Paying As You Go…

The comments from last week’s post about whether or not there should be tickets for the High Holy Days reminded me of a story.

A few years back, I was having an extended telephone conversation with the Senior Rabbi of a 500+ family congregation in the Metropolitan New York area. He asked me my opinion of a dues model that allowed people to pay for the services/programs offered by the synagogue that they use. Everything at the synagogue would have a specific fee: attendance at High Holy Day Worship would be one price; having one of the rabbis conduct a funeral of a loved one has another. An Adult Education program has another fee. Even attendance at Shabbat worship would require a fee.

Every “user” aspect of the synagogue is monetized.

One of the comments last week from Eric Strimling noted that “Millennials” like to pay as they go, “They seem to look at everything in terms of Return On Investment (ROI)”, Eric commented.  Other studies looking this population, particularly related to synagogue membership have come to similar conclusions.

This kind of fits with what the rabbi was proposing.

I shared with the rabbi that I thought that keeping track of usage would be a very challenging task. I think of the staff at my synagogue with 450 families and wonder how this could be accomplished. Anything is doable, of course.

Will people be required to pay before usage? At 5:30 PM we decide to attend Shabbat Worship that evening. Will I be sent an invoice or do I need to pay at the door? Kind of tacky on Shabbat, don’t you think?

And when Charlotte Cohen, utilizing this “a la carte menu”, wants the rabbi to perform a funeral for her husband who just passed away, who is going to initiate the conversation about the cost for the rabbi to do this? Will the rabbi need to have that conversation at what is surely an emotional time for Charlotte?

When I go to my doctor’s office, I am always amazed at the number of staff who work on billing and insurance. I suppose that with the right office staff in a synagogue focused on “accounts receivables”, insuring payments for everything that has a monetary value – Shabbat and High Holy Day Worship, Adult Education, and clergy at life cycle events – anything is possible.

In response to last week’s blog, my friend and colleague David Altshuler shared with me an article by Michael Kaiser, the President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts about “free tickets vs. free performances”.  If we apply Kaiser’s thinking to synagogues, we shouldn’t give anything away.

Although if people won’t come through the front door at anytime because of concerns about money, taking money out of the equation might help. Of course what people find once they come through the front door for the High Holy Days or Shabbat worship is perhaps even more important.

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