This piece was originally featured in eJewish Philanthropy on Jan. 26, 2016.
We’ve all heard the call throughout the nonprofit sector to become data driven, particularly from philanthropists looking for guarantees that their investments will have impact. Plenty of large scale studies in the Jewish community helps us all to better understand what works. Yet, few organizations use data on a regular basis to inform the critical work of engaging Jews in Jewish life.
At Hillel International, we know the importance of guiding students on their college journey. As they question their beliefs and assumptions, and forge an adult identity of their own, Hillel helps students explore Jewish life and make meaning. Periodic evaluations have demonstrated the significance of Hillel’s work.
However, Hillel has never attempted to regularly measure the effectiveness of campus Hillels, nor did we possess the methodologies to do so. Until now.
Hillel’s strategic implementation plan, The Drive to Excellence, articulates a set of engagement goals to help a significant number of Jewish students make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Here’s how we break that down:
Excellent Hillels will know the names of 90% of Jewish students on campus; interact at least once a year with 70%; form an ongoing relationship with 40% and provide high impact experiences (think Birthright Israel, leadership roles, fellowships, service learning, Jewish study) with at least 20% of Jewish students each year.
Recognizing that data are essential to understanding our impact, Hillel International has committed to helping local Hillels regularly study their impact on Jewish students. We have set a goal to help at least 100 Hillels participate in ongoing measurement by 2020. To that end, Hillel launched the Measuring Excellence pilot in 2014 with 18 Hillels. Now in its second year, the pilot includes 48 Hillels representing 73 campuses.
With support from Rosov Consulting and Collaborative Strategies Inc., Hillel has collected a variety of data on each local Hillel: finance, fundraising activity, student participation data, and employee engagement. In the first year, 2,700 students across the 18 participating pilot-sites participated in an initial student survey which asked about students’ knowledge, attitudes and activities and about various facets of Jewish life. It also asked questions about students’ participation in Hillel in order to ensure that our targets for student engagement were accurate.
Below are headlines from that first year of student survey analysis, and early lessons about the value of having data to inform our work.
Year One Findings: Hillel Makes a Difference in Growing Jewish Engagement
- Participating in even one Hillel activity relates to higher Jewish outcomes;
- Student outcomes increase with more frequent activity; students who had at least six interactions with Hillel showed the most growth.
- Even when students have participated in our highest impact experiences (for example Birthright Israel), further interactions spur more growth;
- Students who came to college with lower levels of previous Jewish education and involvement showed the most growth if they participated in Hillel, compared with their peers who entered college with higher levels of previous Jewish experience;
- Hillel’s “Effect” – the unique contribution to Jewish student growth attributed to Hillel – when factors such as prior Jewish education, camp, youth group experiences and Jewish upbringing are set aside analytically is moderate to high. The “Hillel Effect” was particularly correlated with participation in learning activities, Shabbat and holiday celebrations, taking on leadership roles, connecting with other Jews and feeling part of the larger Jewish community.
Measuring Pays Off
One hundred percent of the 18 Hillels increased their rates of student engagement in at least one of the ”90/70/40/20” engagement targets between year 1 and year 2 of measurement. Seven of those 18 Hillels, increased in three categories.
Part of this success can simply be attributed to better data collection. Hillels learned quickly what data they were good at capturing, and where their practices were lacking. They then made steps to improve. We count this as an important early success of the measurement pilot.
We are also seeing the participating Hillels talk and act more strategically. During the year, we spoke with pilot Hillels who were newly setting targets for their staff teams, and tracking their progress.
Reviewing one Hillel’s list of the students whom they had met one-time that year, I asked: “What would it take to meet these students again? To have three, four or six interactions with them?” Hearing my challenge, the Hillel devised a plan to follow up with each student. By the end of the academic year, the Hillel had achieved its goal of increasing the number of students it engaged four or more times, and set a higher goal for this year.
Hillels receive data not only on their mission-oriented work, but also on the important drivers that enable success: finances, fundraising practices, as well as employee engagement, a critical contributor to any Hillel’s success. And as more Hillels engage in measurement, each will benefit from richer, more valuable peer benchmarking.
With a goal of having 50 excellent Hillels and 85% of the rest improving annually by 2020, a data informed culture is a foundational component of Hillel’s Drive to Excellence. In 2016, another 20-30 Hillels will join the existing 48 as they continue their measurement efforts.
The success of the Drive to Excellence compels Hillel International to not only support Hillels in collecting and analyzing data, but also help them adopt best practices and programs, and garner more resources to engage a larger percentage of the Jewish student population in the years ahead.
While researchers will continue to study Jewish college students and produce valuable reports about trends or the efficacy of particular programs, none of these studies can replace the value of each Hillel having its own performance data. With it, Hillels will know where they are truly succeeding and where they can still improve. And with a robust data-oriented approach to pursing our mission, the broader community can rest assured that their investment in the Jewish future is well placed with Hillel.
Jennifer Zwilling is the vice president for strategy and measurement at Hillel International.