Executively Speaking: Musing on Membership

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Announcements, Executive Director's Blog | No Comments

Michael Saxe-Taller-BESTby Michael Saxe-Taller, Executive Director

The administrative staff of Kehilla has been working diligently over the last four months to renew the memberships of close to 400 Kehilla households, and at the same time, to welcome in and process the memberships of several dozen new households. We are coming near the end of the process and it seems like a good time to pause and consider what we have learned.

Membership by the Numbers

382 – Last year we ended the year with 382 member households (a household can be an individual, couple or family).  This number is up 30 households from 2012-2013. Most of the 382 have renewed, though we always lose some members due to moving, death and changing life circumstances.

31 – We have 31 new and returning members (people who used to belong to Kehilla and have returned) who have joined Kehilla so far this year, which is already more than we had all of last year. We have another 10 households who are planning or seriously thinking of joining.

$500,000 – We will bring in almost half a million dollars in membership dues, which accounts for more than half of our yearly income.  Needless-to-say, we could not operate as a full, functioning synagogue without this revenue.

Musings on Membership

I am close to completing my first year at Kehilla and this has been my first time through the membership process.  Here are some observations and thoughts.

  • Many people love Kehilla – Kehilla is widely respected and loved, including by many people who are not formally members. They come to High Holy Days, classes, Shabbat and holiday services and join us in our social justice work. For many of them, Kehilla is the synagogue they feel most connected to. Some of these folks might become members if invited, while others don’t relate to the concept of membership. We need to think more about reaching them.
  • People like being noticed –I am keeping a list of everyone I meet who expresses interest in Kehilla. I contact them, and across the board, they appreciate being reached out to. They are happy that I have noticed them. A number of them have since joined, while others have come to services, classes or events.
  • Reaching out is important and takes gumption – At every Kehilla gathering and event, I make a point of greeting and talking to anyone I do not know or who I know is not a member. It isn’t always easy and it can require me to push beyond my comfort zone. But guess what? I can’t tell you how much people appreciate that I reach out to them. They come away with a sense that Kehilla is a welcoming place, which, I am sure, makes it more likely that they come back and may eventually join.
  • Kehilla is a treasure, so share it with your friends – You have no need to be shy about how you feel about Kehilla. Talk to your friends, family, co-workers or folks you meet about Kehilla and invite them to join you for a Kehilla activity. If this community has been meaningful to you, why keep others you care about from having the same opportunity? If you know of anyone who is interested in Kehilla, tell me, and either I, one of our clergy or a membership committee member can contact them.
  • Make the relationship, not membership, the main goal – I often have to remind myself that my goal in engaging someone is not to gain a member, but rather to begin or further a relationship with them. There is nothing like true curiosity and interest to make someone want to come back. And we get the joy of getting to know them!
  • Is there a model beyond membership? A growing number of Jewish congregations around the U.S. are moving away from a straight membership dues-based system. We do need the regular financial contributions of those who participate regularly in the activities of our synagogue. But there are serious questions raised about our current membership model. Are we setting up an “us” (members) vs. “them” (non-members) dichotomy? Is the system too rigid to accommodate people’s different needs for a Jewish community? How do we create an opportunity for the hundreds of people who come regularly to High Holy Days (or other periodic events) but don’t want to be members, to help to financially sustain Kehilla? Would some people contribute if the requirements in terms of commitment or money were less? I think the time will come in the next year or so for us as a community to take on these questions.

There is every reason to believe that Kehilla’s community will continue to grow. Each one of us can have a part in this growth and I invite you to join me and put your mind to this project.

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