You Don’t Need to Pass the Hat: You Just Need to Plan!
Twenty-eight years ago, Temple Aleph Bet (TBA), a 120 member congregation in a small city in the Northeast, decided it was through with renting space and was very desirous of a permanent home. TBA purchased its first building, and after a few years, funds were raised to pay off the initial mortgage as well as to renovate and make TBA’s new home a sacred space. Along the way, as “things needed fixing” (painting, new carpeting, a new refrigerator), specific congregants were asked to make one time contributions of no more than a few thousand dollars, and gladly did so.
Fast forward to present day. The membership has grown to 140 and the building has aged. There is a need for a new roof, the boiler is 25 years old, and there is a moisture problem in some of the classrooms which must be addressed. TBA has figured that $25,000 will take care of these necessary capital improvements, but this is significantly more than the few thousand dollars TBA has needed for past upgrades, not to mention the other challenges: some of those who had been generous in the past have moved away; the current economic environment is challenging, to say the least; and TBA has never had any kind of building fund or mandatory member contribution.
TBA’s treasurer called me asking for guidance. They were able to
secure a $25,000 bank loan to take care of the building needs in a
timely fashion. Advice was needed regarding how to approach the
congregation for their financial support.
What are the best practices for congregations to deal with
anticipated major repairs, ongoing maintenance and eventual capital
replacement? From business, we learn that good financial planning will
help congregations meet such anticipated expenses. TBA might consider
devoting 5% of its operating budget to “capital upkeep and
improvements,” a line item that will be set aside each year until it is
A number of congregations have added an annual obligatory
maintenance fee for all congregants. Similar to the “security fee” that
has become a part of the annual dues/annual commitment statements from
many congregations, the extra maintenance fee–usually between $100 and
$150–is used for anticipated maintenance and capital improvements.
The operation side of synagogue life is similar to that of a
profit-making business. As manufacturing companies set aside funds to
replace necessary equipment in order to fulfill their mission,
synagogues need to know from where the funds will come to replace the
boiler and HVAC system, to purchase new carpeting or chairs and even to
put a new coat of paint on all the walls. Maintaining your building is
not optional; it is a financial and operational necessity.