Voluntary Dues and Tuition
Shir Hadash uses as financial model called "Voluntary Commitment," which is designed to make membership and religious school at our synagogue affordable and accessible to everyone!
Under the voluntary commitment model, there is no longer a minimum contribution for dues or a set amount for religious school tuition. Instead, the synagogue provides transparent financial information, breaks down the costs of meeting its financial obligations by adult member, and trusts its members to self-assess their dues. The voluntary commitment of each household is kept confidential. At our synagogue, members do not need to ask for consideration if they can't afford dues or religious school tuition.
Information for Our Current Fiscal Year (2021-2022)
For 2021-2022, the break-even (the total expenses divided by the total number of adult members) is $1,615 per adult. This break-even is the total of the voluntary commitment and other contributions, such as the High Holidays appeal, made to the synagogue. It does not include religious school voluntary commitment or the building fund, which is becoming increasingly important in our 45-year-old building. We want you to become or remain a member, to decide what you can afford to be a member, and to remember that no one will ever second guess your commitment amount. The more members we have, the lower our break even becomes.
A New Trend Across America
In recent years, at least 60 U.S. synagogues have adopted a voluntary commitment model. This model is not simply a financial model, but a reflection of the values of community and transparency. Since the start of the recession in the late 2000s, membership and revenue in non-Orthodox synagogues has steadily declined. In addition to the economic downturn, other factors affecting synagogue affiliation rates include the changing generational attitudes toward synagogue membership; the transactional practice of finance in synagogues; the lack of inclusion; and synagogues' fear of change. As a result, many synagogues are turning toward voluntary commitment to increase membership.
Shir Hadash meets a number of the criteria that tend to make voluntary commitment successful. Our geographical location near a large city, our smaller size, the long tenure of our Rabbi, and our strong lay leadership means we fit the profile of synagogues who do well with voluntary commitment, according to a 2017 national study conducted by UJA Federation of New York.
According to the 2017 UJA study, synagogues that have adopted voluntary commitment experience rising membership rates, recruiting and retaining members is easier, level of membership engagement increases, perceived value of membership is heightened, and revenue increases. None of the synagogues report problems with "free riders"; i.e., people taking advantage by paying no dues at all. Synagogues find the most significant membership growth occurs during the second year after adopting this model. No congregation reports a decline in financial stability after the dues model change.
From a historical standpoint, synagogue dues were a 20th century invention. Dues came into existence after World War I. At the time, synagogue members purchased a seat at the beginning of the year, and the people who could afford better seats had the seats up front, and everyone else was in the back. Jews at the time felt that the system created a class system and wasn't egalitarian, so they invented the practice of synagogue dues instead. But for more than 5,700 years, Jews paid for their institutions without having traditional dues.