Last January, in my post 18,000, I noted the obvious fact that with the influx of new money and donors to the organization, it’s imperative that BBYO show results. In that post I explained that one of the key results that BBYO must show is an increase in membership, and that it is unlikely that a sufficient increase can be achieved using traditional membership standards (i.e., membership in a chapter). That’s why you’ve been hearing more about B-Linked, non-traditional programs, teen-connection and “engagement”.
Now I’m all for getting more teens involved in BBYO in many different ways. I expressed a concern then (and still hold a concern), that in the rush for numbers there is a risk that the traditional chapter based strength of BBYO will gradually fade. This would be a mistake, and not just because chapters are “traditional”. It would be a mistake because chapters are ultimately where youth leadership happens.
Every Jewish youth group from USY, to the various FTY to the Zionist and orthodox groups all have the ability to “engage” Jewish youth. But BBYO, more than any of them, has demonstrated the ability to develop leaders.
If BBYO is to preserve this (and I believe it is important that we do so), it is absolutely necessary for this to be reflected in the way that success is measured. In other words, it is not enough for BBYO to be able to show to donors that they are reaching more youth – they need to demonstrate that the youth who are being reached are receiving the same challenging quality leadership experience that has been BBYO’s strength.
Though in truth, this needs to be phrased the other way. It’s is really necessary for the donors to demand this of BBYO, and to ask for metrics beyond just membership or “engagement” numbers.
As far as I can tell, right now there is no measure of the quality of the program beyond membership and anecdotal stories of success. The metrics are purely focused on attendance, membership, engagement and (of course) money.
So allow me to present a few suggestions for additional metrics. Let me challenge the various foundations and donors who support BBYO to consider these metrics when measuring the success of the program – not just membership numbers.

  1. A way should be developed to measure how many members actually program/coordinate events at the chapter and regional level. In other words – what percentage of members are actually developing leadership skills?
  2. Let’s create a more formal leadership training program, consisting of both youth lead programs at conventions, but also professionally run programs (by staff, community members and other experts) made available to members on a local basis. Then measure attendance at these programs. (By the way, these can also be a useful recruitment tool, so open them to any Jewish teen).
  3. Let’s do an annual survey on college campuses of freshmen who take on leadership responsibility in campus Jewish organizations (Hillel, AEPi, AIPAC, etc.). Count how many of them are BBYO graduates. That’s a great metric for success going forward.

Following these metrics will not only help maintain a focus on chapters, it plays to BBYO’s historic strengths. Those who complain that BBYO invests a large amount on each member may be silenced when they realize what they are getting. Or put another way – would you rather spend $50/teen for 10 paper members who log in to B-linked once a month, or $500/member for someone who is going to end up president of their college Hillel? Both are important. Both represent success. Both should be measured.