Benefits of Giving: A Chinese Menu?

There are a lot of reasons why people make a contribution to a synagogue, or to any organization really. One reason is that they believe in the cause and that its work will make a difference in the world. Maybe their parents were big supporters and they contribute in honor of their memory. I have always believed that the biggest reason why someone makes a contribution to an organization is because someone – a friend, colleague, someone who they know and respect – asked them.

Is this true for congregants who contribute to enhanced dues programs?

For the most part, yes. Think of the local art museum. Membership is one price. Every year there is a concerted effort to reach out to people to become a patron for $1000 – it could be a higher number – over and above the annual membership. Maybe the museum will have a special reception with good food and drink for patrons to open a new exhibit and recognize those who stepped up. Patrons might be listed on a special page in a newsletter or even on the website. Maybe there will be a special invite to new exhibits and programs.

I have often suggested to synagogue leaders a similar concept related to enhanced dues. Is there a group of people who have the capacity to make a gift of $1000 or more over and above the annual expected dues/commitment? Have a reception in someone’s home with the rabbi or a special speaker as a way to say thank you and recognize them. Some synagogues have a temporary plaque listing those who contribute in the lobby at the High Holy Days, or even a more permanent public plaque that lists such names for the year.

Of course in synagogues, too much thanking and recognizing might smack up against the egalitarian nature most synagogues are known for.

You also don’t want the thanking and recognition aspects to be a nightmare to administer.

Recently, I was following an online discussion about enhanced dues. One person was good enough to offer up his synagogue’s enhanced dues schedule. High Holy Day tickets, HHD parking, event tickets, even a discount on rentals and more are all a part of the mix, depending on one’s level of giving.

If the minhag at any synagogue is such that the size of the group participating in a tiered enhanced dues program is substantive – 5-10% of the congregation’s membership – Kol Hakavod. Keeping track of all of these benefits to some might be a real challenge.

The most effective enhanced dues program is really a fundraising campaign. You have a chairperson and small working committee for the program. You intensely review the synagogue’s membership list and identify who has the financial capacity to make a gift at a particular level, or levels. After the dues/annual commitment materials are sent out in the summer, committee members should be asked to call and meet with 3-5 prospects who have been identified.

Few people will self-identify for such a group. More often then not, those people who become a part of such a leadership group will do so because someone they know asked them to join them in making a special gift.

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