Dues to Donations House Meetings Update from Allison Fine

Our house meetings to discuss the idea of changing from our current dues system to a Sustainable Membership Model ( I outlined the new model here) based on donations have been going great. There have been seven meetings so far and for the most part people are enthusiastic about exploring the new model, but, naturally concerned about the finances of the Temple moving forward. But rather than my reporting on the meetings, I thought you would be interested to hear reflections on the proposed new model from a congregant, Glen Markowitz. Glen is a new member of Temple’s Board of Trustees and hosted one of the house meetings.

Here is what Glen has to say: When I originally learned that the TBA Board of Directors was contemplating a switch from “dues” to “donations”, I thought the idea was crazy. In these complex times in which we have so many interests that compete for our attention and finances, how can we possibly consider the more optional “donations” concept? We hear so many people talk about the cost of living in Westchester and how it is compounded by the high cost of family travel, sleepaway camp, and TBA dues. Can you imagine if the cost of the less essential family vacation or sleepaway camp switched to a more flexible payment program? Over time, I have come to view the switch to “donations” more favorably, as there are quite a few good justifications for this approach. First, we have families who cannot afford the current dues structure and have the choice of going through the uncomfortable process of asking for a dues reduction or, even worse, discontinuing membership. We need to hold on to these members, and we also need to encourage those of greater financial means to do what they can to help the more modest. Since we already have a significant percentage of congregant families who are paying reduced dues and a fair number who are making contributions above and beyond, the basic concept of “dues to donations” is already occurring. Second, it really does feel better to donate. I grimace when we pay our annual dues, but feel good about contributing to the annual High Holiday fundraising campaign. Third, I am told that this approach has been carefully researched and has been successful elsewhere. Fourth, I am reassured to know that congregants will not receive an unstructured letter encouraging them to donate a random amount; instead, the annual contribution letter will clearly provide a sustaining level that the majority of families will hopefully target. Despite these considerations, I still consider the switch from “dues to donations” to be risky and worrisome. We are counting on our members to do what they can to sustain TBA. I believe the collective hope is that we will retain more members, bring in new families, and further engage our members in the TBA community. Only time will tell. For now, I offer one final consideration. I had a conversation with Rabbi Holtz a few years ago in which we discussed fundraising and I asked him how he would hope to use the proceeds of a successful fundraising campaign. Did he want to refurbish the social hall, the kitchen, or the lobby? Hire more staff? His immediate and unequivocal answer was that his first priority would be to retain members who could not afford to pay our dues, as this would serve to strengthen TBA and the larger Jewish community. I like the fact that “dues to donations” is reflective of this approach.

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