Data analysis is such a big part of decision making in business. Internet data is mined on a minute-by-minute basis. “Clicks” and “hits” are words that we read about a lot. Sales, demographics, and costs dominate business pages and news analyses.
Are the decisions by synagogue leaders – board members in particular – often driven by data? In terms of budget preparation, we look at costs and how much was spent in the current year. But is that enough? Does this relate to the mission and vision for our synagogues? Are such costs appropriate based on our goals?
Lately, I have been reading a lot about metrics and benchmarking and how data can help synagogue leaders make better decisions. Let’s look at financial data. Synagogue leaders most often have a very good handle on income and expenses. We monitor printouts monthly that can track to the penny all of the income streams and every expense.
A big chunk of a synagogue’s budget is staff salaries, particularly those of clergy. Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were able to apply salary costs to program areas? How much time is the Cantor devoting to the Choir? To B’nai Mitzvah tutoring? How much time is the Rabbi devoting to Adult Education? To Pastoral Counseling?
12 synagogues in the New York City area spent a couple of years analyzing such data to help in budget preparation by activity area rather than by function. Their participation was partially funded by the UJA Federation of New York through its Synergy Department and a White Paper was recently published highlighting their findings.
“Activity-based Accounting” will help synagogue leaders in budget planning. Such activities include:
-B’nai Mitzvah Tutoring
-Temple Youth Groups
You might think of additional categories. Such an analysis can better inform synagogue leaders as to whether program expenses match up with program priorities.
Having the ability to compare your synagogue’s financial data to that of other synagogues of similar size and in a similar geographic area is also helpful. Reform synagogues can take advantage of a basic income and expense comparison through the Union for Reform Judaism’s Congregational Metrics Program. Being able to do such an analysis of “activity based” program expenses would take synagogue budget planning to the next level.
Financial information is only one stream of data that is useful. Several weeks ago, I wrote in a Blog Post about tracking program participation. In the business world, the market research people would suggest a Customer Satisfaction survey. Knowing how congregants feel about their synagogue, its programming and its leadership would be useful information, too!
The synagogue’s leadership may feel the B’nai Mitzvah program is the best of all of the synagogues in the area. A survey would help confirm that this is in fact true or if congregants have a totally different view.
In 2011, almost 50 Jewish Community Centers throughout North America participated in a Benchmarking program sponsored by The Jewish Community Center Association. It has four components: Financial Analysis, Program Participation Analysis, Member and User Feedback, and Staff Feedback.
The input of staff and staff feelings are so important. The effectiveness of the mutually supportive relationship between synagogue staff and board members and other volunteers is also critical to fulfilling the synagogue’s mission and vision. Synagogue staff feeling positive about many of the aspects of their work, and feeling good about the synagogue as a place to work is helpful in so many ways.
Being able to examine your synagogue’s metrics and how such data compares to that of other synagogues would be a great asset. While such sharing remains a current challenge, examining the data you have and engaging your congregants in surveys is something that you can do right now.