The internet has brought about greater financial transparency for not-for-profits. It is rare when an organization’s most recent financial statement and IRS 990 – the tax filing for not-for-profits – is not found on its website.
What about synagogues?
Recently, I had occasion to visit a synagogue website where a friend serves as rabbi. I read through the most recent quarterly newsletter. It was pretty striking to see a message from the synagogue’s finance chairperson that congregants could view the “3rd Quarter Report” through the synagogue’s ShulCloud membership portal.
Very Interesting. You have to be a congregant. But I know this is the just the second time I have ever seen a reference on a synagogue website to any kind of financial report.
How do most synagogue’s share financial information?
Most often in preparation for the congregational meeting, the board approved budget that needs to be ratified at the meeting is emailed to congregants, or sent by snail mail. It could be a 1 page budget summary, or it could be a very detailed budget with multiple pages, generated by QuickBooks or another similar program. Here is a really good example.
Do congregants have any interest in the synagogue’s financial information? Probably not too much. But then again, financial transparency has not been a general practice.
How do synagogue boards demonstrate that they are good stewards of the community’s money?
Congregants know of the various requests for funds – dues/annual commitments, High Holiday and annual appeal, Gala and other special events. But the sharing of budgetary information – how the synagogue is doing in terms of income and expense projections – hardly ever happens.
What about sharing the minutes from board meetings? Maybe the initial Google analytics would show that the open rate on board meeting minutes would be pretty low. But again, the issue is more about being both good fiduciaries and being transparent than about open rates.
So what am I proposing?
Synagogues should strive for transparency – for all aspects of synagogue life. Posting board minutes, once they have been approved and accepted, seems like a simple thing to do. Technology makes this easy in terms of implementation. Changing our behavior and making the effort to put it into practice may be a bit of a challenge. Or not.
What about financial information? For synagogues who do conduct an annual audit, post it on your website and share the link with all congregants.
How about ongoing financial information?
Sharing is caring. Not sharing such information might bring about some whispers that “they are hiding something”. But I think there will usually be no whispers at all. Show projected monthly income and expenses for the year. Show the status to date. Encourage people to ask questions. You can do it like at my friend’s synagogue, on a quarterly basis, and for congregants only. Although practicing financial transparency is also a good message to prospective congregants as well.