More Dues Stuff; Let’s Focus On Engagement!

Another comprehensive report is out about the challenges of synagogue dues. Rethinking synagogue dues is something I have been writing about periodically. The new report by SYNERGY: UJA-Federation And Synagogues Working Together of the New York UJA-Federation is full with anecdotal information that is both comprehensive and interesting.

This is not just happening in synagogues in the United States. Many churches, of all denominations, are experiencing decreases in attendance at Sunday worship as well as those involved in church life.

The Union for Reform Judaism has organized a group of synagogues to study this issue over the course of the coming months. Through its Community of Practice titled “Reimagining Financial Support For Your 21st Century Congregation”, leaders from perhaps 25 synagogues will spend time studying the issue and developing an action plan for change.

I hope that a couple of things come out of all of the conversations and activities that are happening about synagogue dues. It would be great to know the number of synagogues that are taking a risk and using different income models. Such metrics would be a useful analytical tool.

And how about some real case studies? Such studies should take an in-depth look at synagogues going through a change in dues models from when it is just an idea, through the various steps on implementation, congregant involvement and sustainability.

There is lots of buzz about the idea to let congregants pay what they want to pay. What other fundraising efforts are taking place in the synagogue community besides dues? Are their long time congregants willing to be a financial backstop should the expected income fall short of the budgeted expenses?

Those involved in the business of the synagogue still have to pay staff salaries, utilities and maybe even a mortgage. The primary income model can’t be based on speculation.

I think change is good. But I keep asking myself if with the current dues models that we have, if synagogue leaders, professional and volunteer, were more focused on engagement, wouldn’t we be better off?

10 weeks from tomorrow Rosh Hashanah will begin at sundown. Thinking about what we can do to connect right now with current congregants as well as potential congregants – and doing it – will pay big dividends moving forward.

This may be particularly challenging in the next few weeks as many people scatter for summer vacations. But here are a couple of ideas:

-Board members hosting 1-3 Shabbat dinners where every congregant is invited to at least one dinner. Of course a guideline for conversation can also be developed;

-Clergy and senior staff can make an effort to meet with congregants 1 on 1, or as a couple, to check in, see what is going on. Of course for many synagogues, the staff may just be the rabbi, or the rabbi and cantor and educator.  Meeting with 2-3 congregants each week is doable goal. Officers of the board can also participate in such an effort;

-Before and during Labor Day weekend, every congregant should be called by a member of the Synagogue’s Board of Trustees to extend New Year’s wishes. Vacations, as well as a world with caller I.D. makes such call efforts challenging. But the more personal connections we can make, the stronger our synagogue communities will be.

Together, let’s develop a comprehensive list of engagement activities that can be accomplished before Rosh Hashanah. You can share them right here on this blog.

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