Membership Software: Many Blessings and Many Challenges

There is software for everything!

I had to send some documents to someone recently. Some of them I had to scan on to my computer. And some were Word documents.  I was wondering if there was a way merge all the documents into one PDF file. After a little bit of Internet research, I determined I could purchase software for a reasonable amount of money that would do exactly what I needed: merge the various files into one PDF. Amazing!

The myriad of software programs has certainly offered the operation side of synagogue life with both opportunities and challenges. There is software for websites, newsletters, emails – and let’s not forget other social media like Facebook and Twitter. And all of this has become so much more user friendly in recent years.

It seems that Membership and Accounting software programs have in fact been a part of the fabric of synagogue life for many years. Yet Membership software and the interplay between it and Accounting software such as QuickBooks or Peachtree – now known as Sage 50 – continues to present many challenges.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of the recording of all financial transactions through membership software programs.  Synagogues need to be up to date on what their congregants have paid for dues, religious school tuition, contributions and other fees. Synagogues need to be able to generate relatively easily end of year statements for congregants to use for income tax purposes. And synagogues certainly need to track income for billing as well as budget planning purposes.

In my mind, Membership software is even more important for programming and engagement purposes. Such software has the capability of tracking attendance at every single gathering at synagogue, whether it is a family education program at Religious School on a Sunday morning, adult education classes, or even Shabbat Services. You might have the transactional data if there was a fee involved in order to participate. But do we know who actually attended?

Data collection is so important. Wouldn’t your board want to know the demographics of who is participating in Adult Education, attending Shabbat services, attending a Jewish film series, or even a community concert?

All synagogue staff and even Board members should be trained and encouraged to summarize interactions with congregants in order that those few sentences can be recorded as a note in a congregant’s record. “Has an interest in Torah Study”, “plays in a band”,  “wants to go to Israel” is important information that will at some time be helpful for synagogue leaders to know.  Similarly, knowing that a family is caring for elderly parents or has child with special needs is also information that should be accessible and useable through the membership database.

I wish I knew of the ideal membership software that I could recommend.  I know that staff and leadership of congregations that have been using Rakefet have shared both concerns and frustrations with me about all that has to be done with its changeover to ShulSuite. Other congregations that I have worked with are using Chaverware; MM 2000; and those willing to spend a little bit more money – actually a lot more- are using the Raiser’s Edge or DonorPerfect. The latter two are very robust fundraising software programs that are now using cloud technology.

One program I really like is Salesforce. Through its foundation, synagogues and not-for-profit organizations can apply for up to 10 free licenses. You may have to spend some money to customize the program for your synagogue.  I know that you can purchase an App to add on a Hebrew Calendar. It is a great piece of software that is very robust and can meet many of the needs of your synagogue.


Two weeks ago, I read an interesting article about Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, MI. Kol Ami abolished its dues structure in favor of an open pledge system.  You may recall my blog on this topic back on May 7th. I believe in the very near future, more synagogues will be adopting a similar approach.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article on July 3rd about a group of Pittsburgh not-for-profit organizations that had agreed to pay the City of Pittsburgh a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (“PILOT”). And the Memphis City Council was considering a similar ordinance.  My blog on June 7th examined this issue. Synagogue leaders don’t have to worry about this issue yet.

2 Comments on “Membership Software: Many Blessings and Many Challenges

  1. With all due respect I predict the PILOT issue will pick up a lot of momentum in the next 1-3 years and will have great impact on ALL houses of worship. We know of many synagogues making voluntary payments now. Read our piece on ejewishPhilanthropy in May about PILOT.

  2. Perhaps the leadership of the synagogues where Bob has been working can weigh in on their experiences with PILOT. I share Bob’s view that this issue will only gain momentum.

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