13 Questions About Synagogue Finance*

Most synagogue leaders are immersed in budget preparation for next year. For others, this process is just a few months away and will be here before you know it.

And too often, the budgeting process is simply to add funds – 2 to 3% – to the budget lines from last year and move on.

Here are 13 questions for you to ponder which I know will help your budget planning for the coming year:

  1. If you were to start your synagogue from scratch today, would the budget look differently than it has in recent years?

The biggest expense is personnel. Do you have the right staff to best fulfill the synagogue’s mission and vision?

  1. Do you have programs that, if they were discontinued, would have little negative impact on the synagogue or the community?

No congregation will get rid of Shabbat Worship. But maybe there are other programs that are poorly attended that are worthy of an evaluative conversation about effectiveness and impact. And maybe it is worthwhile to think about new programmatic offerings to better engage congregants.

  1. How much of the synagogue’s expenditures reflect “the way we have always done it”?

Increase the budget by 2-3 percent and be done with it. Would you do it this way in your business?

  1. Are there clear lines of accountability for spending at every level?

Of course people should be accountable for each expense by getting approvals beforehand as well as receipts. More importantly, are staff setting goals and creating work plans for the year to achieve such goals? Do they have a performance evaluation? If the synagogue is spending $15,000 for a part-time youth engagement staff member, how do you measure its effectiveness?

  1. How much of the synagogue’s funds are used to impact the community?

Social Action, interreligious activities with local churches and mosques. Are you having a conversation about the impact of such work?

  1. Is the synagogue spending its personnel dollars in the most effective way?

This relates to the mission and vision of the synagogue and the goals you have to carry it out. And whether you have the right staff to do such work.

  1. Who are the true decision makers as to how synagogue funds are spent?

Is there a full review and discussion of the budget by the synagogue board? Or does the board just rubber-stamp the budget that is created and offered by the synagogue president, rabbi and a few others?

  1. Is debt hindering your congregation from doing programming you would like to do?

Check out my recent blog about debt. The $90,000 a synagogue is paying annually towards a mortgage would certainly be better spent for a youth engagement person, executive director, or even just a $200 reduction in annual dues.

  1. What are the potential unintended circumstances of making significant changes in the budget and its expenses?

A significant budget change might be uncomfortable to some congregants. This is where transparency helps.

  1. Does your synagogue spend too little or too much on facilities?

Keeping up with capital improvements is an integral part of the budgeting process.

  1. Do you share the state of the synagogue’s finances once each year at the time of the synagogue annual meeting, or is there ongoing transparency by sharing budget updates periodically?

This is self-explanatory. The more on-going transparency there is regarding the budget, the better.

  1. Does the synagogue have adequate funding for training and development of staff, board members and other volunteers?

Providing funding for training for everyone has short and long term benefits to the synagogue.

  1. Does the synagogue budget reflect faith (Jewish values), futility, or foolishness?

A budget that directly relates to the mission and vision of the synagogue and its goals reflects Jewish values.

(*Adapted from posts at ThomRainer.com)

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