A Balanced Synagogue Budget – A Blessing

by Rick Rosenberg
Executive Director, Temple Emanu-El, Dallas, TX


Why Budget

“Men plan; God laughs.”       

— Hebrew Saying

A budget is nothing more than a plan. A Synagogue budget is a financial plan for the operations of the congregation.  Numbers and statistics can be frightening to some people. But numbers are simply the end product of a budget process. The primary aspect of the Synagogue budget process is to understand the short-term and long-term goals of the congregation, determine the resources available to achieve those goals and generate a plan to use the resources in an optimum manner to accomplish them.

Who needs a Synagogue budget? A budget is one of the most important financial controls for any Synagogue. It will be used throughout a Synagogue’s operations by many inside and possibly certain people outside the congregation.

Board Members  – The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to ensurethe Synagogue’s resources are properly managed and that the congregationis accomplishing its goals.

Management including clergy – Synagogue administrators and clergyare responsible for using a Synagogue’s resources in a manner toachieve its goals and objectives.

Foundations – grants to Synagogues will only be given to thoseorganizations who manage funds in an appropriate manner, establishservices and programs to accomplish specific goals and measure results.

Members and other donors – The Synagogue depends on other people’s money for day to day support. 

Banks – Synagogues may depend on lines of credit for operations or bridge financing for construction projects.

Insurance – Insurance carriers offset risk by requiring organizations to provide budgets and financial statements.

Effective Budgets

“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”      

–Psalm 33:10

An effective budget requires time and effort to prepare properly.Every step of the budget process adds to the quality of the finalbudget document. An effective budget is:

  • Realistic – A budget must be well-reasoned and reflect current conditions.
  • Consistent – A budget must be in-line with a Synagogue’s mission and be based on short and long-term plans.
  • Flexible – Budgets are based on planned activities, certain factsand a variety of assumptions. A budget is a guideline and is a toolthat should be adjusted from time to time.
  • Measurable – A budget should be monitored to ensure the accomplishment of goals and objectives.

Information Needed for the Budget Process

A budget should be prepared with knowledge of the Synagogue’smission, goals and objectives. The following information is helpful inpreparing and discussing budget requirements:

  • Mission statement – what is the purpose of the Synagogue?
  • Core values statement – what values are important for theSynagogue to strive to achieve with each service, program or activity?
  • Short-term and long-term goals and objectives
  • Other important plans or activities – will there be any expectedchange in clergy; should certain programs be sunset or new programsbegun; is a development campaign going to be initiated; is a newSynagogue building in the works? Are the schools serving a growingpopulation?
  • Annual campaign, High Holy Days appeal or special event fundraising – Are there fund raising projects to support the operatingbudget?
  • Availability of endowment or other restricted funds to support operations
  • Market activity – Are there other local Synagogues or schools that compete for members, students, Hebrew teachers, etc.
  • Membership projections

Who Participates in the Budget Process?

The budget process is one of the least efficient processes of aSynagogue. A Synagogue administrator, controller, treasurer or BudgetCommittee chair could prepare a budget and submit it for approval withina relatively short time period. However, the budget would notnecessarily reflect the correct goals, programs, activities orassumptions of the Synagogue. It would not be a realistic or consistentbudget reflective of appropriate knowledge or actual expectations.

The budget process should involve the entire Synagogue team. This includes:

  • Budget Committee

  • Clergy and staff
  • Synagogue president and officers

  • Board of Trustees (final approval)

Budgets should be prepared by each of the appropriate staff orcommittee leadership charged with the responsibility of various areas ofSynagogue operations. This includes areas such as religious and Hebrewschool, early childhood education, clergy, music, adult Jewishlearning, celebrations, committees, maintenance, administration,communications, development, cemetery, etc. Committee leadership shouldbe involved in the preparation or review of the various budgets inmany congregations. The Budget Committee should review the budgets tohelp ensure it reflects the current goals and vision of thecongregation. The Budget Committee should ideally work to prepare abalanced budget for presentation to the Board for approval.

The Eleventh Commandment

Few people know that there is an eleventh commandment. “Thou shaltprepare a Synagogue budget on an annual basis.” This is necessary todocument how financial resources will be utilized to accomplish goalsand objectives, provide a financial plan to be monitored on a regularbasis and enhance financial control.

Spotlight on Finance and Fundraising: This month we are highlighting the URJ’s resources for helpingcongregations with fundraising, budgets, annual commitments, survivingin the current economic crisis, and much more. Visit the Congregational Finance website for more info.

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One Response to “A Balanced Synagogue Budget – A Blessing”

  1. avatar

    I find this very interesting. Each person who understands the concept of the needs of a temple to operate and addresses this weekly basis should also expect to have a weekly accounting on their contribution or at least a monthly statement to this effect. Then when the high holidays come disputes would be less likely to occur. All participants who contribute each year should know that their funds allow them to participate in activities of that temple ,not be told just before the high holidays they need more money to attend the most important services in the Jewish year. To handle this process any other way is a breach of fiduciary and is actually actionable.Those of us who are on fixed incomes and contribute all year should not be forced to have funding withdrawn from our bank account in order to join any temple period.This is actually disparate impact.

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