Data May Tell

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This article first appeared in eJewish Philanthropy.

In 2016, we were gearing up to host our 10th ROI Summit – our annual gathering that welcomes new members into ROI Community. We knew a lot about our network, which was, by this point, more than 1,000 members strong. Through regular correspondence with our Community Manager, and via “update your info campaigns,” many ROI members kept us in the loop about their latest places of work and residence, notable milestones and more.

However, these data points and anecdotes did not paint a complete picture, and other than post-program evaluations, we were not in the practice of regularly taking the pulse of our network on bigger-picture issues. In short, we realized that we were sitting on a trove of valuable information that could help inform our organization’s vision and mission, and we sought a way to access it with greater intention.

And so, as we prepared for our 10-year milestone, we decided to adopt a new tool.

Together with the consulting firm Informing Change, we developed our Member Survey: a 45-minute, in-depth annual study that we have disseminated for the past two years. Understanding that ROI members’ responses to the survey would be vital to our work, we decided to make their membership benefits contingent upon their completion of the annual questionnaire. What’s more, this survey would provide all ROI Community members a chance to give back to the network.

Even though ROI Community is by no means a representative sample of Jews in their 20s and 30s, there are several insights that can be drawn from our data that may be of interest to others working in similar spaces. Specifically, I would like to point out three key findings: the desire – and potential – for mentorship in the Jewish world; the relationship between community and social change; and the unexpected power of networking.

Mentorship. Through our 2016 survey, we learned that ROI Community members were looking for opportunities to mentor and be mentored. Based on this finding, we ran a pilot mentorship program in Israel, through which ROI members signed up to be paired in mentor-mentee relationships with fellow members. In 2017, survey results showed us that our members are still eager for mentorship opportunities and are looking to us to help them cultivate their mentoring skills. Based on these insights, we are now expanding the mentorship program.

The thirst for mentorship demonstrated by ROI members may have relevant and practical applications for the broader Jewish community, too. Imagine how vibrant the Jewish world could look if our traditional institutions offered to pair up their older, more experienced members with their young professional members in volunteer mentorship programs. This kind of interaction would strengthen intergenerational bonds, create a sense of shared community and increase the professional value of Jewish institutions in the eyes of their young members.

Community. As our name suggests, we place a high value on creating and maintaining a sense of community among our members. In this past year’s Member Survey, we observed a particularly interesting correlation: ROI members who reported working on social change issues also reported a significant number of connections within the network.

We are not assuming causation. We do not know which came first, being well-networked in the Community or being active in social change, but much can be learned from this relationship nonetheless. Specifically, if the Jewish world wishes to spark greater social change activity among young people, perhaps the first step is to generate a stronger sense of community among them. If, on the other hand, the desire is to engage young Jews and strengthen their sense of community, using social change as a starting point may help us get there.

Networking. We place a significant emphasis on connecting ROI members through intentional networking methodologies. At the ROI Summit, for example, we use facilitation techniques such as Open Space Technology and Lightning Round Case Studies to bring participants together for purposeful discussion and knowledge-sharing. 2017’s Member Survey shed light on a surprising and crucial benefit of our emphasis on meaningful networking: members reported an enhanced Jewish connection as a result of their involvement with our network. This is intriguing because, often, the subject of the networking opportunities we offer is not pointedly Jewish.

We have learned that, in fact, most ROI members applied to join the Community for the opportunity to be part of a global, diverse network. What they found is something much deeper than that, which is feeling part of a Jewish community. Networking, when done right, gives young people the sense of connection they are hoping for, offers them the opportunity to own and define their Jewish identity and, critically, may help members have a deeper impact on issues of global concern. It is a win-win-win.

It was certainly a risk to link active ROI membership to the completion of the Member Survey, but it appears to have paid off. This past year, 68 percent of members completed the survey, including some respondents who joined ROI over a decade ago. ROI members know that we truly value their input, and when we ask for their opinions, it is because we intend to listen to their responses and implement what we can. In fact, members have begun to give us more regular feedback without our prompting, which is exciting. By hearing that the opening paragraph of a newsletter hit home, or that a course could have had a more engaging facilitator, we are able to provide more of what is working and less of what is not.

Over the past 12 years, our network has come together across infinite sectors to create initiatives, organizations and projects that generate local, communal and global impact. The data we collect will continue to affect our future programming plans. It is incumbent upon all of us in the field – Jewish communal organizations and young leadership programs more generally – to use data to better understand our role in helping the young people we engage fulfill their potential to change the world. Where is there room for us to step in and create the right conditions for positive impact to take hold? Data may tell.

To demonstrate ROI’s learning and to encourage a cycle of feedback, ROI shared an infographic with its members in both 2016 and 2017 summarizing some of the most interesting and relevant statistics gleaned from their surveys. The 2017 infographic can be viewed here.

No’a Gorlin is the Associate Executive Director of ROI Community, an international network of activists and change makers who are redefining Jewish engagement for a new generation of global citizens. ROI Community is an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.