Synagogue dues and membership models have, for several years, been the focus of spirited discussion in the Jewish world. The question about dues speaks to the heart of the Post World War II American Jewish model, since the system has become so ingrained in our collective psyche. Jewish leaders have been discussing the pros and cons of alternative models at conferences, on blogs and in the Jewish press. Some congregations have reported astounding success after switching to alternative members models, while others have continued to struggle with finances and membership numbers. The spotlight on the issue grew much brighter when, on Feb. 2, the New York Times published the lengthy feature, The "Pay What You Want" Experiment in Synagogues. The piece offered considerable history, context and anecdotes, describing an internal Jewish debate to the widest possible audience.
Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for me from every person whose heart so moves him.
And every wise hearted person among you shall come and make everything that the Lord has commanded (Exodus 35:10).
- Giving of one’s discretionary money or time are both needed and appreciated.
- The Torah did not rely on nor mandate that voluntary giving is the way to support the community in an ongoing, consistent manner.
- It was much more frowned upon and difficult to exclude oneself from the community than it is today.
- When people feel inspired and care about a project they will support it with a full hand and a full heart.
- Having a mapped-out process and goal in mind will allow you to know when you have truly met your goal. The builders and their head “contractor”, Bezalel, knew when to say to Moshe that they had everything they needed and the campaign was done.
- Voluntary pledging was used for specific events or projects, but not as the main revenue stream for the support of the community.
- Voluntary pledging was not connected in any way to affiliation in the community.
- Voluntary pledging seemed to relate to volunteer time and not only financial support.
- Consistent annual revenue streams such as the half–shekel and/or tithing still have important roles in helping the community remain sustainable.
- There is a significant element of a successful campaign that relies on the communal/relational element of belonging. At the time of building the Mishkan, it was the only game in town.