Creating Conversations and Giving Everyone a Voice: Talent Recruitment at Hillel

Instead of simply posting job openings, we use this space to highlight the great work happening at Hillels around the world, where students are engaged students in Jewish life, learning and Israel.  As a result of all this, hired, we have completely changed our outlook on how social media functions for our organization.

In the spring of 2012, Hillel’s Human Resources team set out to play a more active role on social media to help us better recruit for Hillel, share job listings, tell our story, and grow our presence online.  Under advisement from our new Digital Media Manager, Monica Herman, we worked to define strategies we could use in the social media space. We quickly realized that it had to be about conversations. While this seems natural on our personal Facebook accounts, it’s actually something that can get lost in organizational social media. Followers want to be engaged in the conversation with your organization, not just reading posts, no matter how fabulous what you have to say may be. 

We determined who we wanted to hear from, and what we wanted to talk about. For Hillel’s HR team, that was job seekers, former and current Hillel professionals, graduating college seniors and graduate students, potential professionals, partner agencies, placement professionals, and the wider Jewish community.  That’s a LOT of constituents and a lot of different messages!  We have found that, when we tell our story through the voices of those we impact, many of our stakeholders join the conversation in meaningful ways.  They get to tell their story through the lens of Hillel.  The organization is no longer the only voice, which is a good thing!  Showcasing your organization’s diverse population and encouraging your people to share improves relationships and communication for everyone.

For example, we launched a blog post series highlighting why our professionals love what they do.  This forum enables them to tell their stories and share what resonates with them about their jobs.  The professional benefits from great PR for their local Hillel and provides them with a platform to talk about their journey and what their career means to them.  We know our stakeholders enjoy hearing directly from someone on campus about how they are making an impact or working through an issue. Colleagues also share these stories with their own networks, and comment on their peers’ experiences. In addition, from an HR perspective, potential job seekers can learn from these posts how they could fit into an organization like Hillel, and even contact the professional directly to learn more. Far better than the HR recruiter posting 10 reasons why it’s fun to work at Hillel, right?

We identified the specific social media channels that were better suited for different types of conversations than others.  Originally, we used Facebook to post every new job as they came up. Now, we use a dedicated Twitter profile for that, and direct active job seekers there for real-time updates on what’s new. We also follow job-hunting resources and share links, tips and strategies on the interview process and how to manage a job search.  Updates from @Hillel_Jobs are also shared with the broader Hillel Twitter account, @HillelFJCL, raising visibility to a broader group of stakeholders. Using LinkedIn, we explore the benefits of working for Hillel, and share and discuss relevant articles and trends in the job market and hiring practices. Candidates can also find me, a real face, in case they’re interested in learning more.

With this new social media strategy in place, we’ve broadened our presence across multiple channels. Hillel's Facebook page engages directly with students, parents, professionals, partner organizations and supporters. Instead of simply posting job openings, we use this space to highlight the great work happening at Hillels around the world, where students are engaged students in Jewish life, learning and Israel.  As a result of all this, we have completely changed our outlook on how social media functions for our organization.

We don’t have all the answers yet, and there’s much more that we will learn around this, but we’re excited to be engaged in the conversation! We’d welcome a discussion about what’s working for your organization and what challenges you’re facing around this issue.

Aviva Zucker Snyder has been the lead Talent Recruiter for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life since 2009, after starting her career in Jewish student life, and later as the Executive Director at University at Albany Hillel from 2002-2008.  You can find her on LinkedIn, where she spends a lot of time networking.  When not online or on the phone, she’s either training for a half marathon or running after her almost-5 year old, Noa.


Learning to Like Facebook


“How do you get people to ‘like’ you?” is not usually a question of much concern to a group of academics, but that’s exactly the challenge we took on when our team at American Jewish University’s Graduate Center for Education endeavored to create a new communications channel to expand our online community of alumni, students, colleagues and friends through Facebook this year. Without a communications department or dedicated staffer to build our social media presence, it’s been hard to consistently lean in to our Facebook ambitions without getting carpal tunnel. That being said, we’ve come away from Darim’s Social Media Boot Camp for Educators with some great strategies for managing and promoting the page, with the valued input of our fantastic coach Debra Askanase:

1) Develop and implement a content calendar.

2) Keep experimenting with different kinds of content, and check the analytics regularly to monitor what the fans want.

3) Based on #2, we discovered that our fans love and share photos, videos and announcements of awards the most.

4) Post regularly and consistently to keep up the flow of traffic.

5) Don’t feel sheepish about buying likes (which we haven’t tried yet).

While we are proud of what we have developed so far, a challenge is that there are members of our community missing out on our shiny new vehicle for sharing content, good and welfare and relevant education news and links. Not all of our constituents (alumni and Jewish education professionals) are on Facebook. Not everyone who is on Facebook uses Facebook for professional interests. Not everyone who is on Facebook checks Facebook. And so on.  We are still wondering: how many of our constituents use Facebook for really engaging with professional content?

Personally, I entered Darim’s Boot Camp committed to a pretty solid boundary between the personal and professional when it came to Facebook, resisting the invitations to post professional content and reserving my Facebook use for sharing photos of my kids with actual friends and (and viewing photos of their kids). Now I’m kvelling over the latest accomplishments of our students and alumni, sharing education news items and op-eds of interest, reflecting on the teachers who have inspired me, and posting photos of my students and campus, all with a couple of quick clicks on the Pages Manager app on my droid.  My new use of Facebook has become a vehicle for work/life integration in surprising ways.

So after a few months of work, the Graduate Center for Education’s Facebook page now bears the unique stamp of our learning community and the personalities and professional interests of the faculty leadership. We discovered that Facebook is a medium that can easily convey our institutional culture of intellectual curiosity, passion for creative education, sincere caring for members of our community and deep appreciation for the hard work and commitment of educators. We can be serious and playful in one space.

We’re a boutique graduate school of education, and we take a lot of pride in the warm and nurturing yet rigorous and professional learning culture that defines the “in-person” experience of being an AJU student. With the help of the Darim Social Media Boot Camp, we have slowly begun to transmit that culture online through our Facebook presence. Our next step is to share the love with an ever-growing circle of fans! You don’t have to be an AJU affiliate to join; anyone passionate about Jewish education can “like” us at


Dr. Miriam Heller Stern is Dean of the Graduate Center for Education at American Jewish University. Follow her on twitter @mirhstern. The Graduate Center for Education 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.


Carefully Curating Content


As a parent volunteer who is not at Shulamith School for Girls of Brooklyn every day, being admin of the school’s Facebook page is a fun challenge. Initially I shared interesting online articles, and links from Facebook Pages that I already followed, on topics I thought would interest other parents like me. After we were accepted to the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, our Facebook Likes and interactions increased tremendously as I learned to curate, not just find, the content to share. We created a POST Plan that helped us figure out our target audience, and then used Facebook Insights to figure out which posts were most popular. We then created a schedule to post about those topics. 

Shulamith School for Girls of Brooklyn originally created a Facebook Page in 2012 to share photos of the recent school dinner. Posts were few and far between before we joined the Academy. As we learned from the Academy coach, webinars, and Sharefests, I began posting more regularly and began paying attention to Facebook Insights. (For more on using Insights to figure out which posts work best, see the fantastic article by another Academy participant, here:

Now I search for and save the images and articles that appeal to our parent body, our alumni and donors, and potential Shulamith families who want to see what our school is all about. So, in addition to posting photos of school events that our principal emails or shares via DropBox, I schedule carefully curated content 3 days a week. On Monday, our followers know to expect a Middot Monday post about encouraging positive character traits in our children. Tuesday Tips and Teachable Thursday posts are about parenting and education tips that families can use at home. Additionally, on Wednesday I welcome everyone who Liked the Page since the previous Wednesday.

I search for interesting articles all over the web. Three times a week I spend about half an hour visiting websites and Facebook Pages to look for new material for our Page. I started following educational tweets on Twitter, even though our school is not on Twitter yet. I curate stories from sites like Edutopia, HuffPost Parents, The New York Times,,, and even the IDF Facebook Page (because our school is uniquely Zionist in Brooklyn). When I find something that will interest our parents and other followers, I save the links to so I can track which links were actually clicked after I share them on Facebook. Keeping track of Insights and clicks helps me look for more of what our followers want to see. For instance, articles on teaching children about finances were viewed more than articles about the impact of the lack of sleep.

Like the other Academy participants, I also found that posts with photos or videos of our students were viewed, commented on, and shared more often. A Welcome Wednesday post can reach 75 to 100 of our followers. Adding a photo of six girls in the hallway boosts that to over 200 views. Vintage class photos from the 1960s-80s each received hundreds of views, and alumni reconnected on our Page.

Thanks to the JDS Social Media Academy, our Likes increased from 49 to almost 200. We’ve reconnected with alumni and watched new friendships form in Facebook Comments. When I go to school for parent-teacher night and other events, parents come up to me to thank me for sharing such interesting articles. They say they look forward to checking Shulamith’s Facebook posts every day. Carefully curating content pays off!

Tova Ovits is a freelance editor with a daughter graduating from Shulamith School for Girls of Brooklyn. She volunteered to be Shulamith’s Team Leader for the JDS Social Media Academy for the 2012-13 school year.

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

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



Busting Through Tweeter’s Block

A friend of mine has just begun to tweet.  She was one of those people — which is very common — who created an account two years ago, and was feeling very hip and on top of the trends.  And then she never used it.

We sat down last week to build some skills and help her get into meaty conversations in her field.  She was a quick learner, excited and motivated.  And a week later I got the one line email: 

So, what am I actually suppose to be saying on Twitter?

Tweeter's Block is real.  (The Urban Dictionary even has a definition, and to think it did cross my mind that I may have made up the term just now.)  You'd think it would be easy to pound out 140 characters, but it's not so simple, especially if you're just getting started.  Thus, some suggestions:

  1. Don't stress to much about it.  Unlike many other media, Twitter is a constantly moving conveyor belt.  While everything may be searchable ultimately, the vast majority of people are not going to scroll back weeks or months of years to see every tweet, or especially your first tweets.  Unlike the opening sentences of a novel (which may or may not grab you), each individual tweet does not determine the rest of your tweeting trajectory or reputation.
  2. Get some clarity on what personal (or professional) brand and voice you want to be. This varies so much on Twitter, and you might be struggling with striking the right tone, as much as finding the right content.  Farra Trompeter from Big Duck has taught me to think about yourself (or your organization) as a color, a car, a celebrity.  What would it be?  Red, Porsche, Tom Cruise?  Or Lilac, Prius, Meryl Streep?  This might get you in the mood to strike the right tone.
  3. Consider creating a content ratio for yourself as a guideline.  At the gym you wouldn't only work your quads for weeks at a time — it would lead to an imbalance in strength.  You discipline yourself to do hamstrings and abs and arms too.  Similarly, a Twitter ratio can help you focus.  If you'd been doing a ton of promotion about your own work, it will force you to be conversational, generous and to add value.  For every 10 tweets, consider this as a guideline (may vary based on your style, work, and Twitter use, but this ratio is offered as a starting place to break your tweeter's block):
  • 2 tweets adding value around your areas of interest, expertise, and field. E.g. a book recommendation, a link to an article you enjoyed, a resource.
  • 2 tweets being generous, including responding to someone else's question for help or input.
  • 2 conversational tweets, including participating in a hashtag (beyond just using it as a bulletin board). This can include adding your voice to a conversation, or asking your own question to either help you in your work, or to deepen the conversation taking place already.
  • 1 tweet thanking or recognizing someone for a link they shared, their good work, replying to you, etc.  Use their username if they tweet.
  • 1 tweet for Follow Friday. Use the hashtag #FF and a username, then note why this person made an impact on your week
  • 1 self-promotional tweet, such as a plug for your event or a link to your own blog post.
  • 1 spontaneous or fun tweet!  Leave some room to be a little bit playful and spontaneous that doesn't have to fit into any category.  What's a highlight of your day?  A interesting observation or ah-ha moment? A small act of kindness that made your day?  A reflection "thinking about …" without a conclusion or specific answer. Authenticity builds trust and attention – so be real!  
  • In addition, retweet others a couple times.  What content do you think your followers will find useful and you felt was high quality or particularly insightful?  What people and/or orgs do you want to develop a relationship with?  In one click, you can begin to curate content other's have tweeted.

As you glance through your recent tweets, it should feel friendly, generous, thoughtful.  It should include a handful of usernames of other people (shows you're being conversational and social), a few hashtags (you're part of something bigger), and a few retweets.  There shouldn't be big gaps in your use. Some people tweet many times a day, some only a few times per week.  Either is OK, but big gaps show you're not engaged, nor listening to others.

Notice what other tweets you enjoy reading, replying to, and retweeting. What about their style and/or content is attractive to you? Use it as a reflective opportunity to get some insight about your own use.

What have you done to break tweeter's block?  What types of content do you focus on creating, and what gets the most traction for you?


Leveraging an Internal Editorial and Social Media Calendar

One of the key takeaways from the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is the importance of being organized with your social media, website stories and respective school themes. As a result, Gann Academy created an internal editorial calendar between the Director of Marketing Communications and the Web and Social Media Specialist.

This Google calendar, which can be accessed, edited and modified by both users, has been beneficial because:

  • Gann Academy regularly posts 2-3 feature stories on its website about what students are doing, alumni stories, Tikkun Olam efforts, sports and general news and announcements. The editorial calendar organizes said stories’ publish dates and which week they’ll run.
  • Gann Academy is frequently posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. However, for the bigger campaigns we utilize the editorial calendar as reminders of when to post on social media.  Also, the calendar helps keep a time frame in mind if a campaign has a certain start and end date.
  • For guest speakers and certain events, the editorial calendar informs us of the coverage needed. This helps manage time and, more importantly, keeps a deadline to post information in a timely manner so it doesn’t become old news.
  • Gann Academy has particular campaigns and themes and our news stories reflect that. The editorial calendar helps us ensure that the themes and editorial content match together in the correct week.
  • The calendar creates cohesiveness between internal staff and gives a foundation about what projects are being worked on, what might be a valuable idea and what needs to be done on deadline.
  • The editorial calendar helps create newsletters. At Gann, we have a Weekly Newsletter that goes out each Sunday morning. Looking back at the calendar serves a reminder of which content can be pulled in and what will work in later newsletters.

While schools have an external calendar for the public to see, the internal calendar provides a month-by-month — or week-by-week — landscape of what you intend to cover. What's more, the calendar is a valuable tool to look back of what you covered and how you can improve on it for the next time around.

The last point is that the calendar does not have to be anything fancy. It can be Google, Excel, your email client or even a sizeable whiteboard so long as it can be accessed by the correct staff.

For more learning on this theme, check out these other editorial calendar examples which plan around monthly content themes, various people on a team, or by channel.

Blog post and Excel download:

Another Excel template to download.

What criteria are important for your social media planning and calendaring?  

Craig Byer is the Web and Social Media Specialist at Gann Academy in Waltham, MA.  Gann Academy has been participating in the 2012-13 Jewish Day School Social Media Academy generously funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Interested in joining the 2013-14 Academy or sponsoring schools in your area to join?  Contact Lisa Colton.

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!

Surprisingly Easy to Quit My Synagogue

This blog is crossed posted from Living Lomed.

I belonged to a synagogue for twenty years. This year we made the decision not to rejoin. The reason? I was feeling less connected to a place that was putting control over choice. Concretely: Leadership would not permit the Shabbat morning prayer class I had attended for the past eight years to continue on a weekly basis. We could hold the class twice a month, but not every week.

Leadership's reason? "The main arena of the synagogue is the sanctuary. When other things are happening that takes attention away from that (even though the class was happening prior to services starting) it is a problem.” Like the Cantor said, "I went to a basketball game and everyone was talking or buying food. They weren't watching the game. That is what it is like here on Shabbat. Instead of people focusing on the main event they are distracted."

We did the process thing. I personally met with the rabbi. I explained why the weekly rhythm of coming together in prayer, Torah study, and story sharing was so important. I tried to convey that the ritualization of every week mattered in my life. I also said that as a member of the congregation I had a responsibility to give back. If there were additional ways I could volunteer, mentor or teach to contribute, I would do that but hoped we could continue our class.

Additionally, the twenty some people who attended the weekly class at 9 am met with the rabbi. They told their stories about how the Jewish teaching and sharing deeply impacted their lives. Men and women cried equally sharing the power the regular ritual had in their lives.

If it were a matter of money…of course we'd pay the salary of the teacher.

In the end, the clergy, and I'm not sure who else, decided NO.

They wanted more people to come to the sanctuary and not have too many side services or learning.

Holding so tightly is choking, not inviting.

I left. After much thought I couldn't reconcile being a member of a community that didn't reflect a core principle: Each person finds his/her connection to God in different ways. Congregations need to find a balance between the whole and the individual. I don't, I confess, like sitting in services from 10-12:30 Honestly instead of connecting me it bores me…for the most part.
However, the 9-10 learning experience mattered. Shouldn't there be space for the guy who likes sitting 10-12:30 and the lady who gets her religious high in one hour?

When we left I called the congregation’s office to let them know we wouldn't be sending our check. Ok, you are always welcome to come back. And that was the end of that.  Really?

I was there for 20 years…at Hanukah we got a Xeroxed copy of a note from the clergy wishing us a happy Chanukah.

I wonder if there could have been another ending? What is the ritual that congregations use when folks walk? Would it make sense for someone in the congregation to come visit us? “I'd like to hear your story? We still will see you as part of the community. Are there ways that we can help you connect to other Jewish organizations? We will still send you yahrzeit info and other events. You will always be a member of our community…it will look different now but we are here for you. How can we support you on your next leg of your journey? Your story will remain with us and we are here for you” Or something right? Could they reinvent membership…like ok you don't pay 3000 dollars, but we are still connected to you.

Who is paying attention to the life stories of congregants?

What makes it hard for a congregation to allow the space for multiple entry points?

Where am I writing this blog? I'm sitting in the Apple Store in Suburban Square. Someone borrowed my power cord by accident and I have no power in my computer.

Do you think I could sit here and just charge my battery?"

The salesman said, "sit here and if you need anything just ask".

I just looked up and the lady in the blue shirt who is supposed to be selling stuff just smiled at me.

Really? Hello synagogues, what's it look like to make room for someone to sit for what they need, not just what you need.

Cyd Weissman is the Director, Innovation in Congregational Learning for Greater New York, for The Jewish Education Project where she leads a team to support the creation of Jewish learning environments that positively nurture the lives of learners. She blogs at LivingLomed.


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.


Storify: A University of Wisconsin Case Study

Our lives are stories, continually growing and changing every day. In my job at University of Wisconsin Hillel, I interact with many people and get to know their personal stories. Sharing stories of learning, community programs, and student leadership successes is the foundation of our online engagement efforts. I started to wonder how I could use social media to best meet our engagement goals and make students eager to get personally involved. One big Hillel initiative is taking students on a Birthright trip to Israel. We typically have up to 40 students for 10 days of non-stop exploring—this is exactly the type of story that would get our larger community excited. However, it is challenging to make time for students to sit down and reflect on what they are learning every day. I also knew that we shouldn’t create something with only a few weeks of shelf life, such as a blog—I wanted people to follow our story in real time and for students to be able to engage their existing networks to participate in the conversation. I began to explore options that allowed us to use the content that students were already posting on Facebook and Twitter, and Storify was the answer.


How It Works

Storify’s vision is to “(make) stories from the social Web, finding moments to remember in the real-time stream.” In other words—everyone can be a reporter. This mission aligns with Wisconsin Hillel’s passion to help the students become storytellers. Taking the guided tour of Storify will allow you to see how to create a story. In general, each user creates stories by collecting status updates, photos and even videos. One thing to keep in mind is that gathering content through the Storify editor can be a little buggy. For us, using the Google Chrome Storify extension has worked best—this tool puts a Storify button directly into your Twitter and Facebook feeds. Another option is to use Storify’s bookmarklet in your browser (though this method makes it harder to pull content from social networks though very easy from websites). Once your content is in your story on Storify – you can organize the information in a way that is engaging for your readers.  Then, Storify allows you to embed your story into your website. Storify stories can be about anything and are a visually appealing way to showcase what your community is talking about.


A Platform for Empowerment

Seeing a completed story is exciting. Our stories are powerful when students take ownership. Giving students a framework to use their social profiles to share about their journey allows them to become digital storytellers. By sharing their trip with their wide social networks, students can realize the benefits of engaging a larger community. Posting about their transformative experiences with Wisconsin Hillel on Birthright it is impactful for them, our organization, their friends and family, and their broader social networks. Storify makes the conversation a two-way street—students and their networks are given the opportunity to create, share and comment on content. As participants craft posts about their journey, their friends and family are able to engage in real time by following along. As the number of students that get connected to the UW Hillel community continues to grow, the options for storytellers increases. Ultimately, this is their journey.


Making It Work

The internet has allowed our worlds to become incredibly social—we are able to maintain almost instant contact with a huge and geographically dispersed network. As organizations, we need to find effective ways to use social media to engage these new types of communities to connect and share. Storify is the perfect tool to craft an engaging narrative by leveraging your community’s passion for your organization or cause. Being able to capture your community’s experiences allows for exponential growth within your organization’s social media efforts. While it takes time to see where your communities’ conversations are taking place online, your efforts will be successful when your members’ stories start to connect. Gather your content by creating a hashtag to monitor related twitter conversations, making lists of your Facebook connections, encouraging people to post pictures on your wall, and taking an extra leap to use Vine to create fun and exciting videos. This year, make your social media strategy about stories and your community will want to engage with you.

How does your organization share their social stories? I would love to hear your current strategy and thoughts about Storify in the comments on this post.


Bio: Jonathan Eisen is the Director of Programs and Engagement at the University of Wisconsin Hillel Foundation in Madison, WI. Jonathan works with UW Hillel’s social and cultural student organizations and manages UW Hillel’s social media efforts (facebook, twitter, and Storify) He is always checking his twitter feed and invites you to connect with him at @JonEisen.



Connecting: An Explicit Goal of Program Directors

Guest post by Laura Intfen, Member Services Coordinator at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, KS

My pulpit rabbi, Rabbi Mark Levin, likes to tell this story:  A young boy shares Shabbat dinner with his father, who is complaining, once again, about going to services the next day.  “I don’t even know if I believe in God.” states the father.  The young boy asks his father, “If you don’t go to talk to God, then why do you go to synagogue at all?”  His father looked down at him and explained, “I go to synagogue each week with my old friend Shlomo.  Shlomo goes to talk to God, and I go to talk to Shlomo.”

An age old problem for Program Directors, is guessing what gets people in our building.  But, here we are in 2012, and now the question has changed.  The future of modern Reform Judaism is not figuring out how to get people through our doors, but figuring out how to get people connected to each other.
As a Member Services Coordinator of a modern Reform Congregation, I am privileged to belong to the Program Directors of Reform Judaism.  But I've learned from my colleagues that Program Directors have a variety of names and even a wider variety of duties.  There are Community Coordinators, Directors of Family & Congregational life, Directors of Membership Engagement and Community Engagement Mangers. 

As we communicate with each other and share ideas and goals, one thing is clear: building our programs in the traditional, top down, guess what people want, throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks method is not working. This is an expensive and antiquated way to serve our congregants.   While many of the benefits of a synagogue can be found elsewhere (especially online), there is one thing we can uniquely offer: Community, where our members find recognition, validation and support.  This is the tripod by which our programming must be built upon. One might call it "engagement programming".  So here at Congregation Beth Torah, we have begun to program using the lens of engagement.  To start the transition, we looked at our caring committee. 

When you join Congregation Beth Torah, you are automatically part of our k’sharim (caring) Committee.  Every single family unit is included.  The entire congregational roster is divided by twelve.  With approximately 650 families, this equals about 53 families per month.  As a member of Beth Torah, you are part of a team for one month a year, and you are never alone.  When there is a need in the congregation for a meal, or a ride, or attendance is needed to make a minyan at a shiva service, an email blast goes out to the 53 families on the team.  Members of that month’s team contact each other, schedule with each other, and coordinate efforts with each other.  Not only does this alleviate the problem of caring committee burn out by having the same people do everything, but our congregants in need get care and warmth from other members of the congregation AND the members of that month’s team form a functioning affinity group. 

By connecting members outside of our building doing k’sharim work, they have much stronger connections when they happen to be in our building at worship.  They already know each other (recognition), know the other person has done a caring deed for one of our members (validation) and has been offered a meeting place, here in our building to further their relationship with this other person (support). The purpose of our K’sharim committee is, of course, to care for our congregants.  But our caring community has an additional goal: to connect people.

This is a true culture change for our congregation.  What started with a Rosh Hashanah sermon by our rabbi, in which he asked our congregants to become citizens, and not be consumers, became a repurposing and reassessing of our current programs and an eye towards future programming.  Our staff has created a mission statement to support this change in culture:

We are a visionary team carrying out the mission of the congregation. Through our dedicated team’s collaborative culture, we engage our various congregants and affinity groups to develop innovative ways to meet the needs of our congregational community.  We will work, supported by the Board of Trustees, to accomplish these goals in the most creative, efficient and cost conscious means possible.

The results of this change have been immediate and amazing.  Some programs have been discontinued.  Every program must have at least ten participants.  It is not up to me to come up with ten people, but up to whomever owns the program.  We did not have a men’s club as of three months ago.  I had a couple of men approach me about some activities for such a group.  My response was to come up with at least eight more men and some program ideas and then I would meet with them.  I am proud to say that a group of nearly 30 men met on a recent Monday evening in a member’s home for some smoked brisket, some football and some beer.  But mostly they met to be a community. 

Because more members are meeting more members, our worship numbers have risen.  Our traffic in the building has actually increased with these groups and I love walking through our building and hearing a group of twelve people in a room discussing their interest in mystic Judaism next door to our 50 and More group planning their next book club meeting, next door to our Adult B’nei Mtizvah class.  All the rooms contain more than ten people and all the rooms are starting places for new relationships.  All the rooms are places where our members are recognized, validated and supported.

We have just begun our journey.  As Program Directors, or Engagement Managers, or Member Services Coordinators, we have the exciting and challenging task of recognizing the affinity groups that organically arise, validating these groups as important to our congregants and supporting these groups through resources and expertise.

Laura Intfen is the Member Services Coordinator at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, KS. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.  

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.


Three Legs of the Connected Congregation Stool

Connected Congregations are synagogues that function as communities in the deepest sense of the word.  They are not about the building, the events, the rabbi.  At least not alone. They are about a group of individuals and families with shared values, practice and goals, who feel a sense of sacred obligation to one another.  It FEELS GOOD to be part of a community like this.

As we've been researching connected congregations, working in networks, being a network weaver, and organizational change, we've learned that becoming a connected congregation is more than a new way of developing programs.  It's more than helping people get to know each other better (and deeper) — though that's important too.

Becoming a connected congregation really means reprogramming your synagogue's DNA.  Sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways.  We've boiled this down to three main categories. Within each category are several main levers of change that you'll need to examine:  staffing and communications.  More on that below.

  • Programs. This may seem like the most obvious one, but it's really quite profound.  People come to programs as much (or more so) for the people than for the content of the program.  It's true.  Studies confirm it.  So, even if the content is a strong driver of our mission and goals as a congregation, let's design for the social value.  How can you maximize social connection before the event?  Facebook events allow folks to see who else might be going, for example.  Or social content that participants will want to share through their own networks. How can you maximize the social connections during the event?  And how do you share back with the community about the event afterwards?  What is the role of a "program director"?  How does this person incorporate network weaving into their job, or as a primary function of their job?  In the recent Vision and Data Report from UJA Federation of New York, one congregation reflected on how a small adjustment in programming made an important difference:

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

  • Finances.  If you've read The Networked Nonprofit or been on our Network Nonprofit webinars, you heard us use the metaphors of a fortress and a sea sponge.  They represent the poles of a continuum, where on the one end there are big, tall, exclusive fortress walls, and on the other end, the networked organization that needs a constant flow of nutrients, is open and porous, and live in symbiosis with other organisms.  Look at the financial model of your synagogue through that lens.  Dues and membership are one major component (see here and here for examples of synagogues that have done away with dues as we know it), but there are others.  Temple Beth Abraham questioned whether their offer of reduced dues stepped from a place of loving kindness, or as the local IRS (see case study here).  Too often our synagogues become places of "transactional Judaism", which ultimately doesn't benefit the individual, the synagogue or Jewish life.
  • Governance. Clearly governing policy and culture is critical as a connected congregation.  It's also a key part of how you become a connected congregation.  For example, a current synagogue president may be very interested and committed to this idea, but if the next 2-3 synagogue presidents are not also on board, the effort may lose momentum.  Measurement is also an important consideration.  How does the congregation understand its mission, and how does it measure its work to achieve those goals? Aligning mission and goals with metrics, data collection and analysis will help leaders clearly appreciate where they are making process towards being a connected congregation, and where further refinement or effort is needed.

Underlying all three of these areas are questions of staffing and communications.  Where do you need staff capacity and expertise?  Where are staff 'over-functioning' in a way that might in fact be disempowering members of your community?  Where is expertise highly valued or needed?  How might you adjust current job descriptions and/or titles to reflect the real need as culture, programs and the need for expertise shift?

And finally, recognize that in today's connected, fast paced world, communication is essential.  The right tools, applications, voice and regularity of communications will grease the gears of all the change and process in program, finance and governance.  Openness and transparency earns trust, and accessibility builds relationships that are the foundation of eveything else.

Where are you experimenting with change around programs, finance and governance? Are there other categories you'd like to add to the list?