Recently, I attended an initial meeting of a synagogue leadership group with whom I am working. They are tasked with beginning a strategic planning process. The hope is that such an exercise will involve a critical mass of the membership in conversation about the synagogue’s future. And ultimately lead to a comprehensive endowment campaign.
This is a 500 family congregation. It is a community that people want to move to because of good public schools in the neighboring towns and public transportation. The rabbi, who has been a part of this sacred community for many years, is approaching retirement age. And so, too is the religious school principal. One major challenge is similar to many other synagogues: retaining congregants whose children have had their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. There is an endowment of about $250,000.
Back to the meeting. While I was trying to keep the discussion focused on the big picture, we were “in the weeds” for a little while talking about data collection. The conversation helped illuminate some different challenges.
It seems that the information on the New Member Form about both employment and Individual Interests is seldom entered into the database. Since the only time one is asked to complete such a form is when you join, for many, the information may be out of date anyway.
Apparently, the religious school maintains a separate database, asking parents/caregivers for the same biographical information that is on the New Member Form, in addition to new information pertaining to the school.
And the information on financial transactions – contributions, pledges to two prior capital campaigns and of course dues – is maintained by the outside bookkeeping service.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about some options for membership software. Helping this synagogue figure out the biographical, demographic, and financial information it should maintain and the capabilities of its existing software, or determine it needs new software will be a conversation for another meeting.
It would be worth the time for synagogue staff – any combination that might include the rabbi, religious school principal and executive director/administrator – and a group of board members to have a conversation about data collection. Here are some guiding questions, and my answers that I hope will be helpful:
1. What information is essential?
All contact information – Name, address, email, phones, names and ages of children, Yahrzeit dates for loved ones
2. What about employment information?
Of course the work phone and email address are certainly essential. Knowing what someone does in terms of employment or the business they operate is helpful for networking, and it is also important for fundraising. It will assist in the conversations down the road about capacity for giving.
3. What about their Jewish background and interests?
The level of Jewish knowledge congregants have can help in structuring adult education offerings. Knowing whether a congregant is a Jew by Choice, or even open to being Jewish can certainly guide interactions with a particular family.
If twenty-five people express interest in social justice and your synagogue’s current program is run by a group of 5 veteran volunteers, here is a way to invigorate and expand this working group. If someone has fundraising experience from another organization and wants to become involved in fundraising events for the synagogue, invite them to be on the fundraising committee.
Reaching out to involve people in their areas of interest will also expand the core group of active and interested volunteers as well as potential leadership.
Just be sure that after you compile all of this important data that you enter such information into your database. And please put it to good use.
Your membership directory should actually be a part of password protected pages on your website. As a way to update the directory on a periodic basis – every 2-3 years – and for a nominal cost, you can email congregants a link to a Wufoo form that will be a timesaver in terms of transferring the data from the form into your membership software.