In the late afternoon leading up to Shavuot, I happened to be the only person left in the office and answered the phone. It was a Jewish communal professional who works with teens. She told me that every teen in her city was a member of her organization, and she was hoping that our Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program and Big Tent Judaism Concierge could help her out. But it didn’t sound like a problem—at first.
Of the 500 teen members, she could identify only about 100 as engaged – meaning those who actually attend activities. Since I am very familiar with her organization, I postulated that it was the parents who were signing up their children and paying the dues each year. But it was up to the organization’s leaders to actually create meaningful experiences in which the members would like to participate, so that it didn’t feel like an obligation to the parents, but a desire from the young members.
While through our Big Tent Judaism initiatives we work closely with professionals to identify the unengaged in their communities, the hard work is what to do with them after they have been identified. Most organizations put people on their mailing lists and send them a couple of newsletters, maybe an invitation to an event, and then, of course, either a membership pitch or a funding request. But if we ask the leaders anything about the people they identified, they probably wouldn’t know much about them except whatever information was filled in on an attendance form.
Where are the one-on-one conversations to find out the individual’s interests? Where is the face-to-face coffee date to figure out why they weren’t involved in the first place? Who is responsible to guide the individual to a different organization if the identifying organization doesn’t have what the person is interested in? These are some of the questions we ask the Jewish communal professionals with whom we work. They are, themselves, conversation starters, to get Jewish communal professionals thinking outside the box about bringing people into the tent. It’s great to find the newcomers in your community. But if you don’t serve them, instead of yourselves, you’ll lose them just as fast as you found them.