Fair Share Dues: Mishugas or Mitzvah?
by Lindsey Sadler
This summer I experienced my first membership commitment recertification at Temple Sinai, Atlanta. As we operate on a fair share dues model, this is the time of year when we send our membership materials to congregants and ask them to strive towards contributing 2% of their annual gross household income minus costs such as alimony and child support. Simple, right? Members and their families do the math; a household earning $200K per year would contribute at the $4000 level, and a household earning $80K would contribute at the $1600 level. The distribution of wealth will balance out; costs will be covered and everyone is welcome at Sinai regardless of wealth or lack of it. For the most part, it functions here; we continue to maintain a balanced budget, and many members claim to feel a unique and comforting sense of egalitarian community here.
As we worked tirelessly to recommit all of our members in dues for the 2011.2012 fiscal year, I began to realize just how complicated and delicate a Fair Share system can be. While speaking with members who were contemplating their dues levels and examining the dues commitment paperwork as it was returned, it seems that Fair Share dues is about more than the simple calculation of 2%. It’s about what’s happening in members’ lives and how connected they feel to Sinai. We got some pleasant surprises in increases and a few alarming shocks in decreases.
As this is my first time working in a synagogue, fair share dues isall I know, at the moment. I feel quite certain there is merit in astandard dues model. But I work with fair share, so my task is towonder, how can this delicate and idealistic model of support work tosustain our shul? How do we prevent it from becoming a broken modelthat lacks integrity?
So, let’s just ask it, is Fair Share fair– to the memberand to the temple? The system relies on integrity of themembership-temple relationship. In examining the fairness, there arequestions that temple members, leadership, and staff must askthemselves. If private school tuition goes up or the family is taking asummer trip to Europe, should the temple dues be scaled back? If alucrative real estate deal is successful or someone makes partner,should the dues be increased? Hopefully, it all balances out, andmembers do their best to pay fair share or close to it. What aboutthose who strive to pay their fair share, yet suspect their wealthierneighbors do not, or perhaps know they don’t through candidconversations. Should members invite friends, family, and colleaguesto join their shul when the first interaction with the temple may benot being truthful about their income? Does the fair share model providemembers with opportunities to act with integrity; and if not, is theretrust in the community for honest dialogue among members, leadership,and staff about the importance of everyone striving to pay fair share?On the staff and leadership side, do members feel connected and welcomeevery time they visit or call the temple? Are we extending enoughgratitude to members for their generosity? Are we periodicallyexamining our membership and noting life changes such as retirement orone parent deciding to stay at home with the kids, and understandingwhen dues are decreased. And is it fair for us to believe that memberswill feel compelled to give at or above the cost of running the templeif we don’t tell them what the cost is? Are we doing the work it takesto maintain the integrity of the Fair Share support model? All of theabove questions must be asked and honestly answered by members,leadership, and staff to work towards keeping Fair Share fair. If the answers are no, then our fair share model probably isn’t fair, and we must work harder to make it so.
Lindsey Sadler has worked as the Development Director of TempleSinai, Atlanta since June 2010. She works under the supervision of SteveBram, Executive Director
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.