A Season of Change is Upon Us

In the near future, Temple Beth Ami congregants, clergy, and staff will collectively embark on what is undoubtedly going to be another season of change. This year our Vision 2020 research initiative created a task force to examine our congregation’s membership dues structure and to determine how well it is working. In the months ahead, it will examine other funding models and then recommend to the Temple Board a plan of action that it believes will work best for our congregation. Ultimately, effective implementation of changes to current practices will get us closer to achieving our overall goals of financial security and the sustainability of our congregation.

However, a plan for implementation of some fiscal change cannot wait until 2020. Temple Beth Ami faces a deficit for the second consecutive year. With Temple revenue more than 90% dependent on annual commitments from congregants, it was imperative this winter for the Board of Directors, working closely with the Financial Secretaries Committee, to undertake an evaluation of our congregation’s financial aid policies.

Temple Beth Ami remains committed to providing assistance to families who find themselves in situations of great financial need and who cannot afford the full cost of membership. To do so, under yearly recommendation from the Budget Committee, The Board of Directors designates a significant portion of its annual “dues and fees” revenue to Dues Relief for congregants experiencing hardship. In FY2016 and FY2017, the percentage of revenue sacrificed to negotiated and uncollected dues exceeded budgetary expectations, contributing substantially to a $100K budgetary deficit. This is a trend which temple leadership fully recognizes our congregation cannot withstand. Changes to current practice are unavoidable.

The Mishkan T’filah suggests that no members or prospective members of a synagogue, regardless of their ability to pay dues, should be turned away from a house of worship.

“May the door of this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for friendship. May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture.  May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity. May its threshold be no stumbling block to young or straying feet. May it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness and harshness. May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.”

This year, the Board endeavored to stay true to that philosophy, while remaining vigilant in guarding our synagogue’s financial sustainability. The newly, revamped Financial Aid process outlined in April’s Chadashot article constitutes a major step toward allowing our congregation the room to balance running the business of the synagogue while remaining a welcoming community. By setting a deadline for applications, evaluating requests by committee in a blind process, creating a hierarchy of need-based assistance, and establishing a ceiling amount for overall financial aid, the Board hopes to empower the Financial Secretaries Committee to make sure that Temple Beth Ami can continue to provide assistance to families in situations of greatest financial need who cannot afford the full cost of membership.

Exploring change to our financial aid process is not the only avenue for fiscal innovation that Temple leadership will explore over the coming months. Healthy self-reflection on our congregation’s current practices and an exploration of new membership models, fundraising strategies, school enrollment procedures, membership recruitment practices, the establishment and use of a reserve account, evaluation of staff positions, examination of endowment fund usage, and consideration of changing membership trends are just a sampling of topics that the Vision 2020 Project has encouraged us to examine.

In April, Vision 2020 Advisory Committee Members and Research Team Captains, along with Board members, Clergy, and Senior Staff, were called together for a two-day retreat focused on the creation of compelling mission and vision statements for our congregation. Based on the passionate input by hundreds of congregants during Phase One of the Vision 2020 project, the retreat group energetically participated in a visioning process to brainstorm a rich, detailed portrait of what each area of congregational life should look like. By engaging in this vision process, planning leaders endeavored to build a shared vision, and to create the framework of an action plan that works toward our collective vision.

A season of change is undoubtedly upon us. Transparent communication of changes in policy and procedure that arise from exercises in introspection and innovation of the Vision 2020 project remains a priority for your Board leadership, and we continue to welcome the participation of the congregation in this process.