Recently, I read an article by Dan Judson in eJewish Philanthropy titled, “Scrapping Synagogue Dues: A Case Study.” At first glance, the article is about whether or not this unique model used by Temple Israel of Sharon is a viable option for synagogues – or other membership organizations. But when read through my consultant’s eyes, I saw: a struggling membership-driven organization who realized the current dues structure was not sustainable for the members or for the organization and created a “Hail Mary” plan which seems to be strengthening membership and finances.
We don’t know enough details about the background to know how serious the situation in this case was, but all too often nonprofits wait until they are desperate to make a major change. Okay, okay, I know the basic reasons – change is scary, big boards that require agreement, there is no model that has yet to be proven more successful, the __(fill in the blank)______ per cent of the population will leave if we make a major change, etc… But, I would like to show that you, your board and your membership are already accepting dramatic changes every day.
Consider the cosmic shift in our society thanks to technology in recent memory:
- Email is a valid form of business and personal communication;
- Smart phones are the rule, not the exception;
- Social media is ingrained in our culture and therefore our businesses;
- Websites have shifted from brochures to information hubs and, more importantly, philanthropic and financial development resources;
- Tablets and e-readers are legitimately competing with books.; and
- The list could go on.
These were not desperate measures we took, these were opportunities we seized with excitement.
The same perspective can be said for re-creating sustainability for organizations. Temple Israel of Sharon was willing to think outside of the box, but imagine if they had shifted their membership model 5 years ago instead of 2. The population was probably already decreasing – but before the recession, they were able to increase dues to cover the losses. My guess is that it was not until the economic downturn – a tipping point — that the leadership was ready to make the change.
The world will watch them to see what they learn along the way. But I suspect that a synagogue that is known for its revolutionary membership structure, will find a strong audience willing to help create sustainability and a bright future.