David, What do you think about the new Dues Model?

My friend Mark asked me the other day what I thought about the new dues model that is being discussed at our synagogue. It is the one that uses the concept of financial support rather than dues and where people pay an amount they are willing to pay. He reads my blog regularly and knows I have written frequently about dues.

More about my conversation with Mark below.

As you may recall, there are a number of synagogues that are trying this new model. The marketing/educational effort to the congregation highlights the per family costs and asks congregants to use this as the benchmark for determining the amount they are willing to pay. If you can’t or don’t want to pay the benchmark number, that is okay. No meeting with the synagogue treasurer or executive director. No need to show any kind of tax return or financial statement.

As previous blogs highlighted a few synagogues that were working through this change process, I visited their websites to see how all of this was being presented.

At Temple Israel in Sharon, MA, it is still called dues: just a different dues model that is highlighted on its membership page:

“Temple Israel has initiated a new structure for raising the necessary funds to sustain our community. At Temple Israel, we believe that dues should not be a barrier to anyone who wants to be a member of our synagogue. Our financial model enables more people to affiliate with our community. You and your family decide at what level you are able to invest in Temple Israel. As such, the temple has instituted the following structure:

Based on the actual annual costs of operating the temple and on the projected number of members, we have a sustaining Annual Commitment level. If each household were to pay at the sustaining level, the synagogue would meet its budgetary obligations. For 2014-15, that figure is $3200 for 2-adult households and $2,175 for 1-adult households.

For some, the Sustaining Level might be beyond their means. For others, it may be a starting point. That’s the beauty of the voluntary commitment – each of us chooses an amount that represents our personal financial capacity.

This system has proven to be a positive change for our congregation, even though during some years we fall short of our budget requirements. This is why we still conduct our Annual Campaign and other traditional fundraising activities. Please consider these opportunities to increase your financial support of the synagogue.”

The last paragraph tells me that this voluntary support model is not a panacea. For Temple Israel, other traditional fundraising – High Holy Day Appeal, special events, and targeted programming for special programs must continue.

Touro Synagogue’s (New Orleans) membership form highlights a similar roadmap:

“Touro Synagogue operates on a Voluntary Annual support system based on the projected budget for the fiscal year, which represents the actual annual operating cost per household. If each household were to support Touro at the same sustaining level, that amount would currently be $2,400.

The $2,400 level is a guideline to help you determine an appropriate amount to give; it is our hope that those who can give more, will, in order to supplement those who cannot. And those those who cannot afford that level will give what they can – no questions asked. While the actual annual operating cost per household is $2,400, every contribution, no matter the size, is deeply meaningful and helps make it possible for Touro to be here for you. Everyone who requests membership at Touro Synagogue is welcomed regardless of their financial ability.

Your voluntary annual support does not include tuition or fees for religious school, Uptown Hebrew or B’nai Mitzvah; those will continue to be paid by the families utilizing them.”

The suggested “Patron” annual support levels indicate an expectation that those who have capability and who are engaged in synagogue life will support Touro Synagogue at levels significantly higher than the $2400 benchmark.

Regardless of the dues or annual support model, there needs to be enough money to meet the synagogue’s budgeted expenses. Some type of financial model is necessary to insure this. Perhaps the financial statements/audits of Temple Israel, Touro Synagogue and other synagogues engaged in similar efforts might be a better indicator of success.

I told my friend Mark what I have always said about new financial models: if we focus more on engaging people and making them feel more a part of our synagogue, the issue of payment will no longer be a significant issue. If we just focus on the financial support model, it is still just about a transaction.

If we can get 200 adults to participate in our new Chavurah program, that will have more impact to our vibrancy and growth as a sacred community than any new financial model.


Synagogue Dues: Can’t it be More Personal?, May 7, 2012

Dues Redux, February 24, 2013

Transactional and Relational Judaism, June 4, 2014



4 comments on “David, What do you think about the new Dues Model?
  1. If you are reading this and are interested in learning more about the voluntary commitment model, stay tuned…UJA-Federation of NY is producing a guide for considering the voluntary commitment model. This guide will profile 30 synagogues which have adopted this model and go through a detailed list of how to’s. In addition, there will be an assessment tool for synagogues trying to understand if this model is the right model or if this is the right time to adopt a new model. The guide will be available at http://www.ujafedny.org/synergy by February 2015.

    • admin says:


      Thank you for sharing the resources of SYNERGY. I have often shared other SYNERGY resources for synagogue leaders outside of New York to take advantage of.

      Again, many thanks.



  2. Mark Blackman says:

    Thank you for addressing this in your blog. It’s an interesting idea that comes with a change in the quality and frequency of how the temple’s constituents, i.e. the rabbi, cantors, board members, education staff, office personnel, and congregants, interact with one another. Meaningful and regular engagement between our religious and lay leaders and congregants is the key to making this concept plausible. What is just as important is the recognition we provide to those congregants who support the temple, both financially and as volunteers.

    • admin says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. i do think that there is often a struggle when we equate volunteer involvement with financial support, and provide similar kinds of recognition. I am not saying I have an answer for this. Fundraising is an elitist process by definition. And synagogue life, as most of us know it, emphasizes egalitarianism.

      Again, many thanks for taking the time to write.



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