Ten Commandments for Talking About Dues



by Rob Berkovitz

If we examine carefully the ways in which we discuss dues with prospective members and respond to requests for dues adjustments, we discover that many times we do not act in ways that truly reflect the Jewish values we prize so dearly. The following “ten commandments” were created to engender discussion among temple lay and professional leaders as a first step in assessing productive ways to “talk dues.”

  1. You shall create, from the very first encounter with prospective members, an atmosphere that invites and inspires a lifelong relationship predicated upon the ideals of mutual responsibility, honesty, and trust. (“The one who trusts need not fear.” Isaiah 28:16)
  1. You shall discuss dues with a prospective member in the context of a broader conversation about the synagogue and opportunities for involvement in a personal meeting and not on the phone. (“…you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.” Leviticus 19:14)
  1. You shall educate congregants about the concept of a “Covenant of Membership” between the congregation and its congregants and the responsibilities of each partner to the other. On a regular basis, inform congregants about the range of programs and services the congregation provides to meet the needs of its members, the expenses involved in operating a synagogue, and, subsequently, the importance of members’ full financial support of the congregation. You shall communicate frequently with congregants about the current financial status of the congregation, not just in times of financial crisis. It is crucial to thank the membership for its ongoing and full support of the congregation. (“The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him …. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:1-2,8)
  1. You shall demonstrate through your actions that you care more about people than about their money. (“Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Eternal.” Leviticus 19:18)
  1. You shall strive to establish an atmosphere of mutual support and understanding within the congregation that encourages fiscal responsibility from members and compassion for members’ needs from the leadership. Consider raising dues slightly each year, knowing that expenses will rise, rather than surprising congregants with a large increase every few years. (“Thus said the Eternal, ‘Execute justice; deal loyally and compassionately with one another.’” Zechariah 7:9)
  1. You shall not keep the availability of and procedures for dues adjustment a secret. Anyone in need should feel comfortable requesting adjustment, thereby remaining a member of your congregation. (“Let your house be open for adjustment and let the poor be members of your household.” Pirkei Avot 1:5)
  1. You shall respect and maintain the honor of a person requesting adjustment. Guard the confidentiality of the request closely, lest members be hesitant to request adjustment. Maintain good records from year to year so that the rationale for granting dues adjustment will be clear to those handling requests in the future. (“Let the honor of your neighbor be as dear to you as your own.” Avot d’Rabbi Nathan)
  1. You shall respond speedily to requests for adjustment so as not to keep someone waiting anxiously for the response. You shall have responsible policies in place so that arrears are addressed in a timely manner. (“Precious is a mitzvah fulfilled at its proper time.” Sifra 25a)
  1. You shall discuss dues adjustment with congregants in as personal a way as possible. Face-to-face meetings are always preferable. (“If an evil day befall your neighbor, consider how you can show him loving-kindness to deliver him from evil.” Pesikta d’Rav Kahana)
  1. You shall conduct dues-related discussions in ways that exemplify how much you value the membership of everyone in your congregation and invite all who are interested to become part of your synagogue community. In every congregation there are members who cannot afford full dues and members who can afford to pay more than the minimum. You shall provide opportunities for those who have the ability to give more so that as a congregation you can afford to welcome all who want to participate in your synagogue community. (“My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7)

Rob Berkovitz is a former finance specialist for the URJ. He and his family live in Massachusetts.

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One Response to “Ten Commandments for Talking About Dues”

  1. Larry Kaufman

    This is all good advice, Rob, that falls into the category of teaching synagogue leadership how to make a pig kosher.

    It’s hardly a secret any more that the synagogue business model based on “dues” is floundering. What we need to give our congregational leaders is a new road map to keeping the doors open, in a way that people will be willing to come in.

    I’m not smart enough to know what the new approach should be. I agree that the congregation needs to be transparent about it costs to pay the staff, heat the building, etc. — and how those costs play out against the number of people who are reaping benefits (no matter how they perceive those benefits) from the synagogue.

    But the focus has to be on communicating that we want YOU, not your money, but your ideas, your vigor, your network. As
    Rabbi Jacobs has reminded us repeatedly, we have to be working on relationships, not institution building.

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