American Jews are blessed with an unprecedented number of foundations focused on preserving Jewish identity in the 21st century. The Jim Joseph, Schusterman, Bronfman, Avi Chai, Steinhardt, Grinspoon and Mandel Foundations, among others, each grants tens of millions of dollars every year to Jewish identity causes. Many Jewish federations and individuals are also focused in this area. Yet all of these funders labor under the same profound conceptual limitation: they don’t have an obvious and clear metric to measure what they are doing.
The measures, both scientific and unscientific, Jewish identity funders use to gauge the effectiveness of the efforts, have varying usefulness. Many funders chose programs they think are nice or whose organizers they think are nice without any indication they will be successful. Others rely on reports critiquing the issues, which identify the context but rarely measure results. Alternatively, funders gather data from community studies that show a correlation between life experiences and Jewish identification. This last method is very useful; however the results of these studies often make it difficult to ascertain which program had the most impact. The lack of a simple common metric to evaluate the success of specific programs is bad for the Jews.
In the business world, the metrics are pretty clear. Companies try to invest the least amount of money necessary to generate the most profit. This, essentially, is the idea of economic efficiency, captured by the term of “Return on Investment” or colloquially, “bang for the buck.” I would like to propose such a concept for the Jewish world. I call it SIDUR, an acronym that stands for Sustained Increase in Demand Unlimited Reach. The key to understanding SIDUR is that demand drives everything. Demand has unlimited reach to change the dynamics of the present status quo. SIDUR measures the increase in demand for doing Jewish things (however defined by that funder).
SIDUR should be indexed from 0 to 10, with 0 being No Impact and 10 being Total Commitment to being Jewish. The grantor would estimate the expected change in SIDUR among the participants who complete the program. This pre-program estimate would subsequently be compared to actual change in the SIDUR of the participants at the completion of the program and attempts should be made for further measurements post-program. The farther away from the completion of the program, the harder it is to measure on a specific basis, but this is the conceptual goal.
Yet, to fully evaluate any program in the world of limited resources, we also have to include the concept of cost. Thus, the next step is to take the SIDUR and compare it to the GELT (money in Yiddish) spent to subsidize each participant in order for it to reach more Jews. With these two components we can now put them together to create our useful metric. Here is where the rubber meets the road and the SIDUR/GELT (S/G) ratio becomes our metric. Funders can now use currently available community studies and S/G ratios to figure out how to best allocate funds.
To learn the technical details of calculating the S/G ratio, please visit www.chaimitzvah.org and download the complete version of this article, “From Nice to Effective.” The survey of 12 questions will take less than five minutes for applicants to complete. These questions would be asked at the beginning of a program and then some time after end of the program.
All the currently available research indicates that longer-term experiences (read “more expensive programs”) have more impact on us and therefore will have a higher SIDUR than one-time events. As a result, these are the programs funders should be evaluating first according to the S/G metric. Study after study points to the strength of day school education, trips to Israel (and especially second trips), camping, and the like. Indeed, it is likely that day school education will have the highest SIDUR, while longer teen programs, which are less costly to subsidize than day school, may have the highest S/G ratios of all Jewish identity programs.
Longer-term adult Jewish education programs, which can be subsidized at a relatively low cost per person, like Chai Mitzvah, an adult bar/bat mitzvah renewal initiative with which I am associated, are also likely candidates to successfully pass the S/G test. Other programs like chavurah programs or the Conservative movement’s Mitzvah and Sulam programs are also likely to have high S/G ratios. All of these programs need to be measured against each other and against alternative initiatives. In contrast, one-time programs will only have acceptable S/G ratios if they cause folks to begin their journey in sufficient numbers.
While the S/G ratio can become a key metric, like all good investors, the Jewish community needs to diversify its portfolio. So even though teen Israel programs will probably yield the highest S/G ratios, it is a matter of common sense that funders should still subsidize programs for Jews of all ages and different backgrounds. The point is to find the programs for each group that yield the highest S/G ratios.
The SIDUR/GELT metric might not work for every program, but it is a good start for conceptualizing what Jewish identity funders should want: greater and sustained future demand for “doing things Jewish” among a larger number of Jews.
Scott A. Shay is the author of “Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry” (2nd Edition, Devora, 2008) and is the chairman of Signature Bank and a partner of Ranieri Partners LLC. He is also president of Chai Mitzvah.