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I recently asked Jewish day school development professionals what the ROI for day schools might look like from the vantage point of the Jewish community. I suggested that, if we believe day schools are valuable community assets that contribute to thriving, robust Jewish communities of meaning, we must be able to measure their value for the Jewish community.

The ROI theme recalls a front-page article in the Boston Globe that posed an intriguing, question: What value do local universities or colleges bring to the surrounding community? Living in the Boston area, home to over 60 colleges and universities, a few come to mind: economic investment, public spaces, jobs, better informed citizens, access to leading thinkers and innovation. We might consider these the societal ROI—return on investment—for higher education.

Business strategists tell us that organizations must precisely define their distinctive value and how to sell it. Having a belief in the value of JDS as a community asset is one thing; making the assertion is another. How do you go about this? How do we measure the worth of JDS—not just for an individual student or school, but for Jewish society as a whole?

Perhaps it is an increase in Jewishly-literate local families; community leaders, rabbis, and teachers who can educate and lead all members of the community; flourishing and growing community institutions rich in Jewish vibrancy; federations boards that are buoyed by growing campaigns and increased commitment to Jewish life.

Whatever it is for your community, one thing is clear: you need data to support your case. Here are some ideas for gathering it.

  • Investigate how many of your community leaders, federation board members, and generous philanthropists attended day school.
  • Survey your alumni. Where and how are they making a difference?
  • Connect to new families in your area. Find out how many of them moved in because of the presence of your day school or others in the area.
  • Measure the numbers of community members, non-day school parents, who attend public events in your school (lectures and educational programs, cultural events and celebrations, camps and other programs that rent space in your building).
  • Query your local synagogues about the numbers of former JDS students who contribute to independent minyanim, lead youth groups, participate in community celebrations, or participate in community-wide social-justice initiatives.
  • Count how many synagogues, kosher restaurants, and innovative Jewish activities there are in your community and consider whether they are a reflection of the number and quality of JDS’ in the neighborhood.

The future of the Jewish people is not merely dependent on passionate Jews. We need knowledgeable Jews, who emerge from excellent Jewish day schools and grow up to be active members of our community.

Now that would be an ROI worth talking about.