Temple Beth Ami
Vision 2020 Strategic Planning Project
Membership and Finance Models
Note to the congregation:
Vision 2020 process in which the Temple is engaged will eventually require decisions by the Board. The following research report discusses revenue/dues models. While it contains a view of the Membership & Finance Research Committee, no decisions have been made. It’s important to note that under the Constitution of the Temple, the congregation has the ultimate say over whether there is a change in the current dues system and structure.
The board will make its recommendation to the congregation after all the following: a public presentation of this report during the November 2018 Board meeting, an analysis of responses to a congregational survey, and a town hall meeting.
Note: All Board meeting are open to the Congregation.
With that in mind, please read the following report carefully.
Vision 2020 Steering Committee
October 15, 2018
Membership & Finance Research Committee
Elana Lippa (Chair), Jane Jacobs, Jim Lieberman, Rob Maytin, Rob Shapiro, Larry Tamarkin
(Prepared for Vision 2020 Steering Committee: April 6, 2018, Updated October 16 and 31, 2018)
Executive Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-4
Descriptions of Other Models Considered . . . . . . . . . 5-17
- Traditional/Fixed model
- Fair Share and Modified Fair Share
- Voluntary Annual Pledge
- Voluntary Plus Recognition Benefits
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
References. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
The task of the Membership and Finance Research Committee was to consider a range of alternative “dues” models for Temple Beth Ami, to help support a sustainable financial basis and future, and then present our results.
The Membership and Finance Research Committee studied the following models:
- Traditional/Fixed – Beth Ami’s current model, with a structured list of fixed annual membership dues based on categories of age (both broad and narrow) and/or household type (single, family, etc.). Shortcomings include: a) the category listings, which some perceive as arbitrary, and having no relation to a member’s income or use of synagogue resources; and b) the ongoing tension between a family’s financial need and some people “gaming the system” in requested dues adjustments/reductions.
In addition, in the past two years only about 40% of new members under the age of 45 pay full dues, and for those over that age about 60% pay full dues. It is noted that this year TBA has tightened its financial assistance policy, but it is too early to learn its impact on new members. Also, wealthier congregants can view fixed dues as the full cost of membership and have no incentive to contribute more.
- Transactional – Fee-for-service type model, where except for religious services, other aspects of membership are all a la carte. Shortcomings include reducing the spiritual, cultural, and educational aspects of a synagogue to dollar amounts and perceived financial “purchases”.
- Tiered – A fixed “base” membership fee is established for core religious activities, then additional lifecycle event and other synagogue services and activities are arranged in higher tiered membership levels. Shortcomings include the disadvantages of both the Traditional/Fixed and Transactional models.
- Fair Share – Based on an annual review of financial needs and membership numbers, financial support to the synagogue is based on a percentage of each member unit’s gross income (or adjusted gross income). Shortcomings include a tension between financial disclosure (may or may not be required) and whether members feel others are giving their actual “fair share”; as well as perceived arbitrary percentages regardless of what an individual or family income also needs to support. (Such as: 2% of an individual’s $100,000 income is perceived as a different “fair share” commitment than 2% of a $100,000 income for a family of four with a child in college or an elderly parent to care for.) Additionally because of the aforementioned shortcomings, members may also feel the need to “game the system”.
- Modified Fair Share – A fair share model but with categories of percentages (such as 2% for incomes above X amount, 1.9% for incomes between Y-Z, etc.). Shortcomings include the fair share challenges above, plus a perceived arbitrary set of percentage categories.
- Voluntary Annual Pledge – Members are informed about the costs to support the synagogue, and perceive a value of membership that justifies pledging financial support. Part of members’ value decision is based on a compiled comprehensive description of all the benefits that membership in a particular synagogue provides. With appropriate preparation and ongoing education/communication, financial shortcomings should be avoided.
- Voluntary Plus Recognition Benefits – Same as above, with public recognition benefits (reserved parking, special events, etc.) granted for larger pledges. Shortcomings include creating “classes” of members, where wealthier congregants are seen as having special privileges.
Important introductory facts about all of the alternative models considered: (1) They all pertain to fundamental membership dues or support, while also allowing for separate fees for religious school, bar/bat mitzvah, etc. (2) They all assume that additional fundraising or contribution opportunities (such as designated funds “in honor or memory of”, oneg contributions, High Holiday appeals, fundraising social events, etc.) will take place throughout a calendar year. and (3) Whichever financial model is chosen, the Board and Congregation will need to determine how to handle what has been known as the Building Fund.
In addition to studying the models above, a member of the Membership and Finance Research Committee conducted a phone survey, contacting Reform and Conservative congregations with more than 500 households in the Metropolitan Washington Area (MD, DC, VA). A summary of the survey results is included in the Appendix.
In the survey results, it’s notable that all the Reform temples in our survey use Fair Share or Modified Fair Share models – except for Temple Beth Ami. All the Conservative congregations in our survey, plus Temple Beth Ami, use the Traditional/Fixed model.
As explained in the full report, the Membership and Finance Research Committee favors the Voluntary Annual Pledge Model.
Descriptions of Models Considered
The following synopses provide more detail on each of the most common membership models being utilized by synagogues: Traditional/Fixed Dues, Fair Share and Modified Fair Share, Tiered, Transactional, Voluntary, and Voluntary Plus Benefits.
Beth Ami’s current model, with a structured list of fixed annual membership dues based on categories of age (both broad and narrow) and/or household type (single, family, etc.). Shortcomings include: a) the category listings, which some perceive as arbitrary, and having no relation to a member’s income or use of synagogue resources; and b) the ongoing tension between a family’s financial need and some people “gaming the system” in requested dues adjustments/reductions. In the past two years only about 40% of new members under the age of 45 pay full dues and for those over that age about 60% pay full dues. It is noted that this year TBA has tightened its financial assistance policy, but it is too early to learn its impact on new members. Also, wealthier congregants can view fixed dues as the full cost of membership and have no incentive to contribute more. The Dues structure used by TBA in FY 2017 is included in the Appendix.
Fair Share and Modified Fair Share Membership Models
Unlike the traditional dues-based membership models, Fair Share and Modified Fair Share membership models are based on the income of a household to afford membership contributions within their budget.
Many of the Reform congregations in the DMV area (see 2018 Survey Results in the Appendix to this report – as well as previous surveys available), have used the Fair Share model or a Modified Fair Share model. A recent study by UJA Federation of New York has found that the Fair Share model is now being used in 7% of congregations in the U.S. The model is similar to a progressive tax system in which persons are assessed at a greater percentage of their income according to their theoretical ability to pay.
Each household makes an annual payment based on a percentage of their annual household income (formula typically ranges from 1-3% of gross household income) with different income brackets being used above a certain threshold. Other congregations in the DMV area utilize the Fair Share approach with brackets. One DC congregation has 5 income brackets above household income of $80,000 and another has 6 income brackets above household income of $146,000. This approach serves to “distribute” a fair share to those in higher income brackets.
Fair Share and Modified Fair Share are seen as more flexible dues structures, allowing members to pay according to their financial ability and household income.
Fair Share and Modified Fair Share is directed at making membership affordable to all members who wish to join or remain members.
Some congregations go a step further to include a “maintenance fee” ranging from $200 – $1,000 to ensure a sustaining amount beyond the formula-based percentage of gross household income.
The Fair Share model is a system based on trust and the willingness of the leadership of the congregation to accept the contribution of members based on what a family says they can afford.
Many congregants are concerned that by being honest about their contribution level, lay leadership will be able to determine their income, which they believe is private information.
Proof of income level is not normally required or requested by lay leadership, which may allow for abuse of the formula. This can result in a disincentive among members to disclose their full income due to discrepancies in amounts contributed and pit congregants against one another.
Income itself doesn’t reflect a family’s ability to spend. A family making $200,000/year may have less money available than a family making $150,000/year, based on a range of circumstances including number of people in the family, college and other educational expenses, medical expenses, care expenses for an elderly parent, etc.
Congregants in the higher income brackets may pay substantially more than those in lower income levels and feel they are subsidizing or paying an unfair amount without a cap. Some congregations using the Fair Share model have a cap placed on households in higher income brackets.
Tiered Membership Model
The Tiered model provides membership for a basic fee. Additional services arranged in tiers are available for higher fees.
Under this model, all members participate in basic religious activities and the basic membership level provides a base level of income for the temple. The next tier of membership for which an additional fee is charged might include lifecycle events such as baby namings, weddings, funerals, etc. Other tiers might include religious and adult education. It is not clear what happens if a person did not choose a higher tier and then needs the higher service (e.g., unexpected funeral).
Arguably the Tiered model has much in common with a Transactional model. Others have said that this model recognizes that similar congregants may have the same needs for services that form the basis of grouping them in membership levels. By predicting the needs of the congregants, budget decisions can be made.
Another approach for Tiered levels is to provide a sustaining level based on the traditional dues level. The level member receives full membership benefits as is currently at TBA. Fees for extra services such as religious school would continue as it is structured now. Additional levels would be based on amounts paid with different benefits at each level. Benefits at different levels might include additional High Holiday tickets for guests, free Shabbat dinners, and recognition dinners, free adult education classes, reserved parking spaces, and preferred seating at temple events. This approach might be compared to patron levels at a local theater that provides membership benefits according to the level of donation. Alternatively, there might be higher levels of membership based on donations with recognition labels such as Supporter, Benefactor, Sustainer, Patron, or Builder, but without additional benefits. B’nai Tzedek uses this approach for asking members to make donations in addition to regular dues payments. This Tiered model allows households to increase their financial commitment as their relationship with the congregation deepens as well as their financial condition improves. Budgeting for this model would likely be similar to the existing system. The only real difference is that this approach establishes levels to increase fund raising with minimum additional expense.
The budgeting for the Tiered model is somewhat similar to the current TBA approach.
The Tiered model creates different “classes” of congregants. It may also lead to requests for adjusted fees for services and lifecycle-related events that could be argued are integrally related to Judaism. There can be policy disagreements about what should or shouldn’t be included in various tiers – and as noted above, it’s unclear what would happen if an otherwise sustainable-level (basic) member needs a life cycle event like a funeral which is in a tier they haven’t paid for.
Transactional Membership Model
The Transactional model is called fee-for-service because members are charged for the temple services used.
While we do not use this label, traditional models like TBA uses fee-for-service to some degree. Members pay extra for religious school, b’nai mitzvah fees, dinners, etc., though these member fees may be subsidized by the greater membership dues.
Requires developing the cost/fee for each service at the full unsubsidized amount. For example, religious school fee would be based on the cost of building space, maintenance and janitorial cost, utilities, salaries etc. – items that current members now support in part. Similarly a food and film event would need to cover not only the food and movie rental cost but also the building, maintenance and janitorial cost.
Requires developing what services will be provided for basic membership. Will it include all services including high holidays or will High Holiday tickets be a separate fee for those members who want to attend? What portion of the clergy’s time will be included with basic membership? Will extra fees be charged for clergy time spent on hospital visits, weddings, baby namings, counseling sessions, religious questions, Shiva calls? How will activities such as adult education, Torah class, temple picnics be covered?
May present challenges to estimate the number of users of various services to develop a budget to sustain the congregation including its facility and staff.
While one may initially be receptive to the concept of paying just for services likely to be used, it may be a significant cultural change to be receptive to pay for services previously included in dues. Members are not used to clergy being treated like a professional attorney or accountant where the more time spent with the professional and services requested, the more you pay. This may be distasteful to some and undermine the spiritual counseling aspect of clergy and their congregants. A Rabbi at Temple Beth Torah in New Jersey comments:
Scanners would be set up at each of the Synagogue Doors. To get in through the turnstile or gate, you’d have to swipe your credit card, or flash your Smart Phone. You would be charged for each event you came to. A High Holiday Service might be $100. A Shabbat service – $10. An Adult Ed class or lecture – $20. Hebrew School – $10 per session. Purim Carnival – $5. Hanukkah Breakfast – $15. … And how can you charge invited guests for coming to a Bar Mitzvah? (Maybe you would put all the guests on the Temple member’s credit card.)
The Transactional model forces the temple to establish a financial value to cover the cost of all services provided. It provides transparency without hidden costs. Like any other financial transaction a member enters into during the course of everyday living, members get what they pay for. This model takes away the concept of relationship, building and sustaining a community supporting each other, and it becomes all about money. Fundraising may still be necessary to cover the loss fees for member who cannot afford the full cost of services unless such losses are factored into the fee amounts.
A member primarily pays for what they use, and there’s clarity about costs and expenses.
There is a financial cost to the synagogue of administratively managing payments.
A deeper issue with this model besides the breakdown of relationships is the message you give people about Judaism – everything is about money, including praying to G-d and learning Torah? It reduces the spiritual, cultural, and educational aspects of a synagogue to dollar amounts and perceived financial “purchases”.
Voluntary Annual Pledge Model
Unlike the traditional dues-based membership models, the Voluntary model leaves it up to the household to determine how much they want to contribute. Most congregations will provide their congregants details on a sustaining amount (e.g., total annual budget divided by number of households) so that each household will have a general basis for their pledge.
Sixteen congregations of 500+ households surveyed by UJA Federation of New York have moved to this model. The UJA Federation of New York has published two well-researched reports with findings on this topic. Below is a summary of findings from them, as well as a case study of a Reform congregation that moved successfully to the Voluntary Membership model.
UJA Federation Anecdotal Findings is addressed below:
- Some members inevitably pay more and many pay less, but there is limited “gaming” of the system.
- A key challenge identified by the previous study is encouraging members who have the means to give more than the sustaining amount.
- Financial transparency and information-sharing is paramount.
- Congregations are forced to make the case to their members as to why they should give at the sustaining level or more.
- Members engage in a thoughtful change process.
- Most congregations spend anywhere from six months to two years preparing for a membership model change.
Findings based on UJA 2015 study of 21 congregations that switched to voluntary membership pledges:
- Congregations are almost uniformly pleased with the change to this new financial model, and no congregation reports an interest in returning to a traditional dues model. Many congregations report that the positive cultural impact of the change is as important as the financial ramifications.
- The level of member engagement and involvement increased as well as the perceived value and meaning of membership.
- Congregations report an average 4% annual increase in number of new household members.
- Congregations report an average 4.4% annual increase in total revenue; only two congregations noted a decrease in revenue.
- Despite a concern about token pledges, not one synagogue reported this as a problem.
Case Study: Temple Beth-El, San Antonio
Temple Beth-El was included in the 2017 UJA report, but not included in case study, so this committee directly engaged Temple Beth-El and was provided the following feedback.
Timing: New dues structure adopted in Feb 2015, effective June 2015, however it appears they spent most of the year (post-June 2015) having parlor meetings and significant communications (see below) to ensure understanding of the program.
Communications: 5 direct mailings including an introductory letter, postcards and brochure, pledge cards. Also included email blasts, videos and a dedicated website (https://givetoyourheartscontent.org/)
Total Membership Since New Model Instituted:
Total Number of New Member Households:
Response from Existing Members:
Findings based on UJA 2017 report:
- Congregations are overwhelmingly positive about the impact of the voluntary commitment model on congregational culture.
- Not one congregation expressed an interest in reverting to its prior membership model.
- Congregations using the system for three years or more report positive membership and revenue growth after three years, 3.9%, but they report that the most significant growth typically occurs in the second year after switching models.
- Congregations that have used the model at least three years reported an average 2.2% annual pledge revenue increase.
- New members are pledging below the sustaining rate (Many of these families have burdens of religious/day school tuition as well as people on fixed incomes.).
- Veteran members are financially “floating” the congregation (New members are pledging below the sustaining rate, but those members may not have joined if the old membership system were still used.).
- An average of 38% of congregants give at or above the sustaining level. On average 15% gave more. Some see this as a concern based on past views that members should pay similar amounts except for those who do not have the means to do so. On the other hand, similar dues amounts from members with different circumstances and incomes create unequal impacts.
- Most congregations reported an increase in member engagement. Congregations are concerned about whether they will increase their pledges over time.
- Most congregations continue to conduct fundraisers outside of the pledge system. (“One of the biggest struggles we have is communicating with people to distinguish between the annual appeal and the voluntary pledge.” – which could be a nomenclature issue.)
- Endowments are not necessary for voluntary commitment success.
- Voluntary commitment synagogues are running successful capital and endowment campaigns.
- Congregations that have used the model for more than three years report a need to continue promoting and reintroducing the model to the membership. They also cite a need for greater attention to cultivating all members beyond the first year.
- Congregations do not adequately track their financial data. Better tracking and more data could allow them to more effectively sustain a financial change.
Other things to consider:
- Attrition due to life stage (e.g. Bar/Bat Mitzvah) may drop if financial burden could drop as well.
- Those who decide how much they contribute will generally pay what they have pledged, making collection simpler.
- Some of those who normally would pay less in dues in some models (over 65), but have the means to pay more, will pledge more if given a reason to do so.
- Over time and with comparing annual pledges to the annual budget, TBA will want to calculate the approximate percentage of members needed to pay at or above the sustaining level, to balance members who will be paying less.
- With the amended tax law starting in 2019 (for 2018 taxes), congregants who itemize may choose to continue to take charitable deductions, while those taking the standard deductions will not see the financial benefit of making charitable donations. Seniors over the age of 70.5 may make charitable deductions from their IRA’s, 401K’s, etc. to reduce the tax consequences from taking the required minimum distribution.
A key advantage is that the Voluntary membership model approaches membership from a positive perspective of the congregation as a community that supports a broad range of Jewish religious, spiritual, educational, social, social action, and other needs. It removes the disincentive of people to feel that they are getting a “better deal” than others and generally creates a feeling of goodwill for what a household can afford to pledge – including over time as a member household’s circumstances change. It emphasizes transparency, where perceived value has been fully compiled and described, and where the expenses involved in supporting that value are clear. It also makes collection of pledged amounts somewhat easier for staff and lay leadership. Overall, it creates a better feeling around pledging and creates a positive, engaged atmosphere.
The disadvantages are that there is a less predictable stream of income, at least for the first year it is deployed. Additionally, when new members join, a lay leader-led effort must be made to orient new members to the system. There is also a need for lay leadership to continuously re-orient existing members to the financial needs of the congregation through a transparent budget process and additional fundraising as necessary.
Additional thoughts on the Voluntary Model
The Voluntary Annual Pledge model relies upon a well-informed membership fully understanding the costs of supporting the congregation, focusing on relationships whereby members consider membership cost from the perspective of “perceived value”. In other words, cost and budget transparency make clear what’s financially required to maintain a synagogue’s resources and programs; and members/prospective members perceive sufficient value in affiliating with the synagogue to financially support what they will be gaining through membership.
A common initial reaction to the Voluntary Annual Pledge model is that people will pledge as little as possible and the synagogue will not be financially viable. The research we found shows synagogues that use this model have financially sustained their congregations, and in most cases either reduced the rate of membership decline or increased membership. However, there will need to be sufficient education, understanding, and engagement prior to and continuing after the model is implemented.
The Appendix to this document includes two references that describe how and why this unexpectedly successful result repeatedly happens. The article “When Jews Choose Their Dues” appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, outlining the rationale and experience of some congregational use of the voluntary model at that point in time. The UJA Federation of New York did a broader study in 2015, followed by a comprehensive 2017 report of 57 Reform and Conservative congregations across the country that have adopted the Voluntary Membership model as of the summer of 2016. Sixteen of these have 500+ member households. None of the congregations who transitioned to a voluntary membership model expressed a desire to return to their former dues model. Committee members also contacted three synagogues, two Reform congregations, including Temple Beth El in Alexandria, VA, and a Conservative congregation, to get firsthand information. These congregations expressed overwhelming support for the voluntary dues model to attract and retain members.
The Voluntary structure differentiates the concept of membership from its traditional fixed dues structure, where simply age or household category determine what’s financially required – into a membership concept where “perceived membership value,” Jewish values, and commitment to our congregation take precedence.
Joining a synagogue and retaining members should not be a primarily financial decision. Instead, membership focuses on members’ desire to be part of a Jewish community, where money is pledged with the recognition that such communities have expenses. It approaches membership from a positive perspective, instead of an annual commitment of fixed categories with negative financial incentives for several groups of members or prospective members. It creates a feeling of goodwill around what a household can afford to pledge relative to the perceived value they receive from membership. In addition, a voluntary dues structure would eliminate the need (and the embarrassment or frustration) of negotiating with congregants via the financial secretaries committee for annual “dues relief.” In this past fiscal year, Temple Beth Ami “lost” approximately $450,000 in discounted dues, without a counter-balance of attracting new members. (There may still be a need to negotiate school fees with the Voluntary Model)
Overall, the new Voluntary Annual Pledge structure can create a more positive experience about supporting and helping sustain Temple Beth Ami as a leading center for Jewish spirituality, community, learning, and culture in central Montgomery County. Importantly, for many congregations that use the Voluntary model, there is a track record of increasing and retaining membership because the financial commitment is no longer a barrier to membership.
The Voluntary Annual Pledge structure is not at all blind to the fact that money is an issue to sustain the congregation that we all wish to have. The committee recognizes that adopting this new model will require a cultural and educational shift for feasibility at Temple Beth Ami, and that financial sustainability will be essential.
Consequently, this change will require effort from lay leaders, staff, clergy, and involved congregants that may take more than a year before it can be adopted. This structure will require additional research, including additional contacts with congregations that have adopted a voluntary pledge structure to fully understand the implementation challenges, the involvement of former and current temple lay leaders to communicate the change, and discussions and workshops with congregants to obtain their essential buy-in. In other words, the path to a successful communications and education component can be compiled from successful previous experiences of other congregations – and that experience will need to be gathered and be tailored to Beth Ami membership and culture. For example, it is not clear yet how and if school fees are negotiated with voluntary dues congregations.
The success of the Voluntary Annual Pledge model depends on a sufficiently high “Perceived Value” for each member unit to want to provide sufficient financial support. As part of the communications/education preparation, Beth Ami will need to compile a comprehensive, multi-faceted description of the religious, spiritual, life-cycle, social, educational, cultural, social action, “extended family”, and other positive attributes of Temple Beth Ami membership. In the Vision 2020 house meetings and other venues, it became clear that many current members are affiliated with TBA in limited, narrow ways (such as religious school), don’t regularly read the newsletter or weekly emails, and are unaware of some of the many ways (including ways not explicitly listed in the newsletter or email) that Temple membership can benefit their lives.
For the Voluntary Annual Pledge process to be successful, Beth Ami lay leadership and staff will need to determine the “average” minimum pledge amount to sustain our congregation and estimate the potential impact of average pledges below a sustainment level. This will obviously involve budgetary decisions based on other Vision 2020 results about what Temple Beth Ami wants and needs to provide in order to be an ongoing institution.
In addition, to avoid a significant budget deficit, the Temple’s Board will need to establish a timeline for finalizing the budget, which allows sufficient time to compare the annual TBA budget to congregant annual pledges. If the initial pledges would result in an unacceptable budget deficit, then sufficient time needs to be available to inform the congregation. The Board can ask congregants to consider increasing their pledges. Alternatively, the committee can further evaluate the annual budget to recommend reductions to the Board, to avoid an unacceptable deficit. On the other hand, if the pledges exceed the planned budget, funds can be put aside for unexpected expenses or opportunities.
The Board will want to ensure that any operating deficit would not jeopardize the financial stability of Temple Beth Ami in order to implement the voluntary model. Once implemented, the Voluntary Annual Pledge model will need to be reviewed each fiscal year, and a determination made if the results are sufficiently successful to continue the following year. Other congregations using the Voluntary model have recommended giving it sufficient time to be fully implemented. For example, some congregations found that in the first or second year the amount pledged by a number of congregants was less than under the previous fixed “dues” model – but at the same time, increased or retained membership numbers more than made up the budgetary difference.
Periodic and ongoing financial discussions by lay leadership, staff, the congregation, and the clergy are critically important to remind members of the importance of sustaining contributions from members to meet the costs of running a synagogue.
If the Voluntary model is implemented and is not sufficiently successful over a period of time determined by the Board – even with additional fundraising efforts and/or other measures – then the Board will need to consider reverting back to the Traditional/Fixed dues model. It may be appropriate for congregants to know this when making initial pledges.
For this overall process to succeed, the Temple’s clergy, staff, lay leadership and members will need to work together each year on a basis of trust and honesty.
Views of the Committee
The Membership and Finance Research Committee favors this option and recommends that the Board consider:
- Adopting a Voluntary Annual Pledge model to replace the current fixed dues structure for Temple Beth Ami (TBA) membership. Separate fees would still exist (in current or modified ways) for religious school, bar/bat mitzvah fee, etc.
- Plan and execute a membership engagement and education process for a sufficient time (potentially more than a year) before the new financial support model is implemented, as well as a plan for ongoing engagement and communication. Other congregations have had significant success with the Voluntary model, but only after all stakeholders have a clear understanding of how the model functions and its benefits.
- The Voluntary Annual Pledge model depends on a sufficiently high “Perceived Value” of financially supporting the synagogue, from each member unit (individual or family). Therefore, it will be key to: Construct a comprehensive, multi-faceted description of the religious, spiritual, life-cycle, social, educational, cultural, social action, “extended family”, and other positive attributes of Temple Beth Ami membership. Members and prospective members don’t need to relate to all of the attributes, but each member unit needs to connect with enough of them to want to provide and maintain financial support.
Rationale for the Committee’s View
Temple Beth Ami is investing significant time and energy on the Vision 2020 Project to establish financial sustainability, maintain and increase membership, and develop a strengthened/ enriched sense of member engagement for the next phase of our congregational life.
After studying a range of membership “dues” structures, surveying local congregations, and discussing advantages and disadvantages as described above, the Vision 2020 Membership and Finance Research Committee unanimously believes that the Voluntary Annual Pledge model provides the best opportunity for TBA to meet its Vision 2020 goals.
While the Committee considered several dues models as described in this report, we feel there would be no benefit in switching to one of the other researched models if the above recommendation is rejected. Each of the other financial models has advantages and disadvantages. Their shortcomings include some of the member dues challenges Beth Ami is already facing; and their advantages do not appear to be sufficiently better than our existing TBA dues model to merit a change.
Voluntary Plus Benefits Model
This model is similar to the Voluntary Annual Pledge Model. However, additional benefits are provided to those who pledge more.
Just as with membership levels at a theater or arts organization, not all members will use all benefits. This will make calculating what is deductible on taxes a little more complex. Some members will opt not to use any benefits so as to deduct the full amount they contribute. Some will not want others to know at which level they give.
- Parking space in main temple lot on Rosh Hashanah first day and Yom Kippur
- Listing of names by level in the RH and YK programs
- Seats in reserved area of sanctuary on RH first day and YK for those at a certain level
- Senior rabbi/cantor comes to intimate dinner at your home
- Preferential times for religious school sessions
- Listing of names by level in Chadashot instead of listing honor/memorial donations.
- Opportunity for donors at certain levels to use certain spaces at temple for private parties/events without paying rental fees – after bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings have been scheduled. Not sure how this impacts funerals, brit milah, or baby namings, which are less predictable and have a shorter timeframe to schedule. Perhaps certain rooms always need to be kept available. This is a question for Janice/Diane.
Temple revenue may improve. People who pay for higher levels of membership may feel that they are receiving a good benefit for what they donate. People who pay for lower levels of membership, whether out of choice or necessity, would be subsidized by those paying for higher levels.
Creates “classes” of membership where wealthier congregants are seen as having special privileges based on higher income. People who can’t afford the higher levels of membership may feel resentful of the benefits that others who can afford it receive. Also, reserved parking spaces or special sanctuary seating may not be sufficiently available for members who choose to pay for additional benefits.
REFERENCES FOR THE ABOVE MODELS INCLUDED:
Are Voluntary Dues Right for Your Synagogue, UJA-Federation of New York, 2015.
Connection, Cultivation, and Commitment: New Insights on Voluntary Dues, UJA-Federation of New York, 2017.
New Membership & Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue, Rabbi K.Olitzky & Rabbi A Olitzky, (2015).
Reform Judaism Magazine, Spring 2014
Strengthening Congregations Reimagining Financial Support for your 21st Century Congregation, Union for Reform Judaism
Connection, Cultivation, and Commitment: New Insights on Voluntary Dues
UJA-Federation of New York 2017
When Jews Choose Their Dues
Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun (2014)
Give to Your Hearts Update May 2017.pptx
Temple Beth-El, San Antonio Texas
- July 2017 Listing of Temple Beth Ami Dues Structure
- March 2018 Congregation Survey Results
- Reference: Spring 2014 Article in URJ Reform Judaism –
“When Jews Choose Their Dues”
- Reference: 2017 UJA Federation of New York Report –
“Connection, Cultivation, and Commitment: New
Insights on Voluntary Dues” (Also available at