The Role of the Rabbi in Synagogue Fundraising
Many rabbis hate fundraising. They may have had a class or two in rabbinical school on this topic, but similar to many synagogue leaders and congregants, it is not an area of comfort for them.
And yet the more engaged a congregational rabbi is in his/her congregation’s major fundraising campaign efforts, the more successful such a campaign effort will be. And a congregation with strong financial footing certainly gives everyone peace of mind.
The Torah has many references to Tzedakah and its importance. Here is one that speaks to the importance of the role of the rabbi with community fundraising:
“For I love him [Abraham] because he will command his children and his household after him that they should safeguard the way of the Lord by performing acts of tzedaka and mishpat.” (Genesis 18:19)
I recently read an article by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein about the role of the Rabbi in the fiscal health of a synagogue. It is actually a chapter of a book titled “Toward a Renewed Ethic of Jewish Philanthropy”. While serving as the principal of the Ramaz School is New York, Rabbi Lookstein is also the rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, a 1000+ family Orthodox synagogue in New York City. Rabbi Lookstein speaks of the importance of a congregation’s Rabbi being involved with all financial aspects of synagogue life, both the raising of necessary funds as well as their allocation in support of the programs and services of the synagogue.
Rabbi Lookstein is involved in every aspect of fundraising at his synagogue. He plays an active role in hosting parlor meetings as part of an annual campaign effort and calling congregants who are unable to attend these leadership fundraising events. He is the primary solicitor for all major capital and endowment fund gifts at his synagogue. I find it quite interesting that he states that such fundraising calls give him an opportunity to connect with congregants and have a more in depth conversation with many of them who he might only be able to exchange greetings with at Shabbat worship.
Such involvement in annual fundraising would certainly enhance a synagogue’s efforts. Especially for capital and endowment campaign efforts, the rabbi’s involvement is really critical to the campaign’s success. The rabbi’s vision of the congregation’s future is important. You will be asking for significant contributions from congregants and the rabbi’s involvement conveys to everyone the campaign’s importance to the future of the synagogue.
I have often likened the rabbi’s role in fundraising to that of a university president. Rabbis have a vision of the future of their Sacred Community and a cadre of congregants who care. Seeking buy-in to the vision will lead to financial support when the fundraising campaign starts. I am not saying that rabbis have to be more like university presidents for whom the majority of their efforts are focused on fundraising activities. Rather it is important that a rabbi make fundraising an important priority of his/her rabbinate.
Remember, rabbis should partner with synagogue leaders in all financial resource development efforts. There is too much to do in other aspects of synagogue life for all of the fundraising responsibilities and activities to fall on the shoulders of the rabbi.