Tips and Resources for a New Board Year

By now, you have probably reconvened your congregation’s board members, both new and veteran, and are continuing your work to strengthen and enrich your synagogue and its community. The Union for Reform Judaism is here to help you and your fellow leaders as you pursue the task of managing the sacred.

One of the first steps in assuming your role as a congregational leader is reading your synagogue’s constitution and bylaws, which should describe the structure of the board, the function of any committees and general synagogue operations. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the congregation’s operating policies and procedures, it is also beneficial for you to familiarize yourself with the congregation’s finances and maybe even some basic financial terms, like the difference between an endowed fund and a programmatic fund. (For a primer on this, read the publication Doing What is Just and Right: Endowments, Investments and Synagogue Funds.) Even if you are not the synagogue’s treasurer, it is still prudent to have a good working knowledge of the financial issues the synagogue faces so you will be in a better position from which to address them.

Another important part of being a board member lies in understanding what your role is within the board; between the board and professional staff members and clergy; and within the greater congregational community. First, consider what your role is within the board. This is particularly important for veteran board members who are taking on a new role this year: The responsibilities of President of the Board are different from those of the Membership Coordinator. Both are essential to maintaining a healthy synagogue but the expectations and responsibilities vary. Second, remember that (in many congregations) as a board member you are working with not just the board but also with professional staff, like the congregation’s educator, for example, and the clergy. While your objectives may differ the ultimate goal for everyone involved in synagogue leadership is a vibrant congregation. Maintaining good relationships with your fellow board members and the synagogue’s staff and clergy will no doubt help you reach this goal. Finally, this is a great time to think about how, as a board member, you fit into the greater congregational community. As a leader in your synagogue, people will likely approach you with both questions and suggestions related to the congregation. Your appropriate handling of these comments can shape congregants’ views of both the board and the synagogue. It might be useful to speak with your fellow board members now and figure out how to respond to and follow up on congregants’ comments, if a policy is not already in place.

Finally, one way veteran board members can help facilitate a productive and amiable board year is to welcome the new board members. As in most situations, having a buddy or a friendly face can greatly help “newbies” acclimate to their new environment. Consider sharing with them what you have learned during your tenure as well as the synagogue’s general history.

Here are some publications and resources that will help you and your fellow congregational leaders as you continue the programming year:

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Robin Riegelhaupt

About Robin Riegelhaupt

Robin Riegelhaupt is the Assistant Manager of the URJ Knowledge Network. Throughout her tenure at the URJ, she has served as a writer for the Congregational Consulting Group and the information resource specialist for the Department of Synagogue Management. Prior to joining the URJ, Robin was a web editor at the Washington Action Office of the Jewish Federations of North America and a grassroots organizer for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Management from George Washington University and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Theatre from the University of Central Florida. A native New Yorker, Robin lives in Astoria, NY, and writes about the arts.

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