Synagogue Boards & Capital Campaigns

Capital campaign promotional brochure (illustrative).

By Avrum Lapin

Synagogue board members and those in leadership positions care deeply about the future of their congregations and many want to make a difference and leave a legacy. When a congregation considers embarking upon a capital campaign, one of the first questions often heard from board members is “Well, what exactly is our role?”

Before committing to an effort that will undoubtedly require significant investment of time, money and energy, board members rightly want to understand the extent of their expected commitments. Though there is no simple answer to this question that applies to every Board member, or every congregation, it is safe to say that board members are integral to the success of any fundraising effort; and that is especially true for a capital or endowment campaign.

Boards, especially synagogue boards, play a critical role in shaping, advancing and completing fundraising projects. Some board members lack the experience, skills, time (or possibly interest) to devote to a major initiative. Hence, these members may feel as though their contribution is not valued, important, or necessary. Yet the success of a synagogue capital campaign often rests on the engagement of its board and leadership. People can be trained, but there is no substitute for involved and dedicated leadership.

In order to best approach and engage the board, it is important to have clear expectations. And while those expectations may vary on an individual basis, some overarching best practices apply to every board member.

Connect to the process: The first order of business for a board embarking on a capital campaign is to connect to its objectives and understand its necessity. It is incumbent upon each board member to understand, connect to, and endorse the financial and community building goals of the campaign.

What is the purpose of the campaign? What are we raising money for and why is it essential to our congregation today and going forward? How will this money benefit our congregants, and make a difference in their lives? Each board member should be able to answer those questions in a way that is authentic, meaningful, and demonstrates support.

Board members should also be provided with a rough sense of the timeline for the campaign and be prepared for next steps. For example, if major gift solicitations are happening in June, then board members should have an expectation that they might be called upon for training and perhaps meetings in the spring.

Doing, not Just Talking: The role of board members goes well beyond management  … approving the hiring of a consultant and receiving monthly reports at board meetings. Board members should expect to be participants somewhere in the campaign. Each member should assess their own strengths and determine where they can be most useful. The goal of the board is not to sit in judgment and evaluate the success or micromanage others, but to be leaders and doers.

Financial Support: As we have written in earlier postings,  boards must step forward early and with skin the game, with 100% participation. Especially in synagogue environments which are volunteer led and where people tend to know what their neighbor is doing, showing leadership and commitment is essential.

Keep engaged after the gift: Sometimes board members only see themselves as donors and not part of the process once their individual gift is competed. Though the gift is important, it is not the sole campaign responsibility of a board member. Involvement of board members is essential to approaching peers and closing their gifts, to serve as effective ambassadors, and to continually reach out and develop new prospects. These tasks are unrelated to the exact timing of a board member’s individual gift or the amount of their gift.

Board involvement needs to remain strong until home stretch. Often during any project, excitement and momentum exist at the start, but slowly fades towards the end. One of the most important roles a board member can play is to be a cheerleader for the project from start to finish. The “last dollars” to complete the project are just as important as the first dollars that get the campaign off to a quick and motivational start. If board members lose interest, then it stands to follow that the rest of the congregation will too.

Synagogue boards already provide the most important ingredient for the campaign  … dedicated leaders. Their participation as board members says that they are committed to the synagogue’s health and future. While there will be a Campaign Leadership Committee that will lead the effort of implementing the campaign, and smaller committees for various tasks, those who have already demonstrated their commitment to the congregation are the best candidates to inspire others.

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for leading nonprofits. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. A Board member of the Giving Institute and a member of the Editorial Review Board of Giving USA, Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.
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