What Are Federations Doing in the Engagement Business? Our Work as a Field

IV.    Our Work as a Field     

The day after the General Assembly, about 140 people—Federation volunteer leaders and professionals, expert educators and philanthropists, and other educational leaders—got together to talk about relationship-based engagement and its implications for Federations.
 We defined what we mean by engagement and began to articulate the opportunities and challenges in the engagement agenda for Federation. 
This series on our Jewish Education & Engagement blog has four parts and one side bar : I. The Problem; II. The Goal; Sidebar: Why Does the Personal Matter? Rebuilding Jewish Social Capital; III. Federations’ Role; and IV. Our Work as a Field. At two points, discussion questions accompany the text for use with volunteer leaders and other stakeholders.


And if you need a summary? (As they say these days: TL;DR) 
Q: What are Federations doing in the engagement business?
A: (Re)Designing a community for a new way of Jewish living, learning, and being.
For more information about any of the ideas here, contact Beth Cousens or Rachel Shtern.


Within this context, as we make a tremendous adaptation to the current moment, there remains a bunch of stuff we need to figure out as a system:



  • Cultivating those who will lead Jewish organizations and Jewish life in the future, and cultivating Jewish philanthropy, need to remain high Federation priorities. How do we implement these agendas and an engagement agenda simultaneously? As described earlier, JEWISHcolorado describes this as a “Live/ Give/ Lead” mandate. What does that look like practically?
  • A plethora of service providers are working in the engagement space. How do we support and cultivate their work? What piece of this is Federation’s and what pieces are not? How do we enable this work act as a true ecosystem?
  • Many Federations have worked hard to make it as easy as possible for people to give, focusing on being customer-centered (which can mean donor-centered). Our first message is sometimes, or maybe often, about giving. Should we, and how do we, reorient our organizations to make every message an engaging, welcoming, low-barrier, and inclusive message?
  • And, as we work through these issues, how do we remain user-centered? We are currently a set of highly knowledgeable and engaged Jews designing opportunities to explore Jewish life for those who are, simply, not us. How do we open up to different voices, listen, and provide opportunities for them to create Jewish social networks, and ultimately organizations, for themselves? 
  • To understand our goals is one thing; to identify specific metrics by which we can track and evaluate our work, and to develop a system to collect and use data to focus on strategy and results is another. What are our metrics, can we develop metrics as a system toward which we can work, and how do we collect data?
  • As we work through these sticky issues, and understand engagement from a Federation perspective more generally, how do we create opportunities for collaborative experimentation and learning within and outside of the Federation field? None of us has the monopoly on the best way to do this.


Going forward, the Jewish Education & Engagement department will do our best to convene these conversations, to make the best thinking of the larger engagement field available to us to help us, together, develop ideas about these questions. 


What are Federations doing in the engagement business? We are helping to build a landscape of (Jewish) opportunity for Jews and those who love them to explore Jewish life. And we are designing a community infrastructure—even a grassroots infrastructure—for a new way of Jewish living, learning, and being. Fundraising is a way to get that work done, and for some, it will be part of how they live out their “Jewish doing,” just as it has been in the past. We are part of the twentieth-century legacy and, as such, we have what to do to become, truly, engagement organizations. Working together toward a rebooted vision of Jewish life and community, we can figure it out.


For Discussion:


  • In our experience, where have we seen these engagement ideas “work”?
  • How have we successfully embarked on building a new engagement framework of opportunities in our community?
  • Who are our most valuable programmatic partners in this space? Where could we be cultivating new engagement opportunities (What entrepreneurs are working in this space in our community who might need our support)?
  • What donors and other financial stakeholders can be our partners? How do we need to cultivate their involvement in building this agenda?