Synagogue Crisis Campaign Installment 2

Planning for the “Case for Giving”
Installment 2

By Eileen Aroesti

Several weeks into a Safer at Home mandate, we see what the curve of infection in our various communities is projected to be. We can begin to assess a time line when this Crisis Campaign will take place. Will it be in time for the late spring, early summer membership renewal, the High Holiday/Annual Campaign or further in the future? Or will it be several small quiet campaigns? The real unknown is if, as with the 1918 Influenza, this virus will mutate, come back with a vengeance, to what extent, and when? Also, will it arrive when flu season begins and we will have a double threat? There is no way of knowing yet. We must now look for the best-case scenario and plan for the worst-case scenario.  


Now that the first installment of the Synagogue Crisis Campaign Plan aka The Healing Campaign, Steps 1- 5 has been implemented and each synagogue has assessed the damage, is providing good will, has researched available resources to assist in the finances and is engaging leadership, all while not fundraising, it is time to plan for how the synagogue will proceed if we can come together in the summer and fall; and to plan together if we cannot. This plan must be comprehensive. It should/will be presented to major donors and eventually the community. It will be a section of the “Case for Giving.”

BestCase Scenario coming together on some level – As of this writing, Safer at Home is scheduled to end in Los Angeles and New York on May 15.  Throughout the country it will be lifted at different dates and incrementally, we will begin our lives, albeit in a new way.

·         Membership Renewal – Because we have assessed our community, we can see who has the capability of rejoining, for what price AND most importantly to understand the WIFM (what’s in it for me). The WIFM is the most important characteristic to factor in to membership renewal as synagogues may be viewed as non-essential and therefore must have a value. For those who have lost all or a portion of their income, their retirement, their health insurance and are looking at their family budget, where, if at all, does a several thousand-dollar membership fee fit in? Once the assessment is fully understood, it will be clear there are several layers of congregants who can afford membership and are interested in rejoining.  There will also be many who cannot afford or are no longer interested. Although this is true each year, this year it will be 100% more pronounced and needs to be pro-actively planned for during the membership renewal process. That is why each congregant must be viewed individually. Renewal is about relationships and tailoring membership to each congregant needs. Some will want to join as before and some will want a monthly subscription to see how the world and their finances work out. Each congregant family should be spoken to by someone they know and trust in regard to their membership. This is very intimate and very personal as both the family’s short-term Jewish future and the synagogues present livelihood is at a cross roads and must mesh seamlessly. Families do not want to lose one more thing, most certainly their synagogue community. Each personal conversation gives them an opportunity to share their stories, give insight to their fears and help the caller understand their capabilities for renewal. Your renewal numbers and possible lost revenue from membership will be the basis for your “Case for Giving.”

·         Membership Adjunct Campaign Pillars, Guardians, AGB or an assortment of names are adjunct campaigns that are run as part of membership renewal. They are often run as an assumption and part of the membership renewal package for those members who have previously participated in that particular campaign. Yet this year assuming, can be the beginning of a cautionary tale. The group of congregants who participate in this campaign are often highly committed to synagogue life and have the means by which to support that commitment. This campaign, since it is so aligned with membership renewal, should be addressed at the same time as membership, as a Quiet Campaign. These numbers will be reflected in the “Case for Giving.”

·         Synagogue Affiliated Schools – The schools and their families are a large source of revenue and future leadership for synagogues. Yet gathering together in large groups might not be possible without widespread testing or the three T’s – Testing, Tracking and Treatment. Unfortunately, this is not foreseen in the near future. Yet our children – our future – must have an education and know Judaism and all the joy that is derived from the Jewish education experience; it is what will shape their future. Religious and Day Schools can be taught remotely but Early Childhood Centers (ECC) can’t. Therefore, under best-case scenarios of the population coming together on some level we can define a new model for ECC’s.

·         ECC – A new model with very small classes might be the key to keeping that group of families engaged. Small group classes taught by synagogue teachers in local neighborhood homes, be it a guesthouse, pool house or converted garage, would keep the children in classes, provide day care for parents, be local to the children’s neighborhood and be safe, monitored and responsible. There are many hurdles to overcome with a new model from permitting to a different kind of accreditation, insurances, liability etc., but it is a far better solution than coming together in large groups, with a possible chance for infection or not coming together at all. Whatever new model is created in the synagogue schools, there may be losses. Those losses must be calculated and included in the “Case for Giving.”

WorstCase Scenario – What if we see, from across the globe, that this pandemic becomes full blown in a second wave once the Safer at Home mandate has begun to lift? What if we are again asked to stop our lives and are unable to gather fully, resume prayer in community, assemble in classrooms, come together in large groups? Those shared group activities of simchas, camp, retreats, family shabbat dinners, gala’s, and an entire host of items that we have yet to imagine stops, or there is a hybrid of Safer at Home and community gathering until a time, they say 12 -18 months, when a sufficient percentage of the population has immunity because they have already been exposed to Covid-19 or they are protected by a vaccine.

Synagogues cannot exist without some form of community; therefore, one must be created and one that gives significant value and has a cost. The worst case-scenario must also be configured into the calculations for the “Case for Giving.” That would include little revenue from schools, limited membership renewal and minimum revenue from an adjunct campaign.

Worse-Case Scenarios can presently be shared with major synagogue donors so they can be on notice in case that scenario does happen. Their input, their resources and their donations will be paramount to ensure the synagogue can keep afloat until a new working normal can be established. 

 In Installment III of the Synagogue Crisis Campaign Plan (next week) we will discuss steps to create the “Case for Giving” for The Healing Campaign.  

*Philanthropy Rising – Synagogue Fundraising Consulting – is headed by its principal, Eileen Aroesti, who has been fundraising in the Jewish Community for 30 years – 20 of which have been as a Development Director in both conservative and reform synagogues.  She has successfully worked on Synagogue Crisis Campaigns including the 2008/09 Great Recession.