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October 8, 2015 | 25th Tishrei 5776

Board and Governance 101

Whether you're a synagogue professional or volunteer; clergy member or committee chair; veteran member or new to congregational life - these are some of the essential things to know and resources to use as you work to enrich your synagogue community.

Managing the Sacred
Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)

Being a synagogue leader is a privilege as well as an obligation. It is your task to work in harmony with other leaders, whether they are clergy, professional staff or volunteers, to build, develop and maintain a well-run, spiritually fulfilling congregation where the sacred informs the practical and the practical creates the sacred.

The seven areas of interest listed below are meant to guide congregational leaders through some of the most basic, and essential, areas of board life and governance - of managing the sacred.


Roles and Responsibilities
As a leader, you may be expected to enable your congregation to fulfill its missions by assuming any or all of the following responsibilities:

  • Accepting fiduciary duties
  • Being a leader and Jewish role model
  • Listening to the members of the congregation
  • Planning effectively and realistically for the congregation's future
  • Fostering respect and courtesy in all interactions

Getting Started
Board orientations, leadership training programs and overall knowledge of the synagogue in its entirety are essential tools for being an effective leader.  The following seven suggestions will help you prepare yourself to become an effective board member:

  1. Read the constitution and bylaws of the congregation, which should describe the structure of the board, the functions of its standing committees and how the congregation operates.
  2. Become acquainted with all aspects of synagogue programming, including Shabbat worship and festival observances; Women of Reform Judaism; Men of Reform Judaism; the religious school; preschool and adult education; and youth activities.
  3. Become familiar with the synagogue's financial reports and operating statements, its administrative structure and the physical premises.
  4. Develop an understanding of the division of responsibilities among the board, the rabbi and, where applicable, the professional staff, including the cantor, administrator, educator and others, as well as among the professional and volunteer leaders.
  5. Obtain a copy of the board calendar and the schedule of meetings.
  6. Learn what is expected of you as an individual trustee with regard to establishing the congregation's vision, mission and goals, as well as the day-to-day aspects of meetings.
  7. Educate yourself regarding Reform ideology, history and the structure of the movement.

2. Long Range Planning
The process of long-range planning can help a congregation achieve its future purpose by defining a shared vision, developing a mission and establishing realistic goals and objectives to create and maintain a strong and healthy congregation.

3. Budgets & Fundraising
Building a financially viable and spiritually fulfilling congregation requires thoughtful budgeting and money management that reflects the mission and priorities of the congregation.

4. Leadership Development
Planning for the congregation's future includes continuity in leadership. Considerations include: identifying, recruiting, training and retaining volunteers as new synagogue leaders.

5. Staffing & Staff Relations
Developing, maintaining and modeling meaningful relationships between synagogue staff, clergy and volunteers is the basis for a spiritually healthy congregation. Considerations include: Articulated expectations, goals and job descriptions for staff and volunteers in the form of policy manuals and covenantal agreements; clergy transition; and managing conflict if it occurs.

6. Bylaws, Policies, & Legal Issues
Review and compare the bylaw documents that legally oversee the synagogue's operations; considerations for frequently asked legal and tax considerations; and guidelines for determining how and when to engage in advocacy on public issues.

7. Mergers, Transitions & Dissolutions
Changing the synagogue status involves a myriad of decisions. Considerations include: Managing transition for members of the congregation; preserving the congregation's history; and legal issues such as record retention, bylaws, disposition of assets, cemetery management and endowments and trusts agreements.

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