The Changing American Synagogue

The Changing Synagogue

an excerpt from The Future of the Synagogue, CCAR Journal, Winter 2009, by Amy L. Sales, Ph.D

Although they have been slow to recognize themselves as such, synagogues are part of the nonprofit sector. In recent years, this sector has been marked by an increasing emphasis on professionalism, efficiency, fund-raising, and competition, and these trends are unlikely to diminish in the coming years.

Faced with growing technical, legal, and operational complexity, nonprofit agencies have embraced business methods and professional management. Increasingly, they are turning from lay volunteers to professionals to direct core functions. Key among these functions is fund-raising. Pressured by organizational growth, rising costs, and cuts in public funding, nonprofits have come to appreciate the need for greater effectiveness in fund-raising and financial resource development. Their attention is turning, as well, to increased efficiency, for example, by greening the organization (both as a cost savings and as an appeal to public sentiments), establishing collaborations among smaller nonprofits, and outsourcing functions handled more efficiently elsewhere.

Within this climate, the role of lay leadership is necessarily changing. More attention is being paid to good governance, fiscal stewardship, and strategy. Importantly, board members are being asked to shift their focus from day-to-day operations to the future of the agency and its strategic direction. This shift has not come easily to synagogue boards where the organization is often seen more as “extended family” and less as not-for-profit agency. Nonetheless, the conversations suggested by this journal are exactly the kinds of conversations that smart boards are having.

Not including congregations, there are over 3.5 million charitable nonprofits in the United States and this number is growing annually. The result is increased competition in the search for professional talent, top lay leadership, and donors – all of whom have ample opportunity to give their gifts elsewhere. Difficulties in finding a qualified development director or administrator are not reflective of an inept or unlucky synagogue but of the reality affecting the entire not-for-profit sector.

You can download the complete article, The Future of the Synagogue, in pdf format.