Menu JTA Search

Researcher Wants to Help Groups Make Better Use of Jewish Survey

The results of the last national survey of the American Jewish population were widely distributed — but one researcher says they could have been more widely used.

Rabbi Hayim Herring, the director of identity and continuity at the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, has just completed a study of how Jewish federation professionals used the survey of American Jewish demographics and attitudes conducted by the Council of Jewish Federations in 1990.

He says there is a significant distinction between distribution and dissemination.

“In a nutshell,” Herring said, “distribution concentrates on getting the word out. Dissemination focuses on how to get the word used.”

Compared to the CJF’s first such national initiative in 1970, Herring says, “huge strides forward have been made with regard to getting the word out about the 1990 survey.”

“When it came to getting the word used, that’s where additional learning can clearly take place.”

With a new survey in the works for the year 2000, Herring is hoping his study will contribute to a more effective utilization of next year’s findings.

Herring conducted his research as part of his doctoral studies, working closely with the team of researchers preparing the upcoming survey.

The 2000 survey is being organized by the United Jewish Communities, the new national philanthropy formed through the union of CJF, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal.

For his study, Herring sent questionnaires to 561 federation professionals working in seven areas: campaign, continuity, endowment, human resource development, marketing, planning directors and executives.

He said his research made clear that the 1990 survey “played an important role” in getting people to rethink their conceptions of the American Jewish community.

The survey highlighted areas of communal concern, he said, and helped identify target populations — singles, interfaith families, adolescents — where new policies and programs were needed.

Still, Herring found that federation fund-raising and marketing professionals made only limited use of the survey.

His major findings include:

62 percent of respondents reported that the 1990 survey played a role in creating continuity task forces and commissions and in developing new continuity programs.

60 percent said the survey played a role in “increasing the amount of time spent” planning for future Jewish communal needs, and 40 percent said it had helped shape their local research agenda.

58 percent said it had contributed to the building of partnerships with synagogues; 45 percent were encouraged to do so with social service agencies.

59 percent reported that the survey affected the allocation of funds for local needs as opposed to overseas needs.

Federation professionals reported that they need more support in using the data effectively.

They asked for study guides, conferences and collaborations with professional researchers from outside of the federation world.

Few reported that they had read any of the three academic monographs that resulted from the research. Two others are due out soon.

A much larger body of scholarly research is expected from the 2000 survey because part of the $4 million budget has been set aside specifically for “back-end” publications, the UJC’s research director, Jim Schwartz, said in a telephone interview.

Current preparations bode well for other forms of follow-up, some corresponding to Herring’s recommendations.

For example, Schwartz said the survey team is already working with federation lay and professional leaders, and representatives of Jewish organizations, as well as academics and members of various UJC committees.

But he cautioned that the survey is still “very much a work in process.”

Herring, who is a member of the UJC’s professional advisory committee, praised the 1990 survey as “high-quality research that deserves to be better utilized.”

He said he hoped his recommendations would be taken into consideration, “because there’s still time to move forward, beyond the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, when it comes to 2000.”

NEXT STORY