Understanding Our Target Demographic
In any new venture, it’s important to understand one’s target demographic. This is certainly the case with the field of Modern Orthodox recruitment and to get a sense of what this target demographic is looking for (and not looking for) in a community. Fortunately, there is a study out there that did just that.
Over a decade ago, the Community Growth Initiative of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University, under the direction of Rabbi Ari Rockoff, led a study on young couples seeking to leave large cities (primarily the greater New York City area).* As the study states, “There are many communities across the country, at various stages of development that are actively looking to attract young families. Young families are ready to contribute to communities and communities are looking for active participants” (p. 1). To that end, they asked for input from focus groups with a total of 100 young families.**
Those involved in the study were already considering going elsewhere:
It’s the, “We’re outgrowing our apartment, where should we go?” conversation. What did we learn from our conversations with these families that represent the future of our communities? What factors will entice young families willing to expand their horizons and look into other communities? How do we share with young couples the opportunity for them to have a better quality of life in communities around North America?
We found that if couples are going to search for “community” elsewhere, then at every touch point with the community there needs to be a sense of welcoming, opportunity and involvement. (p. 3)
The primary results of the study concerned what these young families were looking for. The most significant factors these young families were looking for were hashkafah, choice of day schools, and affordable housing, with the two least significant factors being rabbinic leadership and kosher restaurants (see graph to the right).
Hashkafah, or worldview, was so important that “the right Hashkafa overcomes a lack in existing institutions or infrastructure. If a community shares their Jewish values and priorities, it will be able to create the necessary infrastructure to meet their needs and the needs of their children” (p. 4). While this first factor might be surprising, the next two factors should not be surprising.
Jewish education was the next most significant factor for these families, as they “felt that Judaism is based on the ability to partner with excellent teachers and schools to transmit our legacy and heritage in developing the future of our people. Couples are looking for schools with experience and proven success in challenging their children academically, spiritually and personally in an ever-changing society” (p. 5).
Rounding out the top three factors was, unsurprisingly, housing affordability, since residing “in established Orthodox communities is increasingly becoming a financial burden. Young families are looking for positive signs of communal rebirth/repositioning or growth in affordable areas” (p. 6). This is especially so in the greater New York area, while there are many Orthodox communities around the country that offer more affordable housing.
Looking at the least significant factors, rabbinic leadership doesn’t seem to be that significant, since if the hashkafah is already in line, then so, too, should be rabbinic leadership, and vice versa, it would seem. Curiously, options in kosher dining were shockingly low. Not only was it last, it was not even close to the previous factors. I suspect that the reason for this being so far down the list is that these families know that moving out of such a high density of Jewish population center means they will have less access to kosher restaurants. It would seem that they have other priorities and they accept that they will have less options no matter where they move.
Another interesting aspect of the study was asking the couples how they saw themselves and how they would fit into their new communities. Most of the respondents fit into one of three categories: 20% said they were Revitalizers, who were looking to move to “an existing community that has a glorious past but currently has a small number of members that participate in weekly shul activities,” 29% said they were Energizers, who were looking to move to “an active community that lacks a young couple population,” and 33% who said they were Reinforcers, who were looking to move to a “flourishing community with lots of young couples and a strong infrastructure (shuls, schools, restaurants)” (p. 11). Interestingly, only 5% of the respondents said they were looking to be pioneers as founding members of a community.
Fortunately, for Cincinnati, which has a young couple population that is growing and an already existant infrastructure, we are fortunate that we should be able to attract those types of families looking to move out of the sizeable (and expensive) cities.
One final aspect that seemed intriguing was an inclusion on page 12 that asked families about incentive programs, which can be found on the right side of this page, which seemed to have garnered a mixture of responses.
While there is only this one study off of which to have for “market research”, it is at least a start in gaining a sense of what young families are looking for when considering leaving a big city.
** The study said that they “conducted focus groups in the New York tri-state area and at the University of Pennsylvania with a total participation of 100 young families (Riverdale, Washington Heights (2 groups), Teaneck, the University of Pennsylvania, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (2 groups), Kew Gardens Hills, and Holliswood)” (p. 2), with the participants having “ranged in age from early 20’s – early 30’s. Our couples represent families from a spectrum of stages from newlyweds to families with 2-3 children under age 5” (p. 3).