The terms “Organizing Money” and “The Torah of Money” were coined by Jeffrey Dekro, formerly the president of The Shefa Fund (now Bend the Arc) and a member of Reconstructionist synagogue Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia. It reflects the concept that asking people for money is optimally about bringing them more deeply into communal relationship. Organizing money in a congregational system can be approached from an “abundance” versus “scarcity” perspective, or seen as resources that already exist and need to be directed into areas that have the most meaning for the community as a whole. We are not only asking people for contributions, we are organizing their involvement in a shared endeavor.
It is important to openly connect the organization of funds to what inspires people about their community. Telling the history, accomplishments and mission of your congregation as part of a capital campaign is an example.
There are several different kinds of money organizing:
As a general rule synagogues do not meet their annual operating expenses by dues alone. In most Reconstructionist communities, dues account for 65-75% of operating costs. Just as it is our goal to provide multiple points of entry for involvement in our programming, so too we aim to create multiple ways for members (and sometimes non-members) to support our communities and institutions.
Annual campaigns can be much more challenging than capital campaigns, which tend to create their own momentum and have a dramatic impact on the life of a community. Creating opportunities for people to do more with their dollars than they thought possible can be a powerful incentive to greater giving. Matching funds or “last money in” — where someone agrees to match funds as they are raised or contribute an additional sum when a goal is reached — are examples.
Having people’s written or oral testimonies, having rabbis and other staff involved in ways that are comfortable for them, making calls at specific times of year (High Holy Days, Thanksgiving, Pesach, lifecycle events, etc.) when fundraising is tied to a larger communal vision can be very helpful. Honoring contributions of time and service is as important as giving funds, and can often inspire greater giving as a result. Even when honoring people, sponsors can be approached to underwrite the event or create challenge funds for a cause.
When congregations reach a certain size they must often raise funds for large capital expenses — expenses, which though they may increase operating costs, will not need to be paid more than once, such as a piece of property, a building or expansion, or a renovation. Here again, having numerous community-wide discussions about the vision and needs of the congregation will greatly impact the actual dollar discussions to come.
Talking about money in a way that makes everyone feel like they are valued contributor, and reminding people of the Jewish view of individual responsibility for communal life, are important cornerstones to any fundraising endeavor. Matching funds encourage more, not less, giving when people see their money working for them.
The Reconstructionist emphasis on democratic, egalitarian and maximized participation in one’s Jewish life (personally and communally) encourages discussions about how money is raised for capital expenditure and how people are to be honored and recognized for their contributions. How do we organize funds without contradicting our values? How do we avoid pricing things so low that we cannot meet our expenses? One way is to have a number of higher and lower cost events where people can participate according to their means, yet still be involved as we work towards a 100% participation goal. Having no recognition plaques, but a book of contributors, or having one designated area for recognition where everyone’s name plate is the same size regardless of their contribution, sponsoring letters of Hebrew words in a sanctuary, or having Jewish value terminology attached to different levels of gifts are all examples of how Reconstructionist communities have responded to this challenge.
Every community is different in its building needs and how it approaches realizing the physical manifestation of its spiritual home. What process and what type of structure will best support the creation of community? What Jewish values of community do you want your building to embody? Have you done studies using consultants or internally to see the feasibility of a capital campaign (demographic study, membership projections, stay and add-on costs)? Will you raise money in your capital campaign that can go to tzedakah causes outside your own building? Getting a person from the outside can help with objectivity in information gathering and avoid wasted time and burnout. You may need to bring someone in once a capital campaign has started to revitalize it as well.
A capital campaign is a profound opportunity to build community, not just build a building, and help people articulate why they are part of the community to begin with. This includes looking at what works well and what needs improvement in the congregational system, not only striving for the edifice to be completed. Making the vision concrete with drawings, models, newsletters and website updates is important. For example, showing the sanctuary and classes and explaining, “We believe as Reconstructionists that ‘x’ type of classroom is best to educate our children in or ‘y’ type of sanctuary best creates the spiritual and participatory environment we seek.”
Take the board through the steps and make sure your leadership are all effective spokespersons for the reasons and goals of the campaign. Visit or contact Reconstructionist congregations that have done values-based and environmentally conscious capital campaigns or invite them to come to you.
Two elements that are equally important to success are giving pyramids and maximal participation. Go through your membership and identify potential givers, either with a professional consultant help or through your own internal process. The standard wisdom in fundraising ventures is that 80% of the funds will come from 20% of the givers. In Reconstructionist communities we strive for a broader support base. Regardless, it is still important to know who your larger givers will be over three to five years and how many $5/10/25/50,000 and up gifts you can count on.
There tends to be an initial quiet phase where larger givers are approached for anticipated gifts before the campaign is fully launched. As we read in the half-shekel contribution made by Israelites after the exodus, every member should be solicited. Make your own gift first if you are soliciting. Not only your own membership, but also other connected groups can be approached: parents and grandparents of members, family foundations with whom members have personal connections, planned giving, life insurance bequests, charitable trusts. Preparing a case statement or special brochure about your community that shows your larger place and impact on your city can help raise funds from outside Jewish and non-Jewish sources. A number of Reconstructionist congregations have had great results through reaching out beyond their own constituents.
Though raising funds for staff expansion can involve capital expenditures, salaries for rabbis, education and executive directors are more appropriately viewed as operating expenses because they involve annual expenditures. In addition, communications about the status of various capital campaigns are vital to keeping one’s membership involved and informed about the values, decisions and progress of their respective projects.
Both general and capital money organizing raise the question of solicitation.
- Who asks whom for money?
- How do they ask?
- How much should we ask for?
- How are contributions acknowledged?
Negative past experience can lead us to shy away from these activities. Yet a values-based approach can inform the way we think about and engage in them. We cannot diminish the complexity of these topics, but we can set them in a values-based context that enables us to pursue them with integrity and sensitivity.
This resource was developed by Rabbis Shawn Zevit and Jonathan Malamy