Synagogue Crisis Campaign
Installment 1

A 4 part campaign plan

[Editor’s note: No assumptions should be drawn about the financial health of the synagogue pictured above by its inclusion with this post.]

By Eileen Aroesti 

Synagogues must be prepared to assess, convene and realign themselves to a new normal – one that no one can yet imagine. The Covid-19 pandemic will come to a pause and the economy will reboot itself. Synagogues need  facts and a plan in place so when the go ahead to assemble as a kehillah is given, synagogues are prepared do the work that’s been on hold since March. 

There are 5 beginning steps each synagogue needs to take in preparing for this Crisis Campaign or   



To be able to heal, it first must be known what the damage from this pandemic has caused your synagogue community. Who has lost their job, business, retirement and God forbid, their life? Who has gotten sick  or needs immediate assistance? Who has gone from a two-family income to a single family or zero income? Whose parents can no longer assist in the financial and/or physical needs of their children or grandchildren. Who cannot fulfill their annual campaign, gala, building or endowment pledge? Who believes they will be unable to re-join for the 20/21 year? A means by which to assess this damage must be created and distributed to the community. 


Ultimately, the synagogue’s primary raison d’etre is to ensure that Jewish values and Jewish life are taught and practiced every day. Synagogues set the tone to help its congregants and the local community. Where is it within your synagogue community that you can actually help? 

Early Childhood Center (ECC) – The first step is with the group of families whose lives may be most impacted by Covid-19 – our millennials and their families. They see that the world is stepping up to help, be it by pausing mortgages and rent, deleting car payments or extending the tax filing date. They will expect their synagogue to follow suit. This group has lost, for the most part, their tuition for the rest of the year and many will have lost their jobs. If they are at home working, they may have lost their nannies or are unable to call upon family members to assist… they are home alone … working and watching their children, cooped up in their home. A difficult and stressful combination. 

Feeling whole and appreciated during this time is paramount to ensuring they will continue their synagogue membership and re-enroll in school when they are able. It will also solidify their commitment to Judaism as they see the synagogue is giving, in a tangible way, and not taking.  Reimbursing their last quarter tuition, while still paying the teachers is optimum. On the back side, offering 3 months free tuition next year will show concern for their future and the health of the synagogue. Any rendition of giving back, for time and money lost, will go far in the future. 

Seniors – The pillars of your community, who have built and maintained the synagogue for years, paid their dues, building fund, adjunct campaigns and more. Now they have just watched their hard-earned investments in the stock market fall dramatically after extreme highs in February.  Everyone can surmise the market will come back, but how much and when? Offering a membership cost roll back for next year makes them feel appreciated and is an excellent service to them. Seniors will know you value their membership and want to ensure they can continue in their sacred Jewish home. 


This is not the time to hint at fundraising. Much has been taken away from everyone – most certainly people’s freedom. You cannot leave your home, gather publicly or privately, visit friends and families, celebrate holidays together, worship in physical community, enjoy smachot (multiple joyous events) collectively or grieve for the dead in customary tradition. You cannot go to work, make a living, continue your education in a familiar fashion, see your doctor, go to the Emergency Room or visit someone who is ill at home or in the hospital. This is the antithesis of what we as human beings and Jews are made to do. 

Additionally, synagogues are a service, membership organization, that charge thousands of dollars in dues, tuition, religious training and auxiliary fees, unlike many 501c3 that only ask for a donation. Annually, much is asked from synagogue members and now, as so much has already been taken away, it is too much, at this time, to be asking for gifts which can/will receive a backlash that may be irreparable.


It is time to help your community with synagogue resources that have been in place exclusively for a time such as this. Review your endowment by-laws and reassess invading it for the good of the community. Look at your Planned Giving commitments and understand how much is actually there and how much you can comfortably ask to use in advance to off-set the cost this pandemic is causing. Consider asking clergy and senior staff to participate in a percentage decrease until the world settles down. 


Engage your leadership. All decisions made unilaterally, without complete by-in by lay leaders may have negative repercussions. Too much feels out-of-control. Give control to professionals and lay leaders by working together to create great solutions to benefit synagogues for the long haul.

Gen X and Baby Boomers come strongly into play. When they understand the needs, they are apt to be responsive and move in a way that will ensure the longevity and eventual growth of synagogue life.

The next installment of Synagogue Crisis Campaigns will discuss steps to prepare for the “Case for Giving” in The Healing Campaign.  

Philanthropy Rising – Synagogue Fundraising Consulting at 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.