Birthright Israel– we’ve all heard the hype and some of us think Birthright lives up to it while others don’t. As Birthright’s unofficial poster child, I’m here to offer three suggestions for how Birthright could improve its stickiness by increasing its outreach and maximizing its impact on program participants.
“Stickiness” is a word we use a lot in blogging and that is only just beginning to be used in the real world. In blogging, our blogs are sticky if a user comes to a site and then returns or subscribes. In other words, something about the concept of the website is attractive to the viewer, making her want to learn more. I hope that we will soon come to think of our nonprofits, foundations, and programming the same way.
Let’s use Birthright as an example. The key to Birthright’s success should be stickiness. Get those kids to Israel and make them care. Caring will change their Jewish identities, Jewish communities, and eventually Jewish continuity. Right?
But so far we’ve only gotten as far as to get them here and cross our fingers that the rest will happen. We’re so happy that we’ve managed to do that, that the philanthropists who have made it happen and those of us it’s worked for are busy sitting around congratulating ourselves instead of thinking about what needs to be done to make Birthright better, to maximize its effect for full impact.
I challenge the Jewish community to do more.
Keep reading for three ways to improve Birthright and my suggestions for follow up programming.
Three Ways to Improve Birthright
1. Outreach: Identify Who Isn’t Attending Birthright and Find Out Why. Then Fix It.
As a Jewish community, let’s say that our desired aim is that 100% of young adults visit Israel. This assumes that we believe Birthright is having the full impact of Israel and Jewish stickiness on Jewish youth. Let’s go with that assumption for the sake of argument.
So who isn’t going on Birthright? Are there sections of the college population that simply aren’t attending? The answer is yes and who Birthright isn’t reaching may surprise you. Did you know that Harvard and MIT in particular have very low participation numbers?
The next thing we have to do is find out why Birthright doesn’t interest them. Do non-participants think it isn’t valuable to their lives? Do they just not care? Or is there something about Birthright that could be changed to entice them?
2. Customized Trips: Marketing Birthright to Special Interest Groups
Birthright made a powerful impact in its first 7 years, but it’s time to reassess. What can it do now that goes beyond its founding mission? How can it reach out to more youth and get them to care about being Jewish and care about Israel? Birthright works great for the mainstream: providing a free trip to Israel that is fun, interesting, and exciting offers a peak experience for an 18 to 26 year old. But is it enough?
Yesterday I met with Tsvi Bisk of the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking and Jonathan Shapira of the Cleantech Investing in Israel Blog. One of the things we talked about is creating customized Birthright trips to reach those who aren’t attending.
I suggest creating hi-tech trips to Israel around the Birthright touring format, but focused more around their specific, professional needs. Israel epitomizes hi-tech enterprise. Israel is the paradigm for creative thinking. And Israel is all about social entrepreneurship.
Birthright already offers specially structured trips (college aged, post-college, political, hiking), why not take it to the next level and create a trip that would have professional stickiness?
The hi-tech sector is one of the most professional and cohesive sectors in Israel. They are globalized by nature, well educated, and more fluent in English as a group than almost anyone else in society. A stylized, customized, hi-tech trip– or one with any other kind of professional customization– would add on an extra incentive to participants and deepen Birthright participants’ potential connection to Israel.
This brings me to my next point.
3. Thinking Long Term: What Can Birthright Offer Future Participants Beyond Its Current Programming?
Birthright is firmly established. The Jewish world recognizes its potential (although some are still dubious) and participants are going to Israel in record numbers. But what about stickiness?
Are we doing everything we can to make Israel a living, breathing, modern entity to our Jewish children or are we in the memory making business of nostalgic photographs and “I remember whens”?
You know that I feel very strongly about follow up programs. Here are some ideas for long term stickiness:
- Ongoing meetings for Birthright alumni to get together and socialize casually
- Parlor meetings, salon sessions, and mini-conferences where alums and future participants and others who have visited Israel or want to can get together and talk about Jewish issues of the day, including their own Jewish identity, Jewish continuity, and Jewish social change
- Large scale physical meet-ups like conferences or regional events, such as the mega event that Birthright holds each winter in Jerusalem
- Opportunities for Jewish engagement through community volunteering with Jewish organizations and organizations that represent our universal value of tikkun olam, including Israel programs: short and long term
- Aliyah informational sessions with age and professionally relevant information and connections
- An increased effort to connect Israelis with Jews in the US, whether they are visiting with tour groups, staying with their families, working at camps or in malls, or on some type of shlichut from international Jewish organizations
- Localized places to meet in the virtual world through online communities— Birthright has tried to do this through its website, but thus far it hasn’t been a priority and participation reflects this. Regional groups should make a stronger effort in this arena and then work to connect to each other. It’s not your bubbe’s Jewish geography
- Working to create international Jewish hubs of Birthright alumni so that a Jew visiting Paris or Buenos Aires or Kiev could join up with peer group companions on her visit and potentially participate in their Jewish community. Look to Chabad as a model as to how to get started
- In cities with major Jewish populations, having a centralized Shabbat service and educational lecture, followed by a dinner or social event once a month especially targeted to young people
- Jewish organizations (federations, synagogues, colleges, and universities) should join to offer adult education and continuing education classes to young adults on Jewish themes, including Jewish values, partnership, raising a family, etc. I have attended these classes and while great, I have often been the only person within 20 years of my age and the only single there. Most of my classmates had children my age or older– while this was great, we weren’t going to have a connection in the same why that I would with my peers, who would be in a similar life circumstance, be thinking along the same lines, and having to make the same choices as I would
Do you have other best practice models or organizations that are doing a great job with Birthright follow-up that we can learn from? I’d love to hear who they are and what they’re up to?
- “3 Ideas for Jewish Communal Innovation: Israel Alumni Corps, Birthright Alumni Corps, Adult Israel Trips”
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