In an effort to make congregational life more accessible to families in the area, the board of trustees of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim (TBEMC) in Cranford voted in April to switch from a traditional dues structure to a sustaining pledge model where all commitments to the synagogue are made on a voluntary basis.
“We want people to feel they are a part of a community — we consider TBEMC a family,” said Jackie Baranoff, TBEMC president. “If people feel connected, they will give with their heart. By being able to offer dues in the kind of way we run our congregation, where community comes before money, everyone feels welcome here, regardless of their financial situation.”
A team of members, led by Mark Kaplan, spent months researching more than 50 synagogues that have adopted similar models. “We learned the benefits and pitfalls, but in the end, we were so encouraged to hear that on average, membership and contributions increase in this model,” said Kaplan. “Even more importantly, communities that adopted this model saw increased engagement from its members, and there was a better feeling about the community in general.”
TBEMC has unveiled the plan as a “sustaining pledge model” with the goal of full transparency between members and leadership. “There is a certain amount we need annually to run the synagogue and by sharing that sustaining amount with members, we are hoping to see members want to contribute as much as they can,” said Baranoff. “But on the flip side, by making the amount voluntary, we allow families with modest means to know they are always welcome. As families grow with the community, we hope to see those pledges increase both in volume and dollars.”
The rabbinic leadership are proponents of this model. “This change allows TBEMC to build our relationships based on our Jewish values and how much this community means to so many,” said the rabbinic team of Rachel Schwartz and Neil Tow in a statement. “Right now, there is a great energy in our community and we believe that this new model will enable this incredible spirit to continue to grow in so many amazing ways.”
For more information, visit tbemc.org.