A New Model for a Hillel; Demonstrating Strong Results
(Miami, October 17, 2015)—Five years ago, Tulane Hillel re-imagined what a Jewish institution might be. Using principles of Design Thinking and a commitment to embrace broad organizational change, Tulane Hillel launched a new model for building Jewish community. These organizational changes were informed by a strong commitment to emphasizing a “user-centric” approach. The resulting institutional adjustments were carried out in all areas of the organization: professional staff, student leadership, lay leadership, and strategic direction.
It was a paradigm shift. Rabbi Yonah Schiller, executive director, shared, “Change is not always easy, but our resistance to change is probably our greatest obstacle. I have always felt that the Jewish people deserve more. We need our institutions to be dynamic. Institutions should be a reflection of the people, not the other way around.”
Soon after this transformation, early indicators suggested that this “experiment” was producing strong results. In the 2013–14 school year, with the assistance of support from Targum Shlishi, Tulane Hillel began to implement a rigorous process of tracking student participation and engagement through quantitative measures, with the goal of reaching 100 percent of the Jewish students at Tulane.
Schiller partnered with Kevin Wilkins, a specialist in helping entrepreneurs achieve sustainable growth. Schiller notes that the need for concrete evaluation exists for any organization in order to know what its constituents feel it is doing right and where there is room for growth. Tulane Hillel also possesses the organizational will to use its metrics to continue to iterate and create more effective strategies moving forward.
Now, after a full year of data capture, management, and analysis, the organization has experienced surprising and impressive results that have provided important and valuable insights. The data points to new understandings of the priorities of the critical college-aged demographic and how best to engage this generation in organizational Jewish life. Tulane Hillel is sharing its model, methodology, and results with other Hillels, Jewish organizations, and foundations around the country.
“Tulane Hillel’s creativity, vision, and drive are impressive, as has been evident in the development of their institutional model,” says Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director. “It has been a winning combination to fearlessly use best business practices while also paying close attention to the sensitivities and sensibilities of those the organization aims to serve.”
The numbers collected through this process have produced some unprecedented organizational metrics. Tulane Hillel has found that over the course of the 2014–15 academic school year, 88 percent of nearly 2,500 Jewish students on campus pro-actively engaged with at least one Tulane Hillel program. Another unusual and key data point is that Tulane Hillel is engaging 52 percent of the entire campus population of over 7,000 students. This data indicates that creating points of organizational access and value for the broader demographic is critical to creating a vibrant and relevant and far-reaching Jewish community.
Tulane Jewish Leaders, Tulane Hillel’s innovative leadership incubator, grew by 24.6 percent that year, to a cohort of 266 active participants—or more than 10 percent of Tulane’s Jewish population. Of these new Jewish leaders, fewer than 10 percent had attended Jewish day schools or had significant Jewish educational experiences prior to college. This suggests that the vast majority of student leaders are seeking out and creating their own independent Jewish identities as a result of an accessible Jewish institution. These findings strongly support the notion that Jewish community’s broad reach is possible and directly related to empowering those who are often found outside the organizational walls.
In addition to tracking attendance and leadership profiles, the organization surveyed more than 300 students, Jews and non-Jews, of the general student body to assess their attitudes toward Tulane Hillel and its organizational identity, and what led to their initial engagement. In answering the survey question, “What draws you to Tulane Hillel,” 86 percent listed “the atmosphere” as the number one attraction. This option was chosen over choices that included a) comfortable physical spaces; b) good food; c) warm and welcoming staff; and d) interesting programs. This shows that “atmosphere,” which is a compilation of all the other choices, is a critical driver in creating accessible Jewish community.
Tulane Hillel has become an interesting case study in organizational innovation. This occurs at a critical time when much of the Jewish world is looking for new answers and approaches to Jewish continuity and engagement.
About Tulane Hillel
Tulane Hillel is dedicated to building radically inclusive, representative and action-oriented Jewish community. This institutional development is determined and directed by the diverse constituents that make up the Tulane Jewish community, allowing them to inform the organizational agenda, identity and culture. The institutional approach is entrepreneurial, educational, and its attitude promotes empathy and care for all of its participants. For more information, visit Tulane Hillel’s website at www.tulanehillel.org.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Aryeh5.