating in NTCJews.  Jews have been gathering at NTC for the past several years. Since I have always been active in the Jewish community – from BBYO to Hillel to Jewish organizations in the DC area, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn about technology with other Jews at the conference.

This year's theme was technology integration, and we heard three mini-case studies from organizations working to get technology out of the IT and Marketing Departments, and in use in service of wider organizational goals.

Alex Kadis from Repair the World shared the strategy behind their volunteer management system.  After selecting and implementing the system, they were faced with issues including staff not making it a priority to enter the data and feature confusion. They learned through this experience the need to devote lots of time and energy to training.  Their key lesson was to make it fun.  They nicknamed the system "Spot" and called the trainings "Talk Nerdy To Me".  Crisp design and a clear message helped get their fellows on board and created the tools to onboard new fellows each year.

Karen Alpert from Hillel International shared how they needed a way to measure impact, analyze which programs work best, and to not lose data. Hillel developed
REACH , a tool for local staff to keep track of how many students they are engaging on college campuses, which also allows Hillel International a wide view of the field.  Even though the database has been successful in meeting their needs, they have been faced with challenges including user input and cultural shift.  Their key lesson was to be clear with staff about why they need to use it.  Younger staff especially will do it if they see it to be part of their job.  Hillel listened to user input and made adjustments such as simplifying the user interface and limiting fields that overwhelmed users visually.

Yaniv Rivlin from The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network shared their experience with Friday Night Hack, an event that was held this past July.  Programmers in both the Silicon Valley and Israel participated in a concurrent hack-a-thon to build two apps. One app was a Jewish college roommate finder for BBYO, and the other app was a continuation of a web application Hasadna started previously to promote the accessibility and transparency of budgetary data in Israel’s municipalities. 

Perhaps the most valuable part of the session was the chance for NTCjews to dive deeply into themes raised in the presentations and submitted by participants prior to the event, such as

• Planning for mobile
• Developing an agile and iterative culture
• Moving people from online to offline engagement
• Technology to engage volunteers
• Technology integration across the organization

I really enjoyed my first NTCJews session and it was one of my favorite sessions at the conference.  It was a great example of a session at NTC as the first two presentations showed a problem the organization had internally, how technology was used to help them solve the problem, and the challenges they faced.  Understanding how leaders recognize and address a problem is much more educational than learning only about best practices.

Finally, it was a delight to be with many of the same people for Shabbat dinner on Friday night and hearing the funny d'var from Rabbi Laura Baum comparing the lessons of Purim to nonprofit technology.  It's nice to be around other Jews.

Emily Weinberg is a nonprofit blogger. Her blog, The Nonprofit Blog Exchange, is a resource for nonprofits where she writes monthly roundups linking to nonprofit blog articles and has been recognized as one of the top 150 nonprofit blogs in the world.  She also writes about nonprofits and social media on her blog, Emily's World. You can learn more on her LinkedIn profile.

A Place for Us to Listen

JCDS started off the 2013-2014 academic year with what I would have considered a strong social media presence. While the school has been active on many social media channels for some time (Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn), most of my focus had been on Facebook, as it is a quick and easy way to share photos, videos, and important updates with our parents, grandparents, donors, and alumni.

Looking back, I wasn't thinking about social media in the right way. While I posted nearly every day, the most engagement I got was a couple of likes here and there. I was posting, not connecting.

Through experimentation over the last six months, I've learned that my role, as the voice of the school on Facebook, is not to be a news source, but to create an environment that starts conversation. Once I was able to get the conversation started, Facebook became a tool unlike any other. It became a place for me to listen to what our audience values, which in the end, is the most important thing of all.

By analyzing the engagement levels and analytics of our recent posts, here are the top 5 Facebook strategies that have been successful for JCDS:

1. Tag those who are involved, and those who you want to be involved.

When you tag someone in a post or photo, it will show up on their Facebook page. Not only will it directly call attention to the person you want to be involved, but your post will also be visible to their network, and therefore, reach many more people who you otherwise would not have access to! I’ve had success asking people to tag themselves and their friends. The benefit of this is twofold: they are actively engaging with the post, and they may tag people who we are not yet connected with.

2. Ask questions.

Asking specific, pointed questions is a great way to get the conversation rolling. Sure, I’ve had a few flops, but those helped me learn what our audience likes to talk about. I've seen success in action in many of my #ThrowbackThursday posts, where I've asked (via tagging) people in the photo specific questions about what's going on in the picture. One comment leads to the next, and pretty soon anyone who sees the photo gets a deeper understanding of what was happening when the photo was taken, and hopefully feels more connected to story I am trying to tell.

3. Be genuine.

In January, JCDS students were surprised with a visit from the 2013 World Series Trophy. First, I posted that we had big news with a photo of one of our staff members dressed as a Red Sox player. The next day, I posted a photo of excited kids (and tagged their parents) and shared that the trophy would be coming. Then — the most successful post of all — was a video of a 4th grade teacher telling the kids that the trophy was coming. Seeing their pure and genuine reaction definitely resonated with our social media audience: 38 likes, 19 comments, and the jackpot, 12 shares. The video was even written about in the local newspaper, the Watertown Patch. This kind of engagement was unprecedented for us.

4. Repeat successful themes.

Between the regular daily posts, I've committed to a few repeating themes. One universal theme, #ThrowbackThursday, has been a great way for us to connect with our alumni and alumni parents. I’ve gotten a tremendously positive response from our throwback photos. Because this is a weekly theme, the audience knows to expect it. And because there are usually a lot of comments, people are not shy to participate.

I also created a new theme, called #JCDSCharacter. I felt it was important to celebrate our students through short stories that capture the spirit of our school. Parents love to see that they are sending their kids to a school that helps them grow into mensches. It's also a great tool for prospective families. Every time a #JCDSCharacter post is shared, a whole new audience is exposed to the great things that happen in our school.

5. Engage with other organizations.

Celebrating successes of other schools and organizations is a beautiful thing! Just as much as we want people to engage with our school Facebook page, it's important to interact with others. While I am on Facebook, I make sure to take the time to look at what other organizations are posting. If they post something that relates to our school or community, I share it on our page. Fostering good-will between organizations is priceless, and the favor is almost always returned.

 

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 15schools 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

Also, check out the Jewish Day School Social Media and Video Academy website, which includes a free self-assessment to help your school focus on key areas of growth in your social media work.

Top Ten Tech Tips Learned from the Book of Esther

Cross-posted with permission from OurJewishCommunity.org

In today’s world, holiday celebration is usually juxtaposed with whatever else is going on at the time.  So it was with my celebration of Purim this year, as I was travelling into the holiday from the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin and the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington DC. I couldn’t help but reflect on Purim in the context of technology, and I discovered that the Book of Esther is full of helpful tech tips!

As background, Purim is one of several Jewish holidays to commemorate the resilience of the Jewish people in the face of oppression (otherwise known as: they came to kill us, we won, let’s eat!).  The main characters in the Book of Esther are King Ahasuerus of Persia; his beautiful first wife Vashti; Haman, an evil official of the king; Mordechai, a kindly Jew; and Queen Esther, the second wife of Ahasuerus, who was Mordechai’s relative and also a Jew.

Another piece of background: There are two ways to approach biblical texts.  One is exegesis.  This involves a careful, objective analysis.  The other is eisegesis, a subjective, non-analytical approach.  It lets us read our own message into the text.  And that’s exactly what I decided to do.  Here's what I learned:

1.  Diversity matters.  Throughout the Nonprofit Technology Conference, many spoke of the importance of diversity in tech teams – the need to include women, minorities, and others who are so often excluded.  Purim celebrates diversity as well.  The cast of characters includes two queens who are quite different from one another, and two courtiers at opposite ends of a good-to-evil continuum.

2. Avoid the shiny object syndrome.  The king’s shiny object was Vashti.  But when he wanted her to prance around naked in front of his friends, she refused.  If he wanted a queen who doubled as a display piece, Vashti wasn’t that woman.  He was wooed by her looks, and never bothered to see if she had the substance needed to accomplish his goals.  Of course, I’m speaking from the king’s perspective of viewing Vashti as a beautiful, objectified woman, rather than from my feminist perspective.  But the parallel holds: with technology, it’s critical that we look past the sexiness of the package to make sure it does what we want.

3. Collect data and ask questions.  Several conference sessions addressed the importance of data.  Haman could have used that lesson.  When King Ahasuerus asked how he would honor a great man, Haman said he would dress that person in royal robes and lead him around on the king’s horse.  Haman assumed the king was talking about him, but it turns out the king was asking how to honor Mordechai.  If Haman had done things thoughtfully, he would have first gathered data and then answered based on that.  We need to make sure our tech decisions are data-driven as well.

4. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come.  Haman built gallows for Mordechai.  But, it turned out that’s not what the community (and in this case, the king) wanted.  In fact, Haman ended up being the guy who was hanged.  So don’t assume that, just because you build something, people will want it.  Maybe you’ll be the only guy using that tech in the end!

5. Go big or go home.  Be loud and bold and crazy.  Like Esther, be yourself. And be willing to make noise.  Wear a mask occasionally.  Experiment with tech.  Try new things on for size.

6. Don’t drink and tweet.  Be responsible.  Though it’s a mitzvah (commandment) to get so drunk on Purim that you don’t know the difference between Drupal and WordPress – or Salesforce and Oracle – drink responsibly.

7. Segment your audience.  If we were writing and disseminating the Book of Esther today, we would share it differently with each audience.  For example, kids would get a text about hamantaschen (cookies), queens, and noisemakers.  Adults would get an email about nudity, drinking, and violence.

8. Think before you hit send.  King Ahasuerus had already decreed that all the Jews should be killed – before Esther told him she was Jewish.  When he wanted to reverse the decree, it was too late. So the story had to end with the king allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and therefore tragically slaying tens of thousands.  He would have been better off not issuing the decree in the first place.

9. Borrow from the past, but decide what to discard.  The Bible is a series of myths and legends.  Its authors were brilliant and creative.  I still look to some of my ancestors’ writings for meaning – but not to all of their stories.  Some are simply not meaningful to us today, so we also create our own authentic stories.  It’s the same with technology.  We have to decide what to hold on to and what no longer serves.

10. Be disruptive.  The Purim story is about disruption.  Mordechai changed history by refusing to bow to Haman.  Vashti disobeyed the king.  Esther disrupted the norms too.  In an effort to save the Jews, she appeared before the king without having first been summoned – a clear violation of royal protocol.  The authors of the Book of Esther knew that it is through disruption that society moves forward, just as disruptive technology helps us create new markets and value streams today. 
As someone who values the ongoing evolution of the Jewish experience, I celebrate disruptive Judaism and disruptive technology.  Through disruption, innovation happens. Meaningful experiences emerge.

Laura Baum is rabbi and co-founder of OurJewishCommunity.org, an online synagogue that reaches hundreds of thousands of people around the world.  Follow her on Twitter @Rabbi .

Is Your Day School Ready To Take the Social Media Leap?

Originally posted on the AVI CHAI Foundation Blog

Enhancing your social media and video use can be hard and sometimes daunting work. But never fear: if you are curious about how to up your online presence across platforms, you can now access the collective resources and learnings from The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy and Jewish Day School Video Academy programs on a new website!

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is a year-long intensive program now in its third cohort which helps schools mature their social media use to achieve specific goals, such as recruitment, alumni engagement, community building, and fundraising. The Jewish Day School Video Academy is a contest and program created to help schools use video to support their goals. Since the inception of these programs, we’ve seen some patterns emerge that lead us to two important lessons about advancing your school’s work.

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know. Often, schools will think they’re doing a fine job with their Facebook page when, in fact, they aren’t using it to the fullest to accomplish their goals. Consider this: you can be proud of yourself when you’ve just memorized your multiplication tables, but you have no idea that there’s more to learn in algebra, or how this new knowledge could actually be useful.
  2. It’s easy to stick to what you do know. Staff (and in some schools, volunteers) who are excited about social media and video often focus on activities that they know and love, doubling down on what they are already doing well while ignoring other areas that need maturation. Perhaps you’re really good at live tweeting events and photos in real time, but haven’t yet ventured into creating purposeful and high quality videos to market your school. Or you love telling stories, but haven’t been tracking metrics to understand: What tone of voice (for example: serious or funny?), time of day, or visual content gets the most engagement, or farthest reach?

After working with Academy participants to help them understand these two points, we wondered: How can we help you understand where you have room to grow and mature, and then help you take important next steps? How can we support you in trying new things, integrating digital tools into your communications and development work, and rounding out your social media skill set to advance your school’s mission and goals?

To help you and your school advance your work, this week we are launching the Jewish Day School Social Media and Video Academy website, which includes a powerful assessment tool that will help you identify what you’re doing well, where (and how) you can improve, and in which areas you should be investing your time and energy. After completing the assessment, you’ll receive personalized recommendations from the Academy designers and experts from Darim Online (an organization dedicated to advancing the Jewish community by helping Jewish organizations align their work for success in the digital age) and See3 Communications (a digital communications agency that works with nonprofits and social causes to engage and activate people) to help guide and inform your next steps.

The website also includes a wide array of resources: recorded webinars where you can learn to tell your story through video and develop strategies to engage alumni, helpful articles, award-winning videos made by day schools, and examples of best practices in social media.

We’ve designed this site for you to have ah-ha moments, to feel excited and inspired, and to think, “Oh yeah, I should do that!”  We also hope the recommendations it provides will be great guidelines for your team and administration to prioritize which approaches to pursue, what professional development is most necessary, and where to focus your social media investments.

Want to connect with other Jewish day schools using social media in creative ways? You can also join the JDS Social Media Academy Facebook Group!

Its Not About The Likes. Reach Higher in Your Online Alumni Engagement.

Originally posted on EJewishPhilanthropy

As part of the #NetTalks Alumni Engagement Webinar Series, Beth Kanter, nonprofit social media and engagement guru, taught an important lesson during her recent presentation: you must invest in building your online alumni ecosystem, and then you can turn to activating it to achieve your stated goals.

You don’t just want people to “like” you. And you don’t actually want them to start engaging the moment they become alumni. And you don’t really want to share information about your program with them. Really.

Why?

  • Because “liking” your Facebook page or your content is just the beginning. It’s potential, but it’s not the goal. You want alumni to follow you, engage, advocate for you, and donate. The “like” is merely one early step along this path.
  • Because beginning to engage should happen before they become alumni – focus on developing long term relationships and mature communication channels that flow in both directions!
  • And finally, because you want to be in conversation with alumni, not broadcasting information at them.

Building your online alumni ecosystem cannot be based on one-directional broadcasts, nor rest primarily on reminiscing about the past. The opportunity to leverage social media and networks is huge, but requires that we pivot our approach to be more empowering, more conversational, and more personal. (Join the next webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19th to learn about “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”.)

Take this example from URJ Camp Kalsman: When beginning to hire staff for the summer, they turned to their alumni (and potentially current older campers and parents of current campers) on Facebook to ask, “We are in the midst of hiring our summer staff and we want to hear from you! What do you love to see in a camp counselor?” By asking a question, the camp invites engagement, values the perspective and experience of alumni, and gains important insight for their future hiring. They’ve moved from “liking” to “engaging” and those who respond actually may influence the experience of future campers.

Beth also showed several examples from schools that are using reminiscing as an entry point to strengthen their network. Their “Throwback Thursday” photos are intended to go beyond reminiscing – they are getting alumni to tag their friends in the group photos, which creates or re-creates a strong group dynamic and builds energy.” It’s not about the school, it’s about the relationships that were fostered there. The Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn, NY had 78 comments on a photo from the 1970′s, as alumni talked with each other and reconnected with old friends.

Moving from engagement to activation, The Jewish Community High School of the Bay featured photos of beloved teachers and coaches holding signs (“Coach says GIVE!”) that prompted alumni to join in the communal effort to reach their fundraising goal – tagging friends to contribute and asking for photos of their favorite faculty.

Social media is social as much (or more so) than it is media. As a professional seeking to engage and activate your alumni community, consider yourself more “party host” than “alumni magazine editor”. To play this role, you must have the right tools in your toolbox and know how to use them. However, doing it well goes far beyond technical proficiency. Be a good listener, steward conversations, and empower your biggest fans to enrich the network with their voice, actions and relationships.

If you missed Beth’s webinar, view her presentation here. To learn more about activating an alumni network, join the next #NetTalks webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19 on “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”. Register here.

Tips for An Effective Professional Presence Online

Cross-posted from Clips and Phrases

I was putting together a presentation for Jewish communal folks on developing an effective professional presence online, including some bits about the personal/professional continuum, some about reputation management, some about privacy vs. publicy, and other technical tips. Before I finished the presentation, I asked my network: What advice would you give? Here are their answers…

Rebecca: Creating separate lists for professional contacts and adjusting privacy settings accordingly.

Arnie: Ask questions consistently. Value people’s responses. Engage them in conversation. Respect them. Maintain a sense of humor and a sense of perspective.

Deborah: Just like in in-person communication, consider verbal, vocal (tone) and non-verbal (appearance). They all make an impact.

Stephanie: Nothing is truly personal. You must always represent yourself professionally, even in your personal spaces (i.e., your hobby blog, your “personal” Twitter.

Liz: Don’t just “sell” your programs and/or yourself. Also answer others’ posts, share others’ ideas/posts, participate in the on-line community.

Peter: Be a digital role model (easier said then done).

Ken: Don’t just talk to your own pals. Better yet: try and make new pals, as often as possible.

Lisa: Be generous — respond when people ask or share. Also, re Stephanie’s comment which I 100% agree with, look at the ratios of personal sharing, professional sharing/promoting, generosity/appreciation for others, network engagement, etc. Only a small percentage should be the cute things your kids said (that don’t relate to anything else), otherwise professional contacts will have a hard time taking you seriously. All about the ratios.

Mimi: Connecting with people authentically, keeping things light/funny (the new professional) and warm! AUTHENTIC. GENUINE. REAL. HONEST. (Grabbing my thesuarus here ;)).

Asaf: To the point about reputation maintenance online, I think the best term is personal branding. I think from a professional point of view, people should consider their online presence as supporting the brand that is them. This relates to what they post,where they post, and to whom they post.

Isaac: To be a brand you need to have a consistent voice, tone, message and point of view. To be a personal brand, the above needs to be authentic and closely connected to your actual personality and style.

Big thanks to everyone who contributed to this post! Check out the presentation here.
What advice would YOU give?

3 Rules for Buying New Technology

Originally published on Sage70.com

Whether you’re just switching over from Constant Contact to Mailchimp, or taking the plunge and implementing a custom Salesforce solution, change is hard. For all the promised benefits of new technology, the success rate for adopting new tools is low, and that’s frightening.

What can leaders do to help staff adopt new technologies successfully?

Technology change isn’t easy. Workers need to adopt a new workflow, re-learn how to perform familiar tasks, sometimes on new equipment that they’re not familiar with. To help ease the transition, here are three rules for IT change management.

 

3 Rules for Users and Technology Change

  • New tools must be generous to the user. If users need to put information into the system, then they must be rewarded with useful and relevant information out of the system right away. If users need to interact with the system frequently, it should be user-friendly and accessible from within the user’s normal workflow.
  • Systems that are used prospectively are adopted more easily than systems that are used retrospectively. In other words, tools that ask people to report on their work are less attractive and relevant to users than tools that make their work easier to do.
  • Everyone who uses the new tool has the right to give feedback and receive training. If you need a lot of people to stop using one system and begin using another, getting their feedback about the move, providing training, and then getting feedback again is critical. It helps buy more people into the process, allays some fears, and can help identify unexpected problems or issues. Remember, some users will need training for even the most intuitive tools.

Technology change is really about people. New tools should help them do their job by providing new data and insights, simpler workflows, and more time leverage. If you’re considering a technology “upgrade” that doesn’t provide that to your organization, you may be headed down the wrong path. Listen to your employees, provide training up front, and let users experience the benefits of the new tool as soon as possible.

Isaac is the president and founder of Sage70, Inc. Isaac brings over a decade of experience in the non-profit and for-profit venture ecosystems. Isaac has served as Executive Director of Storahtelling, COO of Birthright Israel NEXT and is an experienced technologist and strategist.

Monday Web Favorites: A JewPoint0 2013 Retrospective

As 2013 winds down, I found myself poring over past JewPoint0 blog posts. A LOT of stories, insightful moments, cool tools, and practical wisdom has been handed down in these pages. I thought I'd take a moment to share some of my favorites from the year that's passed…

  • Four Lessons for Maturing Your Social Media Practice: Evidence from the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy – All of our social media academy and boot camp participants share amazing moments, and it's tough to choose one or two to highlight…so here's a post that brings you some great moments from not one, not two, but ten different institutions. What a bargain, eh? One of my favorite take-aways from this post is the idea that social media is about people, not technology. Keep that in mind and you're already ahead of the game.
     
  • Using Social Media to Strengthen Culture of Welcome – I especially love this small moment shared in an overall lovely and reflective post by Rabbi Ed Bernstein, "…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.”

    This must have been such a powerful moment for this woman, for Rabbi Bernstein, and a potentially meaningful one for dozens of others who saw the interaction. I commend the Rabbi not only for his actions in this situation, but for sharing this story here; it’s a great example of transparency and what it means to live and learn in the connected age.

  • Two posts about thankfulness: Thankful and Being Thankful – Ellen Dietrick's post "Thankful" is not only a great story, but shares some clever tools for generating, and repurposing, content from and with your community. Michael Hoffman's "Being Thankful" is a super practical guide to showing appreciation to the people who help make your work happen, all year round.

We're looking for new stories and new voices to share in 2014!

Have a bit of insight, a great case study, a cool resource or tool and interesting implementation, a personal reflection, or a big question you want to pose to the community? We'd love to hear it, and perhaps share it here. Be in touch with Miriam Brosseau in the comments or over email to find out about guest blogging. Here's to another year of learning together.

Network Weaving is Like Starting a Band

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

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

(Photo credit: Flickr user ryry9379)

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

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ross Mayfield)

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

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

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

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

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