ROI Community, an initiative of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, is an international network of activists and changemakers who are redefining Jewish engagement for a new generation of global citizens. ROI Community members channel a diversity of perspectives, skills and interests toward a shared passion for advancing ideas and partnerships that will strengthen Jewish communities and improve society.
Through its capstone Summit and an innovative suite of ongoing opportunities for professional development, networking and financial support, ROI Community empowers its members to take an active role in shaping the Jewish future. Today, ROI Community members across the globe are finding new ways to engage wider audiences in Jewish life.
In July 2006, ROI (not yet known as ROI Community) held its first global Summit in Jerusalem, where it brought together 120 young Jewish leaders, innovators and activists for five days of intensive networking, skill building and professional development.
Five years and 500 participants later, program leadership reflected on the future direction of the organization. To that end, ROI invited 120 of its members to participate in a large focus group. Through this process, staff realized that they did not want ROI Community members to think of themselves as having gone to an ROI event, but rather as being a part of a vibrant ROI network. But how could the program transition from a five-day Summit into an ongoing community?
In 2010, ROI embarked on a strategic planning process to achieve this objective, starting by identifying the unique components that had made the program successful and reflecting on the organization's theory of change.
From the start, ROI's approach has relied on the multiplier effect: the belief that investing in a select group of talented changemakers can result in a much broader impact on the global Jewish community. During the 2010 strategic planning process, the organization articulated its vision by developing the concept of "a thousand connecting a million"—in other words, becoming a network of a thousand individuals who are collectively connecting millions of people to Jewish life, to Israel and to Jewish values.
To take this vision to the next level, staff modeled the community after what network theorists call a "global strategic network": ROI would become a community of reciprocity, where its members share advice, collaborate on projects and serve as strategic resources for their peers. ROI’s capstone Summit and Community would serve as catalysts for creativity and innovation among members, producing a ripple effect that could transform broader Jewish life.
After reflecting on their mission and developing their theory of change, leadership clarified the primary objective of ROI: to create environments for its members to connect and create together. This purpose served as the foundation from which ROI began to expand its programming, as well as the lens through which it examined its work.
ROI realized that the first step towards this goal was creating an appealing brand, a clear and consistent message to its members about what the organization represents. After completing its strategic planning process in 2012, ROI launched a new brand under the name ROI Community. From that point forward, the ROI Summit became the gateway into the ROI Community—a five-day gathering designed to outline the activity and behavior expected of its members year-round. Rather than producing “alumni” of ROI, the Summit would serve as the inaugural experience for lifelong ROI Community membership.
To build out programming for the 360 days beyond the five day Summit, ROI Community developed a wide range of opportunities and incentives for its members that reflect the organization's vision and serve as a comprehensive slate of activities for Jewish social activism, entrepreneurship and leadership. ROI Community began offering opportunities in the following focus areas:
Professional Development and Skill Building
- Master Classes and Courses: ROI Community focuses on developing people, rather than projects. With this guiding principle in mind, the organization offered diverse, cutting-edge professional development opportunities to its members throughout the year. From master classes to extended courses, ROI Community gives field experts platforms to relay knowledge and skills in a variety of areas, including fundraising, marketing, branding, communicating, presenting, facilitating and more. The program also offers discounted coaching and mentorship opportunities and assists members in booking speaking engagements and attending conferences.
- Conference Delegations: In 2012, staff began organizing delegations to popular conferences devoted to personal and professional growth. Rather than traveling alone, ROI Community members benefit from attending conferences with other members of their community.
Connecting and Creating
- Schusterman Connection Points: In 2012, ROI Community launched Connection Points, a series of local and thematic peer-led gatherings organized by members of the ROI Community. These gatherings bring together hundreds of passionate, talented young Jews and channel participants’ ideas, creativity and enthusiasm into partnerships that build and strengthen ties to Jewish life for themselves and their peers. Connection Points is part of Schusterman Family Philanthropies’ broader efforts to invest in young leaders and enable them to shape their own Jewish experiences. Connectors receive training, coaching, funding and support through the design and implementation of their Connection Points.
- Grassroots Initiatives: In December 2014, ROI Community introduced its Grassroots ROI Initiatives platform, helping members spearhead their own events to engage local ROIers and the broader Jewish community. This platform enables Community members to organize gatherings or short programs with unique approaches to addressing local topics, engaging peers, gathering key stakeholders or pushing the envelope on what today's Jewish community can and should look like.
- Meet-Ups: ROI Community events and reunions take place around the globe, fostering ongoing connections, friendships and partnerships between members. From organized dinners to reunions at Jewish conferences and general conventions, ROI Community connections continue to flourish all year long.
Innovative Funding Opportunities
- ROI Micro Grants: In 2011, ROI Community initiated its Micro Grants program, offering small stipends that can have macro impact on members’ personal and/or professional development. ROI Community members can apply for up to two $1,000 grants per year to engage in professional development, attend events or conferences, create their own projects or advance their Jewish learning. Originally, ROI Community utilized a traditional grantmaking process; however, it soon shifted to a micro grant approach to reduce competition between members and foster greater collaboration. This program also offers the organization a vehicle for keeping in touch with members and identifying trends across the community—if many individuals are trying to use micro grants for the same purpose, the program can offer this opportunity in a more official capacity, keep track of members' activities and approach ROIers in a more personalized way.
- Natan Grants: ROI Community is committed to forming and strengthening strategic relationships with funders around the world to advance members' initiatives and development. In 2012, the organization partnered with the Natan Fund, a giving circle that inspires young philanthropists to become actively engaged in raising funds for Jewish causes. The collaboration between ROI Community and the Natan Fund strengthens and enhances the work of each organization, and together, they have a profound influence on the Jewish world. This annual grant supports individual social entrepreneurs, community builders and early-stage programs that engage young Jews in Jewish culture in innovative ways.
- Indiegogo Partner Page: Indiegogo is an international crowdfunding platform that empowers anyone, anywhere to raise money for any cause. In 2012, ROI Community became the first Jewish organization to create a Partner Page on Indiegogo. Crowdfunding campaigns run by ROIers can be featured on the ROI Partner Page and receive discounted platform fees. In addition, Schusterman Family Philanthropies offers matching contributions to ROIer-led campaigns that align with Schusterman values, are suited for a crowdfunding model and have realistic monetary goals.
- Newsletter: Consistent communication is a key part of ROI Community's strategy. In October 2010, the organization introduced a bimonthly newsletter that provides interesting and engaging content relevant to the community's interests. Since the newsletter's inception, the most popular element has been a robust “Opportunities Section” that connects readers to fellowships, jobs and board positions.
- Social Media: ROI Community seeks to meet people where they are, pinpoint their needs and then meet those needs. ROIers are on Facebook and Twitter, so rather than trying to pull them to the ROI website, staff have created an active presence on social media. They also use Facebook to track ROIers' activities and identify ways ROI Community can address their interests. Whether it is a Mazel Tov, a condolence or a job opportunity, social media provides ROI Community a better understanding of how it can be of service.
- Listserv: The program also utilizes an active listserv that allows members to easily communicate.
Note: Case study reflects data through June 2014.
What began as an annual Summit has now become an active, year-round community where Jewish innovators collaborate and offer each other strategic support and advice. In June 2015, ROI Community held its ninth Summit in Jerusalem, bringing together 150 of the Jewish world’s brightest young minds from every corner of the globe and every field of interest to dream big, network and learn from a cohort of talented peers. These individuals join a lifelong community comprised of 1,090 members that comprise 58 countries and 43 languages.
Since adapting its strategy, ROI Community now facilitates ongoing interactions and relationships among its members on a global scale, and from these connections come the ideas and initiatives that strengthen communities and improve society.
ROI Community's approach has yielded tremendous impact in several key areas:
Professional Development and Skill Building
- Master Classes: In 2014, ROI Community held seven Master Classes with 123 attendees. Class topics included:
- 3-D printing and laser cutting;
- Film lessons and tips from Jason Wishnow, the mastermind behind the atmosphere of TED Talks;
- The theory and practice of social entrepreneurship by Dr. Jonathan Mirvis, a senior lecturer on social innovation at the Hebrew University;
- Decision-making with economist Noreena Hertz; and
- Israel as a start-up nation and an economic perspective on “threats” from within by the former Executive Director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.
- Courses: In 2014, ROI Community offered four programs that attracted 137 attendees. Some of the multi-day learning opportunities offered to ROIers in 2014 and 2015 included:
- Facilitation Intensive: A five-day course about the planning and design of gatherings.
- Communication Skills Seminar: A two-day workshop focused on improving key presentation and communication techniques.
- Adaptive Leadership Lab: A five-day seminar that pushed participants to question, deconstruct, grapple and grow as they analyzed their own preconceived notions of effective leadership, with experiential learning developed by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s course on Adaptive Leadership and the Immunity to Change.
- Conference Delegations: Recent ROI Community delegations have attended major international conferences such as SXSW in Austin, Texas; the Salone del Gusto e Terra Madre Slow Food conference in Torino, Italy; Burning Man in Nevada; Midburn in southern Israel and Limmuds worldwide.
Connecting and Creating
Schusterman Connection Points: Seventeen gatherings took place over the course of the first two years of the program, and 2015 will see another 10 Connection Points around the world. Collectively, these gatherings have impacted over 1,500 participants. The themes of this year’s Connection Points include LGBTQ activism, international development, food, art, leadership, social justice and more. For more information on Connection Points, visit: www.schusterman.org/connectionpoints.
- Grassroots Initiatives: Since launching the Grassroots initiative in December 2014, ROI Community members have organized 36 initiatives--some of which saw thousands of attendees.
- Meet-Ups: In 2014, ROI Community held 29 meet-ups and Jewish festival events, attracting 860 total ROIers.
Innovative Funding Opportunities
- ROI Micro Grants: More than 1,500 micro grants have been distributed since 2011, enabling ROIers to take their projects to the next level—from organizing a Chanukah “silent rave,” to hiring a web developer to design a new site, to traveling across the Atlantic to collaborate with a fellow ROIer, the organization supports a wide range of initiatives, events and development opportunities. To learn more about micro grants, visit: www.schusterman.org/roicommunity/micro_grants.
- Natan Grants: Since the launch of ROI Community’s unique partnership with Natan, 15 initiatives have received over $100,000 in Natan funding, including Friday Night Lights, Israel Story and Judaic Tourism.
- Indiegogo Partner Page: ROIers have launched 55 crowdfunding campaigns on the ROI Community Indiegogo Partner page, collectively raising over $650,000. To see all campaigns run through their Partner Page on Indiegogo, head to: https://www.indiegogo.com/partners/ROIC.
- Newsletter: ROI Community’s bimonthly newsletter serves as an important piece of its overall strategy, distributing valuable information and updates to its members. ROIers have demonstrated a consistent interest in the newsletter, with an average open rate of more than 50% and an average click through rate of 33%.
- Social Media: Through its various online channels, ROI Community has engaged thousands of people; for example, during the 2015 ROI Summit, the #ROIcom hashtag was used in 608 posts generated by 145 unique users, reaching an audience of approximately 700,000 with over 2 million impressions (appearances in an individual’s social media feed).
Between its capstone Summit and it's comprehensive platform for sharing professional development and networking opportunities, ROI Community has created an open and vibrant atmosphere of connection and collaboration that empowers its members to better themselves, their communities and the broader Jewish world.
To learn more about ROI Community, please visit: www.schusterman.org/roicommunity.