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October 8, 2015 | 25th Tishrei 5776
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Ask a Specialist

Finance SpecialistsThe URJ's Finance Specialists, David Katowitz and Rob Berkovitz, answer your more frequently asked questions.

Besides the general charitable deduction, are their other tax incentives that congregants can take advantage of?
Definitely! Through 2011, Congress has extended a special provision to help those 70½ and older who are dependent on social security and other forms of retirement income make charitable donations. Persons with traditional or Roth IRAs may make tax-free gifts directly to qualified charities, including their synagogues. Such persons may choose to make charitable distributions from their IRA up to a total of $100,000 in 2011. A couple with separate IRAs each can make gifts up to $100,000.

Through your synagogue’s newsletter and targeted mailings to this age group, you can encourage such congregants to make an outright gift to your synagogue, or even pre-pay congregational dues. You should begin such marketing as soon as possible, as December 31st will be here before we know it!

What is the most effective method of fundraising?
While there is no one right fundraising method, an effective and important part of fundraising is “the ask.” A personal conversation between two congregants is most effective. We often hear people say, “If I was only asked, I would be happy to give.”

What is important here is that it takes time to get to the point where you can ask someone for a significant contribution. You need to develop a relationship with a congregant by engaging them in the process. It is not just about the money. People need to be asked for their opinion on the life of the synagogue. Their ideas and thoughts need to be valued. People need to be “romanced” or “wooed” so that when the time comes to ask them for a serious contribution their hearts and minds will be invested in the future of the synagogue.

What roles should synagogue board members play in fundraising efforts? What about the rabbi?
The general synagogue membership looks to the board as the leaders of the congregation. They are likely to be guided by what the board does. It can be very effective during any fundraising campaign if board members are the first group who step up to make a donation. Of course not all board members have the capacity to give a large donation. Likewise, not all members have the capacity to give a large donation. The point is to lead by example to the best of your ability.

The rabbi plays an integral part in any fundraising campaign. While s/he doesn’t need to be the asker, the rabbi needs to participate in the process. The rabbi, in partnership with other synagogue leaders, should be a part of important solicitations and can focus on sharing the vision of the synagogue’s future. Congregants value what the rabbi says, so his/her active support of the fundraising plan helps to ensure success.

What might a typical fundraising action plan look like for a synagogue?
For the remaining months of the fiscal year (through June 2012), identify a group of congregants (20-25 for a medium size synagogue and 10-15 for a small one) who have the capacity to contribute $1000 over and above current dues. Have the synagogue president and rabbi visit with and engage these congregants in a personal conversation about your synagogue and what it means to such persons to be a part of your sacred community.

We also encourage synagogue boards to consider an end of year personalized letter to all other congregants asking them to consider your synagogue in their end of year giving. This letter should be in the mail in the beginning of December.

Another thought about fundraising: We encourage congregations to look to events as community building opportunities rather than primarily for income generation. When people feel part of the community, they are more likely to make financial contributions. For an array of event ideas, look at the URJ Communicate database.

How can the Union for Reform Judaism be of help to my congregation?
Our Finance web page has many resources for you. You will find sample direct mail letters; webinars about High Holy Day Fundraising and online donations; and a newly created online planned giving guide, just to note a few examples.

In addition to the online resources, you can also connect with us. As the URJ’s Finance Specialists, we are available to work with synagogue leaders to develop a financial resource development action plan.

Among other things, we can assist synagogue leaders with some of these projects:

  • Conducting a feasibility study to determine community capacity and interest for a multi-million dollar endowment campaign
  • Developing an annual campaign plan
  • Creating and implementing a planned giving program
  • Organizing a process of identifying synagogue members with significant giving potential and developing strategies for synagogue leaders to cultivate and solicit them
  • Training volunteer and professional leadership to make face to face solicitations

For more information and assistance with development and financial planning, contact the URJ Finance Specialists, David Katowitz and Rob Berkovitz.

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