The Measure of Success

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.

Leadership Isn't Easy

When people talk about “youth leadership” their meaning isn’t always clear. For many adults, “youth leadership” involves giving teens the appearance of leadership without the substance. An example of that might be a school’s student council, where there are elections and debates but the students can ultimately make few if any decisions (and those decisions are, of course, subject to veto by the administration). No wonder many students look at student council as a joke, or at best good for a paragraph on a college application. Other examples are programs where leadership skills are taught through lecture and discussion – but no real opportunity to lead exists.
Even in BBYO, “youth leadership” is sometimes more catch-phrase than reality. Member’s decisions are, of course, limited by policy – but those policies are interpreted by staff. In cases where staff respects and defends (even demands) youth leadership, BBYO members can truly exercise real authority and carry real responsibility. But it’s not all that uncommon for staff to make decisions that are arguably more appropriate for the youth to make. And it’s not just staff – sometimes regional board will make decisions that should actually be made at the chapter level.

In the Good Ol' Summer Time

I’m always astonished when I talk to advisors and members of other organizations like USY and FTY – how they talk about the end of the programming year and the summer break. For them vacation seems to include vacation from youth group activities as well.
Remarkably, it happens in many BBYO chapters as well.
If you’ve studied basic physics you probably heard about conservation of momentum – that once things are moving they tend to keep moving. Or put another way, it’s a lot easier to keep something rolling along than to stop it and restart it.
So it goes with chapters as well.
How can you achieve growth and momentum if you stop activities during the summer? Each fall then begins a whole new process of rebuilding and restarting. It’s often weeks or months before you’re back to where you were the previous spring. How crazy is that?
The best chapters look at summer as an opportunity. Event turnouts may get smaller as people travel and go on vacation, but that allows for different kinds of events, perhaps a bit more spontaneity. An event may consist of just an advisor and a few Alephs, but that can turn out great because with a small group it’s often easier to come to a decision and take advantage of cool opportunities that come along. Summer is a great time for campouts, swim parties, and chapter trips near or far. Summer allows you to do things that aren’t possible during weekends, like do factory tours that are only open weekdays.
Summer is a great time to start recruiting for fall, to invite prospectives to join in on some fun and laid-back programs. It’s a great time to work on planning some bigger programs for later in the year – the kind of programs that take time and advance planning.
Best of all, when fall comes around instead of having to struggle to “restart” the chapter, track down members and get them to start showing up again, your chapter will already be operating smoothly – momentum will be your friend instead of your enemy.
So have a great summer, and have a great BBYO summer – not just with summer programs, but with your chapter as well.

Fighting City Hall

On May 17th, Tommy from MAR said:

Though we are a youth-led movement, however, I’m not sure (and I guess this is a question), to what extent can we “change the rules”, as you say, to truly improve our Order?

I’ll do you the courtesy of not giving you the easy answer – the one you learn from school and mass media – either “in a Democracy everyone can have an impact” or maybe “you should respect authority, they have experience and know what’s best”. I think I’d choke on the words.
I’m going to give you the truth as I see it.
The simple answer to your question is – it depends.
Now lets cut the crap and talk about what that really mean.

The Coed Conundrum

I’ve been having a fascinating conversation with Tommy from Mid-America region. In his comment of May 17 he asks two questions, and I thought I’d respond to the second one first – the issue of “late night rooms” and revisit the whole co-ed housing question.
First, let me remind everyone that I only speak for myself here, so the following interpretation of BBYO policy is not “official” by any means.
So let’s get right down to business. The purpose of the no co-ed housing policy is NOT to prevent AZA’s and BBG’s from hooking up. As an advisor, I have no problems with that at all – to a significant degree that’s what conventions are for.
The purpose of the no co-ed housing policy is to, believe it or not, preserve fraternity and sisterhood. Surprised? Bear with me.

Hooking up at Conventions

In a recent comment, Tommy from Mid-America region argues that convention rules should be more lax so that Alephs and BBG’s would have more opportunity to “hook-up”.
He is absolutely correct.
In my post “The Convention Game” I argue that when members violate convention rules they are not only breaking their word, and truly going against the very foundation of BBYO as a youth led organization. Tommy, in his comment, points out that this is a lot to ask for from a bunch of teens with raging hormones. This is true. He does not quite say that raging hormones should be an excuse for breaking the rules – if he did, on that we would part company. He then makes a strong case for changing the rules. In doing so he is, from my perspective, embracing his role as a leader in BBYO.
I don’t know what role Tommy plays in his region, but whether Aleph or RAG (or even advisor), I encourage him to mobilize his friends to modify the rules. This needn’t be difficult. For example: I’ve been at more than one convention where they had a large “late night room” – those members who wanted to could hang out together well past curfew as long as they didn’t actually fall asleep (though inevitably some did). A good regional director will be open to creative suggestions for more social opportunities, but it’s up to the members to raise this issue if they feel existing rules are too strict.
Convention planners should include plenty of social programs – I’ve seen some cases where they were so focused on separates they didn’t plan nearly enough social time. I’ve also seen conventions go so far off schedule that what social time was planned was lost, either through poor planning or lack of cooperation by members on basic issues like getting to meals on time.
As an advisor, I agree 100% with Tommy’s observation that one of the most important purposes of conventions is for Alephs and BBG’s to hang out (if not hook up). On more than one occasion I’ve offered (unofficial) advice to members on how to accomplish this without a major rules violation. But the way to increase these opportunities is not by condoning rule breakers and breaking trust. It’s by changing the rules and being trustworthy. To give you an example: A “late night” hangout room such as I describe can only work when the members can be trusted to follow the agreement that makes such arrangements possible.
It is my obligation as an advisor to see that convention rules are followed. It is the responsibility of the youth leadership to enforce the rules so that advisors don’t have to. It is the obligation of every member to follow the rules as they promised. And most important of all, it is the right of every member to be vocal and involved in changing the rules for the betterment of the order (and yes, that includes the social aspects as well).

The 3:00am Dillema

Yesterday this thoughtful comment was posted in response to my recent post “The Convention Game“. This post is in response to you (who posted the comment) and anyone in your situation:
As a current regional leader, I feel that it is the regional board’s job to regulate their peers’ actions before getting the staff involved. Unless someone is going to be seriously injured, I’d rather kick boys out of a cabin myself and stay quiet than alert a staff member and have harsher than necessary actions taken, especially for a first offense.
That’s one of the toughest calls to make. I know the “official” answer: that you should have notified staff, but you and I both know it’s not so simple – “just following orders” is never a sufficient answer, even if it’s orders by your regional director.
Here’s one suggestion though: (more…)

The Convention Game

I’ve staffed many regional conventions. Generally I’ve enjoyed them except for one part – the “game” that seems to get played at night. What is the game? Call it, if you will “let’s see if we can break the rules and not get caught.” Whether it’s drugs or alcohol, or sneaking into each others rooms (girls in guys cabins and vice versa), or going out and doing various pranks, it seems to happen to various degrees at many conventions. Sometimes the regional board joins in (or worse, instigates the activities).
Most members don’t even understand why this is a problem. I’ve heard individuals explain “pot isn’t even as bad as tobacco”, “we were just hanging out – nothing happened”, “it’s just a harmless prank – it’s traditional”.
And they are right – but in being right they completely miss the point.

What Has AZA Done for You?

I’ve heard a lot of speeches in BBYO. Election speeches, States and Midstates. I’ve read even more (since it’s quite common now for regional and even board officers to prepare their speeches on computer and Email or post them on web sites). Most are pretty good. Some are rather depressing (particularly the “I know I didn’t do anything all last year on regional board” variety), some are motivating, some are analytical, some just wishful thinking.
Earlier today I received a document from Boaz Avital, an outgoing regional board member from CRW that was, above all, true.
Now, I don’t know if you can tell from reading this site, but I’m a big fan of truth. I can’t say I always like the truth – it’s often unpleasant. But I respect the truth, and I believe that the best way to make progress is to see things for what they really are, not what people say they are, and not the way people wish they would be.
Boaz does this well, and I thank him for the opportunity to publish it here. I encourage you all to read it.
Download What Has AZA Done for You?

To Board or Not to Board

One of the great dilemmas that any BBYO member faces is whether or not to run for chapter board. Given that springtime is election season for many chapters, this seems a good time to visit this topic.
So what are board members anyway? I know what you’re thinking – they are the members who are elected to lead the chapter.
Uh, actually, they aren’t.
Certainly you would hope that those who aren’t on board have leadership opportunities as well. In fact, I often find that non-board members are some of the strongest leaders in the chapter, not just in terms of planning great events, but in terms of general influence over the chapter. And sad to say, there are also cases where members who are elected to a board position end up doing very little in terms of leadership (or even their job).
I’ve never seen being elected to a board office magically turn anyone into a leader. It does often provide the challenge and opportunity to gain those skills, but by and large those elected to offices are those who have already demonstrated leadership ability, or a least the desire to gain such.
So what are board members?
They are the members who are chosen to take, and have agreed to take personal responsibility for the operation of the chapter.
Members can be great leaders on and off board. And they can plan great programs on and off board. But with a board position comes two great gifts – the gift of responsibility, and the opportunity to make a commitment.
It is this that perhaps distinguishes BBYO from any other youth group (Jewish or other). BBYO board members can carry more responsibility and authority than teens in any other environment I can think of. In fact, they can carry greater responsibility and authority than many adults do.
If you are an Aleph or BBG who is not running for board because you are too busy, too lazy, or too afraid to run, please reconsider. Talk to your advisor about it. It could exactly what you and your chapter really needs. And if you are Aleph or BBG who is planning on running just because you want a fancy title and know you aren’t going to do much, please don’t run – leave the opportunity to someone who can truly gain from the experience and will take the opportunity and responsibility seriously.
And for those who run and don’t make it, don’t fret – a healthy chapter will offer numerous other opportunities for you to have an impact and show your stuff. Take those opportunities, and a board spot will likely follow.