Communicating with Your Congregation About Financial Issues Description, resources and Q&A
This webinar is designed to help board members, synagogue presidents, treasurers and finance committees communicate with the congregation about financial matters affecting them. The speakers are Rabbi David Frank of Temple Solel, Cardiff By The Sea, CA and Judith Erger, Governance, Leadership Development and Architecture Specialist for the Union for Reform Judaism.
Q: Regarding methods of communicating: Any thoughts about the use of
web-based surveys [i.e., Constant Contact, Zoomerang, Survey
Surveys can be helpful depending upon what the results are used for. One of
the cautions with surveys is asking for feedback for a particular project or
initiative and not being able to follow through with what the majority of people
are looking for. A question to consider is: Will the answers of the survey be
used? If people take time to complete the survey there is an expectation that
the answers given will be considered. If the participants feel their answers to
the survey questions are not considered future surveys will likely have minimal
participation. Another possibility is the use of focus groups and parlor
meetings. It is a good way to involve people representing various demographic
groups within the synagogue and allow them to express their opinions and feel
that what they have to say is of value.
Q: Rabbi Frank mentioned that in his congregation, the budget was
posted online was it available to the public on the website or was it password
protected for members only?
It was publicly posted on the website. However, it did not contain any
information that would be inappropriate for public eyes. For example,
salaries are not individually broken out, but listed as aggregates within each
department. Consider the question Why do we want to post the budget online?
Is it being posted to give more transparency to the financial aspect of the
synagogue? What are the consequences of posting it online? Would the
congregation be better served by posting information about trends on the budget,
such as trends regarding increases or decreases in revenue, rather then just
straight budget numbers?
Q: What should be done about clergy that instructs a board not to
alarm the troops [regarding the synagogues financial situation]? How do we
convince someone that more transparency is needed?
The key to
transparency is to attempt to identify financial challenges with careful
analysis and a proposed action plan to meet the crisis. If congregants believe
that their finances are being properly managed with proactive steps in place to
sufficiently overcome obstacles, then panic will not set in. The goal is to
avoid alarming congregants, but rather reassure them that while challenges are
serious, there is a way to address them, especially if everyone pitches in.
Q: How do you change a culture of NOT naming names of
There are some interesting CCAR Responsa written on the
subject of donor recognition. You might find it helpful to begin by studying
and teaching these. In fact, the Jewish tradition does understand the value of
recognizing donors as a means to inspire others to give. Of course, this should
always be done in good taste. In answer to a question asked of the CCAR
regarding memorial plaques the response was as follows: The entire matter of
memorial plaques has a dual history. On one hand we have wished from the
Talmudic time onward to encourage gifts, yet we have tried to discourage boasts
about such donations. The medieval Spanish scholar Solomon ben Adret
stated that it would be appropriate to list the name of the donor for two
reasons and the Shulhan Arukh
in order to recall the specific wishes of the donor so that the funds would
not be diverted to another use
to encourage other donors through the good example of that individual.
Q: How do you reconcile web-based, e-newsletters with the value of a
congregations newsletter sitting on members kitchen tables?
One of the Webinar presenters noted: We are moving this year, as part of our
cost containment strategy, to email distribution of our newsletter. For those
who wish to have a printed copy, we will make that option available. The only
way to assess the impact is to try it and see what the reaction is. We are
hoping for positive results, as people rely more heavily on their computers.
However, if it doesn't work, we always have the option to return to the print
Q: How do you communicate with people that keep saying it costs way
too much money to continue being a member and that they can go to Chabad for
First, it should be made clear that in most cases, anyone can worship at the
congregation of their choice for free. Second, remind or inform these people
that many programs and services at your congregation are free already. More to
the point, though, Chabad also has expenses and their rabbis have the singular
task of raising money. If people become involved in a Chabad synagogue, they
would invariably be asked to contribute. However, that being said, we should
not fall into a "fee for service" trap. The question is not, "can I get a
better deal elsewhere?" The proposition is that we believe in our synagogue as
a worthy institution for Jewish life. Our financial commitment is a gift of
tzedakah to a cause we believe in - living Torah; transmitting Torah; and
creating a vibrant Jewish community that will inspire, support and nurture
Jewish souls. The question is not, "do I use the synagogue enough?" Rather it
is, "do I believe in the congregation as a place that needs to exist, if not for
myself, then for others, and is thus worthy of my support?"
 Responsa #582  Yoreh Deah 249.13  CCAR Responsa 146 Memorializing a Known Criminal, June