UJA-Federation of New York has issued a report that identifies 26 synagogues nationwide that have eliminated dues and are allowing members to make voluntary financial commitments. This model is a relatively new trend, with 11 of the 26 synagogues adopting the model between 2009 and 2012, and 10 synagogues adopting it in the fiscal year 2013-14 alone. UJA-Federation and contributors Beryl Chernov, Debbie Joseph, and Rabbi Dan Judson developed and fielded the research.
In the voluntary dues model, members and prospective members pledge a financial commitment of their own choosing (with guidance from the synagogue) as opposed to the traditional model of paying a set dues amount. Most of the 26 synagogues reported that they have been very pleased with the results since switching to a voluntary dues model, with an increase in average annual membership of 4 percent and average revenue increase of 4.4 percent.
For the report, the researchers spoke to leadership at every synagogue that has adopted the model as of September 2014, and the findings reveal why synagogue leaders made the decision to switch to voluntary dues and how the model works, and offer data about how revenue, membership, and giving patterns have changed since switching. The report also includes four in-depth case studies of specific synagogues.
Among the 26 synagogues, researchers identified six common factors:
23 synagogues are in or around large cities.
21 synagogues have fewer than 550 members.
16 synagogues are Reform, but none were Orthodox.
Of the 21 synagogues in this study that switched to voluntary commitment from a previous dues structure, 17 had had the same rabbi for at least five years.
All synagogues had strong lay leadership with proven business and financial acumen leading the change process.
All synagogues were fiscally stable at the time of the change, but had growing financial concerns.
Specific synagogue results after moving to the voluntary commitment model:
Temple Emanu-El in Providence, Rhode Island, saw overall membership grow 6 percent with 45 new families in the first year of its new system, after having averaged only 20 to 25 new members in each of the previous few years.
Temple Beth Tzedek, in Amherst, New York, reported an increase of $50,000 in pledges above what they would normally have expected in the first six months of adopting the model. Out of a total budget of approximately $800,000, this 5-percent increase represents a significant impact.
Oak Park Temple in Illinois has 70 percent of its synagogue donating at or above the sustaining amount of $1,800, while Temple Beth El in Aptos, California, has 25 percent donating at or above its sustaining amount of $2,800.
UJA-Federation does not endorse this funding model or any other model for synagogues. This guide was developed to be a resource for those considering alternatives to the traditional dues model. The full report is available for download at http://www.ujafedny.org/what-we-do/strengthen-organizations/voluntary-dues-report/.