Moishe House

Challenge

Founded in 2006, Moishe House is a pluralistic, international organization that provides meaningful Jewish experiences to adults in their 20s. Through its innovative social experience model, Moishe House provides young Jewish leaders with training, support and resources to create vibrant communities for themselves and their peers.

The center of Moishe House’s approach is an open, welcoming home (a Moishe House), where 3-5 young adults, known as residents, live for 1-3 years. Each month, residents plan and host a slate of accessible cultural, religious and social events for young Jews, including Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations. In return, residents receive a generous rent subsidy, programming budget, educational resources and training. Since its founding, Moishe House has rapidly expanded to 75 houses in 17 countries that engage more than 80,000 program attendees annually.

By 2012, Moishe House had over 300 resident alumni—individuals who had lived in and run Moishe Houses--and the organization was unsure if and how alumni engagement should be integrated into their programming. As the Board considered this question, it reflected on Moishe House’s core belief: that the pluralistic atmosphere of the Jewish community is dependent upon a continuous pipeline of opportunities for leadership, learning and involvement in Jewish life, especially in the crucial years following college. As a result, the Board determined that the end of participants’ Moishe House residencies would instead be considered the beginning of lifelong Jewish journeys that the organization would continue to support during this transition.

Approach

When Moishe House embarked on a strategic growth plan in 2012, it decided to include a long-term investment in alumni as one of the key pieces of its broader agenda. Feedback from their first external evaluation was clear: when residents move out of a Moishe House, they want to continue their community leadership, but without the intensity of being a resident.

Moishe House’s comprehensive model relies heavily on a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to community building, empowering Jewish individuals in their 20s to plan and lead meaningful programming and activities that best suit their specific communities. In the spirit of this underlying philosophy, Moishe House began to experiment with a DIY model for its resident alumni to provide more individuals with opportunities to facilitate peer-to-peer programming. Moishe House wanted to expand the breadth of its programming to enable individuals to create events anywhere, regardless of whether they currently live in a Moishe House.

In July 2012, Moishe House piloted its DIY program, Moishe House Without Walls (MHWOW), in San Diego. Moishe House hired a Director of Alumni Relations to oversee the development of the program and further expanded its proprietary online database, the Mintranet, to encompass all Moishe House programs across the globe. In the first five months of the soft launch of Moishe House Without Walls, 52 programs were held and 718 attendees were engaged.

Based on the initial success of MHWOW, Moishe House staff recognized the program's potential to become the centerpiece of the organization’s alumni strategy. In preparation to capitalize on this momentum, the Director of Alumni Relations worked diligently to gather and organize Moishe House alumni’s contact information during the first few months of the program’s soft launch. The Director also established a protocol to ensure that Moishe House could effectively reach its alumni, particularly those who had expressed interest in continuing their involvement with the organization after completing their residence.

In January 2013, Moishe House officially launched MHWOW and hired a former Moishe House resident to oversee the program’s growth and develop the MHWOW program beyond the pilot phase. Moishe House expanded its criteria for eligible MHWOW hosts to include resident alumni around the world, as well as alumni from Moishe House’s Learning Retreats and Leadership Development Retreats.

As MHWOW continued to evolve, Moishe House developed a more nuanced understanding of how it could best maximize the program's success. To gain more targeted insight, Moishe House launched a small-scale internal evaluation from the end of 2013 to early 2014 to assess MHWOW’s progress. The findings were remarkably positive and led to a larger scale, external evaluation that was completed in early 2015, which clearly demonstrated the strong impact of MHWOW on both the hosts and the participants.

Moishe House found the feedback from its hosts to be particularly helpful in understanding the potential of MHWOW and identifying areas for improvement. Staff worked to implement improvements based on the reported challenges by establishing and publicizing clear guidelines for MHWOW hosts and by executing a major redesign of the Mintranet in May 2014. By June, MHWOW had more than 262 registered hosts across all cities where Moishe House alumni lived.

In addition to MHWOW, Moishe House developed and expanded other aspects of its alumni programming, particularly its suite of leadership development programs. Moishe House began to offer its alumni the following opportunities:

  • Jewish Education Scholarships: Scholarships available to alumni for classes, conferences, service learning trips and other programs that enhance their personal development and Jewish learning.
  • Moishe House Ignite Summits and Learning Retreats: Retreats open to resident alumni to support them in their professional, creative and community-building endeavors. Moishe House covers the cost of alumni’s participation and offers travel stipends.
  • National Alumni Advisory Board: An invitation-only advisory board comprised of nominated resident alumni who advise the organization and serve as leaders in the Moishe House community.

To further support and maintain a strong alumni community, Moishe House decided to take the following steps with regard to its alumni communications:

  • Create a newsletter that includes updates, insights and involvement opportunities;
  • Continuously update contact details by utilizing CRM software and Moishe House’s own online database;
  • Maintain ongoing dialogue with alumni to receive updates on their development; and
  • Connect with alumni through Twitter and Facebook.
Impact

Note: Case study reflects data through May 2014.

By December 2014, Moishe House had already surpassed its goals for its alumni initiatives.

  1. Do-It-Yourself Programming
    • Moishe House Without Walls (MHWOW):
      • MHWOW has become an increasingly crucial piece of Moishe House’s comprehensive model. From January through November 2014, hosts led 532 MHWOW programs with a total attendance of 5,636. MHWOW increased programming by more than 100% and reach by 96% since the previous year.
      • MHWOW has already begun to have a large impact on the Jewish life of participants. As one MHWOW host in San Diego explained, “MHWOW has given me the means to develop my own interpretations of Jewish culture and include others in my modern Jewish experience. I have been able to bring together diverse groups of Jews and interested non-Jews in San Diego, and together, we are reinforcing our positive associations with Judaism. Now my friends and I are even more committed to carrying on traditions and spreading Jewish education. Through MHWOW I was able to reconnect to my strong Jewish identity which had been previously been on hiatus.”
      • Over the next few months, Moishe House plans to build out the program through strategic partnerships with several other Jewish organizations that provide immersive experiences for the same demographic, enabling alumni of other eligible programs to serve as hosts through the MHWOW framework. This collaboration with other Jewish organizations has the potential to strengthen the greater Jewish community from within and expand the MHWOW program.
  2. Leadership Opportunities
    • Jewish Education Scholorships:
      • Since January 2013, Moishe House has provided $25,314 in scholarships to alumni and MHWOW hosts. Scholarships have been used for a wide variety of opportunities, including the Hazon Food Conference, Tribefest, JDC Entwine trips, Limmuds and the AIPAC Policy Conference.
    • Moishe House Ignite Summits and Learning Retreats:
      • Moishe House’s first Ignite Alumni Leadership Summit was held in August 2014 and attracted 24 former Moishe House residents. In addition to group sessions with special guest educators, participants had access to one-one-one executive coaching and professional headshot sessions. To quantify the skills and knowledge imparted at the Retreat, Moishe House used online surveys that gauged the impact of the event on participants' overall impressions.
    • National Alumni Advisory Board:
      • What began as a staff-guided advisory group soon transitioned into a peer-driven system as alumni leaders took initiative, engaged with their peers and provided the organization with valuable insight and ideas through multiple feedback channels. This process included their assessment of alumni needs and goals beyond their Moishe House experiences, as well as best practices for engagement and continued communication. As an outgrowth of this effort, two of Moishe House’s alumni advisory board members were appointed as co-chairs of Ambassadors Circle, Moishe House’s inaugural alumni fundraising campaign.
  3. Staying Connected
    • By the end of 2014, Moishe House alumni were significantly more connected and invested in the organization:
      • Email newsletter open rates had increased by 13% over the course of one year, from 41.0% in 2013 to 54.3% in 2014, and the number of updates throughout the year had doubled.
      • Retreat participation among alumni had risen from 25 to 62 individuals during this same time period.
      • Alumni significantly increased their financial giving to the organization: between 2013 and 2014, the number of alumni contributions of $180 or more increased from seven in 2013 to 47 in 2014.

In a few short years, Moishe House has developed a robust alumni program that empowers its participants to become effective Jewish leaders and keeps them engaged beyond its initial programming. Moishe House will continue to monitor and invest in its alumni program in keeping with its primary mission of strengthening the Jewish community.

To learn more about Moishe House’s work, please visit their website at www.moishehouse.org.

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