Last fall we announced that we would create a task force to take a look at our dues structure and make recommendations for modifying them. Our group has met several times and it includes me, Michael Karnes, Alan Berkson, Karen Filler, Risa Swersey, Mel Savitch, Norm Jacobson, Patti Potash, and, of course, Rabbi David and Cantor Margot. Two things became very clear as we began to talk about dues: 1) Talking about dues is much more than a discussion of money. It really is the value we place on being a part of our temple community. And, 2) the concept of “dues” isn’t actually in the Torah! It is a construct of modern, American Judaism that turned participation in temple life into a financial obligation, more like paying a bill than giving a donation to a cause. The bottom line (pun intended) right now is that we welcome everyone regardless of their financial circumstances, and some families donate quite a bit more than their dues every year (thank you!), however, dues feel overwhelming high to too many families who would like to stay connected to temple but don’t feel that they can afford to do so.
Something has to change.
The second issue has had a profound impact on the way that many families think about Judaism and participation in Jewish life. Generally, we react to institutions based on the way we are treated; and for too long, we’ve treated congregants like life cycle payers. We need to begin a new conversation at TBA. As so many people discovered during Hurricane Sandy, community at temple is so much more than a bar mitzvah or a shiva (although those are important things.) We are a place to convene, to care for one another, a place to be connected to and strengthened by one another.
I was talking to a congregant the other day who told me she hates writing out her check for dues, but feels great when she makes her pledge for the Annual Appeal. Of course, she does, one feels like paying the plumber and one feels like a contribution to Audubon or Hadassah or whichever cause she gives to throughout the year. We need to change our financial narrative.
There are two pieces to this issue; the first is changing our lens by turning dues into donations (they are tax-deductive contributions, after all), the second is better explaining what, exactly, contributions are used for (e.g. worship, education, social justice, pastoral care, etc.)
Over the next few months, our task force is going to work on developing our financial narrative, and will be asking for your input as we do this on our Facebook Group (thanks, Alan!)
The second thing we’re going to do is host a few focus groups with people who are struggling to stay as members, or are no longer members, and ask them to help us craft a new giving structure. Our congregant, Sharon Delevie, a professional focus group facilitator, has volunteered her professional time to this effort.
Please know that we are trying to figure this out as we go, as are most reform congregations around the country. We are getting input and advice from the Union from Reform Judaism, our own board of trustees, and others, but there is no one, right answer to this difficult problem. The idea of moving away from dues, a system which enables us to reasonably predict income year-to-year, is terrifying for those of us responsible for keeping temple sound financially. However, there are times when we need to re-imagine our institutions. And certainly for young people, that time has passed for temples. (Here is an article from the Washington Post about younger Jews rebelling against dues.)
Here are a few questions we have for you as we begin this process:
1. Do you think using donation language instead of invoice/billing/statement language on what we send out now would feel better? Why/why not?
2.What is the “value” of TBA to you and your family right now? What could it be?
We will keep you apprised of our progress. Thanks for your input, advice and good wishes!