Lots of Questions For The New Year

For synagogues on a July to June fiscal year, this is the time that the financial people, and others, on the board begin to think about the budget. Are these familiar questions?

Is income from dues/annual commitments meeting our expectations?

How many new congregants did we gain compared to last year?

How many congregants resigned?

These are pretty straightforward factual “metric” questions. The business type questions that the “bean counters” on the synagogue board, or on any not-for-profit board, often ask. While synagogues are not your typical business, there are still simple business practices that must take place to maintain operations.

The bills have to be paid. There are staff salaries for clergy, religious school, the pre-school and every one else on staff. There are building costs – rent, mortgage, utilities, snow removal and landscaping, and general upkeep. Technology, including computers for the staff and business software, and of course the upkeep associated with a website. The list goes on.

Of course the questions above are directly related to financial obligations. There are other “engagement” questions you should be asking that are just as, if not even more important:

Besides High Holy Day worship and Shabbat, what other programming targeted to various age groups – children, teenagers, young adults, young parents, and empty nesters – is taking place?

Are synagogue leaders – staff and board members – making a conscious effort to engage the congregation at large?

Are you calling and emailing congregants directly to check in with them and see how they are doing?

Are you inviting congregants to join you at Shabbat Worship or at an Adult Education program?

In the middle of January, when for many it is cold, not so sunny and maybe even snowy, what is the action plan to encourage synagogue engagement?

The answers to the metric questions should be easy to determine. Although it seems that synagogue leaders often are challenged in actually knowing who is no longer a congregant. Maybe it is denial. If it is a month after Hanukkah, and there is a group of people who haven’t been paying dues/annual commitments since last spring, odds are they no longer think of themselves as congregants.

If people feel engaged and a part of the synagogue community, unless there is some unforeseen circumstance, payments for dues/annual commitments and annual giving will continue. And then synagogue leaders won’t have to by focusing on ways to monetize the building through rentals, community, Bingo, Casino Nights and other fundraising events, or other business ventures such as a vintage clothing shop or coffee shop.

Or, in terms of next year’s budget, feel the pressure to do more with less.

Postscript on IRS Proposed Changes for Reporting of Contributions

Last week the IRS withdrew its proposal that would have given not-for-profits – including synagogues – the option to report donors’ private information to the agency. I blogged about this on December 14th, two days before all comments were to be submitted to the IRS. Up until that time, a little bit more than 15,000 people had responded. Within those two days, an additional 23,000 comments were submitted.

Obviously, the totality of the comments, as well as the views expressed, had some impact.


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