Database Software & Congregational Engagement: Continuing Our Conversation

I usually make resolutions for the New Year at Rosh Hashanah.  I did make one recently coinciding with the start of this new calendar year. And that is to pay more attention to my Synagogue Money Blog.

My first post of 2013 rehashes some topics from past blogs. One is about synagogue software.

The UJA-Federation of New York, in collaboration with other organizations including the Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the National Association of Temple Administrators retained Idealware to conduct a large-scale research project on constituent management databases for synagogues. You can download a copy of A Guide to Synagogue Management: Research and Recommendations right here.

My blog back on July 7th, 2012 was about synagogue software. When you download and read the report, there are certainly more options noted than I wrote about back then. The costs are all over the map. For the basics of what you need it might cost you $3,000 with some additional annual costs. If you want all of the bells and whistles, it will cost you several thousand dollars more.

The real issue is what you do with information as well as with the software. I was at a synagogue recently and the leadership told me that they ask new members to complete an extensive application. They are asked to write information about their work as well as interest areas. Unfortunately, no one could figure out where the information on interests can be entered into the database and that information remains on the applications in a file cabinet.

Demographic information is important for development and programming purposes. Knowing the interests of Adult congregants will help in program planning and in engaging congregants in the on-going projects of synagogue life. Figuring out the information you want to collect is one step. Figuring out how to input the information into whatever database you have – and be vigilant about it – is an essential step that cannot be forgotten.


The URJ hosted a webinar a couple of weeks ago titled New Models of Membership. Rabbi Dan Judson gave a wonderful history of financial support of synagogues. He also spoke about the importance of the engagement of congregants.

My blog back on May 7, 2012 was about making dues more personal. I wrote than that there were a few congregations that were going to a volunteer dues model.  Whether moving to this model, away from a traditional fixed dues or fair share model is a trend, I am not really sure. Rabbi Judson stated that there were now 7 synagogues that have tried this new model and are making it work for them.

I believe that in most cases, each synagogue has an individual or group of individuals who they can turn to if there is a substantial fall-off of income. Going to a volunteer dues model does not mean that synagogues no longer have to have a High Holy Day Appeal or do other fundraising throughout the year. It does mean that they no longer have to have an abatement or dues relief committee. This alone will please many people.

I agree with Rabbi Judson that engagement is really the critical element to the success of a synagogue. In my presentations to synagogue leadership, I have a PowerPoint slide titled “Believe in the 3 Cs”. If people feel a connection to the synagogue, it becomes easier when it is time to collect dues or contributions. And it is connection and collection leads to the building of a stronger sacred community.

How do we do engagement? Is there a program or manual on this?  That will be the topic of next week’s blog. Your comments and thoughts are always welcome.



6 Comments on “Database Software & Congregational Engagement: Continuing Our Conversation

  1. Thank you! I can tell Spring is around the corner, your pearls of wisdom are like a breath of fresh air. I just reviewed the Guide to Synagogue Management Systems. Your wisdom about remembering that the data is key, will be useful as we move forward. Also your point on dues models has been a guiding principal I have worked with over the years. Getting people to feel connected guides their financial commitment more than anything, and truly builds a stronger community.

    I look forward to your next Blog, which I know will have more for me to reflect on.
    Thank you

  2. David,
    To your knowledge, has a Congregation ever asked it’s congregants to check three areas from a categorical list that they would like their dues to be directed to when filling out their committment for the year. The list could come from expenditure areas (specific to the congregation)on the annual profit and Loss. For example some items on the list could include general categories such as Religious School, Adult Programing, Music Programing, Building maintenance/utilities, Rabbi’s Salary etc. Of course the list should include a check box for “equally across all areas”. This could provide valuable information as to how the Board of Directors and employees are doing and where the congregants would like their giving to be designated without having to directly ask.


    • Morris,
      Thanks so much for your comments. What you describe is what is known in fundraising as designated giving. Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, GA was asking people to contribute to certain buckets of program areas as part of a fundraising campaign. Dues have traditionally been limited to the one pot.

      Perhaps others have information that might be of help to Morris.

      Thanks again for writing.



  3. After searching for three years and put off by the prices and software I found an absolutely wonderful Website designer with an intergraded software package that does everything and more for our congregation. 1) personal member profiles 2) newsletter similar to Constant Contact 3) Website that our volunteer can easily up date and change 4) Event invite with rsvp and label making capability 6) Automatic directory format 6) Yarhzeits, B’days and Anniversary are automatically loaded to the front page of our website each month 7) easy calendar in different formats… and much much more…. If you are interested in learning more go to
    or call me… Bonnie Lasky – Past President of Congregation Shir Shalom in Sonoma Ca…. 707-769-1778

    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for sharing this information and especially the website. Hopefully, your experience will be of help to others.



  4. Thank you for posting this report. We certainly hope it will be a contribution to the field.
    Adina Frydman, Executive Director
    SYNERGY: UJA-Federation of NY and Synagogues Together

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