Dues Redux

It seems that every week I come across another article about Synagogue Dues.

Barry Mael of United Synagogue wrote an article that I found interesting for ejewishphilanthropy.com titled “Can Synagogue Live By Dues Alone”.

Barry offers a menu of dues models that we all have been talking about in recent weeks. To me the most important point he makes is actually two thirds of the way through the article where he states “Dynamic, successful kehillot are based on the building and cultivation of deep, meaningful relationships with current and prospective members”.

Dues is just one stream of income. An important stream. Amounts of money that are nothing to sneeze at. But even in a perfect world, where everyone was paying full dues and there was no longer a need for an Abatement Committee, dues income would still need to be supplemented by fundraising, religious school and early childhood tuition, and other program fees.

Some congregations rent out their classroom space during the day to schools, or their adult learning space to local businesses to hold meetings.

How much time should synagogue leaders be spending thinking about ways to monetize the building?

Last year, I visited a synagogue that had a truly unique opportunity. A congregant had died and had left the synagogue their 50% share of a downtown hotel. The hotel was in an area of downtown that was about to go through redevelopment. The leadership of the synagogue decided to borrow from their endowment fund to purchase the remaining 50% share of the hotel. A separate for-profit corporation was established to own and develop the building. One plan was to offer zero coupon bonds in $50,000 increments as a way of funding the development of the building and to ultimately repay the synagogue endowment fund.

This investment opportunity raises all kinds issues related to UPMIFA (Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act), ethics of investing synagogue endowment funds and other fun stuff. You can read my blog post of August 27, 2012 for a better understanding of UPMIFA.

Such issues may be common agenda items at university and hospital board meetings. Should synagogues board be focusing their efforts on such investment alternatives?

For me, the prescription is back to basics.  Synagogue trustees need to spend time figuring out how to build deep relationships with congregants.

How do we help congregants find meaning in being a part of a sacred community?

How can we help strengthen the connection people feel to the synagogue so they want to join in Shabbat Worship, adult learning and other community activities?

We can scrap our current dues model, and try one of the alternatives described in Barry’s article. We can add on a more traditional fundraising approach with a High Holy Day Appeal, an endowment campaign and on going planned giving opportunities. We can even monetize the building or invest the synagogue’s endowment in non-traditional ways.

Unless congregants feel a connection to the synagogue, the same financial challenges will remain.





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