I worked on a project with a leadership group of a synagogue in the South. It is near a couple of major universities with teaching hospitals so its membership is comprised of many academics and physicians.
The congregational leaders told me there is a neighboring Presbyterian church that is half the size of the synagogue and has double its budget. I asked how this could happen.
Utilizing the model of stewardship that many churches follow, the synagogue leaders explained, there is a period of a few months each year when the church leaders meet with in person or call every congregant. They ask how things are going for them and their families. They also inquire how the church has impacted their lives. At the end of the meeting or the call, the church leader thanks the congregant for their time and says, “Last year, you and Sally were so generous in supporting our stewardship drive with a contribution of $1800. We hope that we can count on you this year for an increased gift of $2200.”
It is the personal conversations that seem to be missing when it comes to synagogue dues.
At many synagogues, the office staff will soon be sending out dues statements. There may be an accompanying letter with the salutation “Dear Friends” that explains the need for an increase in dues, or notes that the board was able to keep the dues at last year’s level. The letter might also review some of the achievements of the synagogue: adult education, religious school, or community programs. All the letters are the same, though your kids might be in college or you were unable to attend any programs.
Few congregations have veered off the traditional path of the tried and true. Several months ago, an article at ejewishphilanthropy.com told the story of Temple Israel in Sharon, MA that revamped their dues program to allow congregants to pay the amount with which they are comfortable. The leadership makes a concerted effort to share with the congregation the costs per family that will be incurred in the upcoming year to carry out its programmatic agenda, pay the clergy and staff, and of course all the other related expenses that a synagogue serving 700 families incurs.
In these congregations, there is no longer the need for any type of dues relief or abatement process. That is probably a big relief in terms of both time and anxiety for the treasurers or executive directors, those who in the past have had such conversations with congregants.
I am suggesting that synagogues adopt the personalized concepts of the church stewardship model to their dues programs. You might ask, “How can we have personal or phone conversations with all of the families in our synagogue?” Select 100 or 200 families the first year. Or select all of the people who have contributed over and above the set dues level that is established. And here are some questions to make your conversations meaningful:
-What does Temple ABC mean to you and your families?
-How has Temple ABC impacted your lives?
-What is your vision of Temple ABC in 5 years in terms of new programs?
-How can we strengthen Temple ABC to be an even more vibrant sacred community?
Be sure to thank them for their contributions in the prior year. And ask them to consider an increased gift – give them an amount to think about – for the upcoming year.
In this way, the dues process becomes more meaningful for everyone and helps build stronger connections among congregants, essential for turning a congregation into a sacred community.