Staffing Patterns in the Synagogue of Today

Staffing Patterns in the Synagogue of Today:
Lessons Learned and Recommendations for the Future

By Dr. Ray Goldstein and Barry S. Mael

One of the most often asked questions of USCJ field staff is, “What is the staffing pattern in other synagogues?” Congregations want to determine if there is a secret formula for the most effective staffing structure, and, in discussing this question, we realized that there was a dearth of literature and data on this topic. This led to the decision to do a survey of our affiliated congregations to find out the reality on the ground. With that information and an understanding of current trends happening in many of those kehillot, we could then speak to the issues of staffing to help create thriving synagogue of the future.

In late summer 2015, we sent a staffing survey to the leadership of 600 affiliated USCJ congregations. We received 313 responses from synagogues ranging in size from under 100 members to more than 1,000, representing districts across North America. Results showed that rabbi remains the number one full-time professional position (in 85% of congregations), followed by executive director (56% of congregations), education director (38% of congregations) and hazzan (37% of congregations). The two most popular full-time positions in other staffing areas were administrative assistant (46% of congregations) and custodian (43% of congregations). Other full-time positions included youth director (12% of congregations), marketing/publicity director (7% of congregations), engagement/outreach professional (3% of congregations), membership director (2% of congregations) and nurse (1% of congregations).

When looking at part-time positions, the most popular was custodian (70% of congregations), followed by administrative assistant (66% of congregations), executive director (61% of congregations), education director (59% of congregations), hazzan (54% of congregations), youth director (33% of congregations), marketing/publicity director (6% of congregations), engagement/outreach professional (3% of congregations), social worker (2% of congregations), membership director (2% of congregations) and nurse (less than 1% of congregations).

Much of this data surprised us. While we had anecdotally heard about new programming and relational positions, such as engagement/outreach professional and marketing/publicity director, these were not yet appearing on staffs in many of our congregations. Further, while many of our kehillot speak of outreach to youth and younger families being of primary importance and key to their mission and vision, only 12% have a full-time youth director and 33% a part-time professional in this capacity. Even with another 7% combining positions to create a full-time equivalent (typically an education director/youth director), almost half of our kehillot have no dedicated youth professional.

Based on the results, we have developed a number of recommendations for how our kehillot can move away from traditional staffing patterns towards staffing that will help create and maintain thriving sacred communities.

Firstly, staffing must be aligned with the mission/vision of each kehilla; there are far too many instances in which congregations identify clear priorities based on an updated mission and/or vision statement but maintain staff that is not representative of those priorities. An example is a kehilla that identifies its commitment to youth and youth programming without having a full or even part-time youth director on its staff.

Staffing must also align to budget. Because of fixed costs such as contracts, mortgages, etc. there is not always much room for discretionary budgeting but, when possible, personnel lines should reflect where the congregation wants to go as opposed to where it has been. One way to do so is to consider shared positions – if money isn’t available in the example above for a full-time dedicated youth director, a congregation might consider a shared education/youth director or cantor/youth director position. Congregations should also look at full-time vs. part-time positions. Are there instances in which several part-time staff with varied portfolios and job descriptions such as youth, marketing, communications, development, member engagement, etc. will be more effective than having a couple of general full-time positions? The key to these positions being successful in the future is finding candidates with multiple skill sets or providing the proper training to develop the skills necessary to do shared jobs effectively.

Attention should also be paid to task analysis. It is critical that leadership undertake a process of analyzing current job descriptions and tasks to determine what gaps exist. These gaps then need to be filled either by hiring new staff or modifying existing positions to change job descriptions and priorities.

Staffing must also be utilized to most effectively and efficiently connect with congregants, potential congregants and donors. For example, the offices of many of our kehillot are open and staffed Monday – Thursday 9-5 and maybe a half day on Friday, while leadership would tell you they have the most member traffic in the building, aside from Shabbat, during events and on Sunday mornings.

Finally, any discussion of staffing in our synagogues should also include how and when to utilize volunteers as opposed to paid staff. Congregations should ensure they have clear expectations and job descriptions for volunteers, with accountability for the volunteer’s work.

By aligning staffing to mission, vision and budget, and utilizing task analyses to identify what needs to get done, Conservative kehillot will be well positioned to create thriving synagogues moving forward.

Dr. Ray Goldstein is USCJ Kehilla Relationship Team Leader & Acting Chief Kehilla Officer. Barry S. Mael is USCJ Director of Kehilla Operations & Finance.