When our children were in elementary, middle and high school, it seemed that the PTA and the local Fund for Educational Excellence were always in fundraising mode. Bake sales, wrapping paper, silent and public auctions – every month there was another request for money. And fundraising for the various sports teams and special learning communities. You don’t want to know what we were paying in real estate taxes, which covered the Board of Education and other local services.
I am sure that we all agree with the importance of education for all children.
I know that there are some people who feel that the synagogue is always asking its stakeholders – congregants – for money as well. The Dues statement comes in June – or whenever the beginning of the synagogue’s fiscal year is – letting you know the amount owed. For most synagogues in the Northeast, that is around $3000. If you have children in religious school, add on about $800 per child.
September rolls around, and there is the High Holy Day Appeal. In November, the Pre-School has a Hanukkah Gift Fair. Maybe the Religious School is selling wrapping paper. And there are two emails that you have receive in December asking to help close out the High Holy Day Appeal. Or just to include the synagogue in your end of year charitable giving. Maybe there is even a community event honoring a friend, or someone you really like and respect who has done a lot for the synagogue. It is a fundraising event – not only are you being asked to attend by purchasing a ticket for $50 or $100, there are letters and emails about an ad journal (let’s kill a few more trees) that most people leave on the table at the end of the evening or discard when they get home. Maybe not the honoree and family.
And I know that many of you agree with me about the importance of Jewish community.
Synagogues don’t have the benefit of receiving public funds to cover the basic costs, like for public education. Perhaps that is the analogy for the purpose of dues/annual commitments. It covers a major chunk of the operating costs, the rest is made up by religious school, pre-school, annual fundraising.
Years ago, a growing membership was a counter-balance to the increased annual costs of synagogue operations. That is not the case today for most synagogues – churches, too – so various fundraising efforts, such as direct appeals and events, have become as much a part of the fabric of synagogue finances as dues/annual commitments.
Perhaps the best way for synagogues to deal with people feeling “nickel and dimed” is to establish and grow a synagogue’s endowment fund. Universities and hospitals do it. Shouldn’t synagogues? And as individuals, we utilize a similar approach through our retirement investing. A $1 million endowment, invested appropriately, should generate $40-$50,000 for use in synagogue operations.
A comprehensive campaign to raise $1 million – or even more for mid-size and large congregations-is a good starting point. Having a bequest program will help grow the endowment over the course of the next 10-15 years. The growth in this stream of funding should allow leadership to focus more on community building activities, and not always be asking people for money.
And people will not feel so “nickel and dimed”.