To recap “A Community Conversation: Sustaining our Congregation,” the Board’s March article in Kol Kehilla, our congregation has almost reached the tremendous milestone of 500-member households, a moment to both celebrate and to acknowledge the greater staffing needs posed by having a larger congregation. We hope that the article, still accessible on our website, demonstrated that your dues primarily support the backbone of how our community functions, namely, Kehilla’s incredible staff that you know and love. The staff hold us together, inspire us and serve the needs of our community. They are key to our collective experience of belonging to a community that makes an invaluable difference in the world. Please consider what your life would be like if you didn’t have a Kehilla.
Since we wrote to you last, the Corona virus pandemic has impacted all of our lives in some way. We’ve set up new ways of being a shelter-in-place online community, including new ways to join together in spiritual practice and social activism and a system for mutual support. We know that eventually some in our community and their loved ones may experience COVID-19 infection. We pray that none encounter the full impact of this disease.
Many of us will continue to be financially impacted by the shutdown of our society, and we continue this financial discussion about dues with the greatest sensitivity. The hiring decisions mentioned in last month’s column may not be feasible, given that our members may not be able to pledge the same dues or donations in the coming year. Many of us will lose income, retirement investments and savings in this shelter-in-place time period. This column seeks to look beyond that time period, when recovery is possible. In the meantime, we urge each of you to engage in Kehilla’s socially distanced activities and to have meaningful experiences of belonging to our vibrant and loving community.
We repeat some of the content from March in this recap, hoping that our message can be more fully heard. The Board wants to reinforce our values as a community: a radically inclusive Jewish spiritual home for politically progressive people of all ages, identities and family constellations. Let’s add “of all incomes and class backgrounds” to that list. We share in Kehilla’s financial sustainability, so that each can give according to their means. It is a Kehilla value to embrace and value all members equally, not according to the dues they pledge or the donations they contribute.
The Board acknowledges that our current dues structure is a middle-class construct. Using age-based categories for suggested dues based on the assumption of increased earnings from ages 40-64 creates a middle-class norm. This construct has made some of our members feel they are “not the norm” and therefore “the exception.” The board is eager to hear the voices of the entire community to work to create a change in the current dues structure.
In that context, we introduced the concept of Sustaining Annual Dues, a calculation that some congregations use to show how much it costs to run their organization per member household, averaging the dollar amount of dues that would be needed across all households. Using the fiscal year 2019-2020 expense budget of $1,161,532, and dividing by 500 households, disregarding any additional income or fundraising, the Sustaining Annual Dues amount for FY 19-20 was $2,323.
Board members as a group also have differing means and class backgrounds. We are sensitive to the fact that not everyone is able to pledge the Sustaining Annual Dues amount, particularly in this time of crisis and uncertainty. Many members contribute substantial support by donating their time and labor. About 13% (64) of our renewing households pledged dues at the Sustaining Annual Dues amount ($2,323) or greater during this year. With an awareness that this may not be feasible for many, we ask for all who can do so to pledge this amount or greater for the coming fiscal year. If so, we will collectively support Kehilla’s viability in this time of financial downturn, each according to our means.
In conclusion, the Board wants to reinforce that each of us is a valued member of our community, and we express deep gratitude to all who support Kehilla in the manner that best matches your situation. We are a community because of your support!
The Board co-chairs, Catherine Lyons and Karen Cohn, have held Zoom conversations in small groups on this topic. Please email “firstname.lastname@example.org” if you’d like to participate in future discussion of our dues structure.