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October 31, 2014 | 7th Cheshvan 5775

Ask a Specialist

Leadership SpecialistsThe URJ's Governance and Leadership Development Specialists, Lisa Adler, Judith Erger and Debbie Joseph, answer your most frequently asked questions.

We would like our board members and other synagogue leaders to participate in a day of leadership training focusing on roles and responsibilities of being a board member and our congregation's issues, needs and areas of interest. Is there a resource from the URJ?

Yes, the URJ has several training resources. Chief among them are day-long board workshops and retreats (usually 5 - 6 hours) led by a URJ-trained volunteer facilitator or staff person.

In order to create an environment for a successful encounter, the first step in planning a board workshop or retreat is gaining the approval, agreement and commitment from the board and clergy. Every board member and person invited to attend a workshop will be asked in advance to complete a broad questionnaire in order to identify the areas of strength and the issues that need attention. This information is then used to tailor the workshop to focus on your congregation's specific needs and to help the facilitator and congregational leaders clearly define the goals and objectives for the day.

A workshop typically begins with a brief text study to ground the day in Jewish values. Next are interactive exercises and discussions pertaining to: roles and responsibilities of being a board member; volunteer recruitment and engagement; and communication building. The workshop concludes with action-steps designed to help implement the goals and objectives. The trained facilitator will guide the discussions and lend expertise in helping to reach desired outcomes.

For additional information, visit the Board Workshops web page or contact Lisa Adler, Ladler@urj.org, 212.650.4186.

How do you get more and different people to volunteer - especially to take leadership and board positions?

Increasing your volunteer core is really about making every individual's every experience at your congregation positive, meaningful, worthwhile and somehow connected to doing a mitzvah. It is also about how to make your congregation warm, welcoming, inclusive, friendly and, most importantly, a congregation that continually shows appreciation for its volunteers. When these "criteria" are met, formerly inactive members will feel a connection to the congregation and will therefore be more likely to become active members, including volunteering for leadership positions.

To learn more about how to expand your active volunteer and leadership core please use these URJ resources:

Our Nominating Committee works diligently to identify and recruit new leaders to fill all of the empty slots for required board and committee positions. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult, and we now find ourselves with either unfilled spots or the same people being asked to continue. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

One of the most common barriers to involvement is the commitment of time. Congregants lead more active lives outside of the synagogue than ever before. If accepting a committee or leadership position requires attending countless meetings, assuming multiple duties or agreeing to chair a committee with an ambiguous purpose, then it may be time to ask, "Is our governance and committee structure enhancing or hindering our ability to recruit effective leaders?"

For many congregations the board and standing committee structure is antiquated. Consider these action-steps that will help you update your congregation's governance structure:

  • Assess each standing committee to determine its purpose, tasks and goals, and then determine which committees are genuinely required on an ongoing basis and which may be just as effective meeting a few times a year.
  • Articulate in writing the purpose and expectations for each committee and leadership position.
  • Consider scaling down the number of "official" positions and instead delegate greater responsibility to select committees that meet outside of the boardroom. This frees the board's time and empowers other people to do the work.
  • Convene the Nominating Committee well in advance of the deadline to produce a slate of identified nominees.

For additional information, download these publications:


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