There’s no way around it, NFTY is getting crushed by COVID-19. That, plus generational changes that are shifting everything we know thought we knew about gen z. I currently have no formal ties to NFTY. I don’t work there. I’m not a big donor. I’m not on any boards. I am really just a concerned alumni that wants to make sure NFTY can live on, so it can continue to serve my kids, like it served me.
Why I care
Before I dive into what I would do if I were running NFTY, I first want you to know why I care. And I do care, a lot. I was a part of NFTY-SW from 2008 - 2012, and I served as regional president my senior year, in 2011-2012. I won’t forget that moment at Temple Kol Ami in the social hall with youth group director, Ellen Zieselman. She told me one evening that I should run for President of the region. I asked her “why me”. She told me her reasons, which I will keep private. This moment will be forever crystallized in my mind as the day I decided I was going to do something big in this world. She gave that to me. NFTY gave that to me. My interest in helping also comes from the fact thatI owe my teens to the NFTY, URJ, and overall jewish camp world.
I did NFTY in Israel in 2010
I attended Kutz in 2011
I worked at URJ Camp Kalsman in 2012
I worked at Camp Shemesh in 2013 and 2014
I founded the Hillel ASU board and served as President in 2015-2016
I was an admin at URL affiliated Camp Stein in 2015.
I worked at the Boulder JCC in 2016
I am a proud NFTYite; it’s in my blood. And I just can’t see a world where other teens don’t get the opportunity to get what I got. And based on my career, I actually think I’m able to funnel my energy and my passion for NFTY in to a coherent blog post that I hope the decisions makers within NFTY read.
Why I am credible?
You might be wondering why I am worth listening to? Here are the reasons I think my ideas can help. I am a startup guy, a techie, a product person. In the last 4 years, I:
Started a company, scaled it to $25,000 in monthly recurring revenue, and received an investment from Jason Calacanis (angel investor in Uber, Robhinhood, Calm)
Started a podcast and have interviewed over 200 founders about what the future looks like, especially for kids/consumers.
Currently work at a company that’s rethinking homeschooling and offering a middleground between that and public school
What I’m trying to say is that I know tech, I know consumer trends, and I know product. And in my view, this is the direction NFTY needs to go in if its not just only going to survive, but thrive once again. With that, let’s get into it.
What changed in the last decade?
A decade ago, I was just getting on Facebook. The iPhone growth was nascent. Uber didn’t exist yet. Snapchat didn’t exist yet. Tik Tok didn’t exist yet. A decade ago, my generation in high school were not digital natives. We were digital explorers, learning more about the internet through Myspace, Facebook, and experimentation. It was new and exciting, and we were able to plot our own journeys. BUT. This was not our lives. We knew what life was like before these apps. We remember. And we held onto those memories as high schoolers.
High schoolers in 2020 do not know what it was like to be a teen in a world without social media always at their fingertips. They are true digital natives. So, going to in person events seems less interesting to them than joining their friends in Houseparty or Squad. Why would a teen in 2020 go to a youth group event to meet people in person, when they can just swipe right and meet people on mobile apps. The truth is, things changed. The market changed. And NFTY didn’t change fast enough with it, and now they are suffering the consequences :(
The generational behavior change absolutely affects the economics of NFTY too, based on its current business model. NFTY gets paid on a transactional basis, when a parent signs their kids up for a program, NFTY gets paid. So, if teens decide they don’t want to go to Kutz anymore, or they don’t want to go to regional events, NFTY loses out on revenue. My guess is that this is the reason Kutz had its final summer in 2019, pre COVID. Many kids these days just don’t want what NFTY is offering, and this impacts NFTY economically.
Note, I haven’t mentioned COVID once this whole time. NFTY was in trouble with out without COVID. But with COVID, NFTY is in real trouble. NFTY was forced to cancel all Summer programs, due to COVID, which is devastating on many levels. NFTY In Israel’s won’t happen. Kalsman won’t happen. None of it. So first off, this is a major blow to every kid that grew up at a camp, just like me. Additionally, this is another severe economic blow for NFTY, as the most revenue generating season of the year won’t bring in a dollar of profit for them. Combine that with generational trends, and NFTY is in trouble. In response to these changes, NFTY should build a product. A digital product.
Think of NFTY to be more like Snapchat
If NFTY was starting TODAY, what would it look like? Personally, I would recreate NFTY with a internet-first approach. I would create a digital first product that met the teens where they are, with in-person events as a augmentation of the core experience, which is all online. Instead of having regional events every 3 months, have weekly events about different topics. Have different TYGs but let them mix and mingle with others. If people like gaming, have a virtual meetup to talk about gaming. Reading? Same. Here are some of the platforms where I could see these programs being facilitated, broken up by category.
Where teens are today and tomorrow
Snapchat: Where teens communicate
Houseparty: Where teens hang out
Squad: Where teens hang out in two years (Will replace Snapchat)
Where conferences will be tomorrow
Hopin - Can host NFTY convention and regional events here
Run The World - Another conference option as well
Where communities will be tomorrow
Discord - A powerful community chat tool, built for gamers but is scaling into mainstream.
Geneva - A new type of app that supports chat, video, and audio conversations all at the same time.
Glimpse - A great way to get your community members to meet eachother.
There are TONS of app that allow you to take the traditional camping and NFTY experience and put it online. This DOES NOT MEAN you can’t have events in real life. It just means that this isn’t the focus. Which bring me to my last point; the business model.
How you make money
From when I was in NFTY, we pay to go to an event, then we pay to go to the next one, etc. This makes more sense if you’re focused only on in-person events. But if you’re creating some sort of digital community, the business model should change. In my opinion, they should be charging a subscription to get access to all of the stuff mentioned above. Imagine that. Tell parents to pay $50-$X/mo and their kids gets unlimited access to NFTY programming. This does a few things for you as an organization.
Recurring revenue - Recurring revenue is the best kind of revenue. It’s predictable, do you can manage you headcount and spend way more easily, and it also means you’re probably capturing more value than you otherwise would be.
It’s easier for parents to pay it - This is a more set it and forget it model, vs. actively looking at finances every time their kids want to go to camp or to a convention.
You get higher margins - The event business model is take ticket sales and over revenue, subtract costs, then you have X profit left over. It’s always leaves thin-ish margins. With recurring revenue, you get paid even when you sleep. As long as you build something the teens want to be a part of, the families will keep paying, even if you aren’t contracting people to be on staff to manage the community 24/7. This adds tons more room to your margins to operate a better business.
You get a more direct feedback loop. Understand why people churn, and catch them right after they unsubscribe to ask “why”. Instead of just never seeing a teen anymore and wonder where they went, this gives you more control over your churn
There are tools like Stripe that make collecting this payment extremely easy. There’s never been a better time in the world to have a subscription business model.
In summary, here’s what I would do in 10 steps.
Forget everything I know about NFTY
Think about NFTY as a consumer tech startup
Talk to 100 teens and get their opinion on where they hang out online
Build a digital community for NFTYites, in a platform thats native to them
Charge parents a subscription fee to get unlimited access
Still have in person events, but just not as many (this will make them more special)
Keep a very tight feedback look with the parents and teens
Improve the product every month
Make a ton of money to re-invest in the staff and the people
Thrive, once again.
I know these times are very hard for all of us. I don’t expect you to adopt many ideas in this post. But if this can help you find a way for NFTY to get back to its prime, I will have done my job. I love NFTY. I want my kids to experience NFTY. The future is uncertain, except knowing that there will be something great on the other side. Thanks for reading.
I am in, I was NFTY President in 1994-1995. It was such an incredible part of my life and I hate for generations of Jewish teens to miss out on that experience. I became a teacher and now I am running a tutoring company that spans the US. I love your idea and I would love to help make this happen. Tell me