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A Community Conversation: Sustaining our Congregation

Dear Friends,

Kehilla has almost reached the tremendous milestone of 500-member households. We want to both celebrate this moment in our growth, and to prepare us for an upcoming financial sustainability conversation at our Annual Community Meeting on Tuesday, May 12. 

The Board of Trustees – as peers and as those having responsibility to represent you in ensuring Kehilla remains afloat – wants to consciously tie our financial sustainability to our values as a community:  a radically inclusive Jewish spiritual home for politically progressive people of all ages, identities and family constellations. 

This column is part of the communal discussion to guide us through a process of creating a dues structure that both meets the financial needs of our community and incorporates the value of radical inclusion.  It is our goal to create a transparent process regarding the community finances, and to engage all members in a discussion of the dues process. 

Annual dues provide 52% of the operating budget,  Dues are the main way the congregation ensures Kehilla’s financial sustainability. 

As members of different class backgrounds, we acknowledge 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, has created a middle class norm. As such, 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.

Voluntary contributions are the second largest means of support (17%) (educational tuition, 14%, and program income, 14%, make up much of the balance).  Most of these donations are unrestricted in their use, unless specifically earmarked by the donor.  Some donations, such as Terumah, are specifically earmarked for the building.

Avodah, including volunteering or sweat equity, also financially sustains Kehilla, because it reduces the amount of staffing or contracting needed.  Each member’s engagement in community activities is linked to financial sustainability. When each of us has meaningful experiences of belonging, our desire for Kehilla’s continued healthy existence grows.

All Members Decide What Annual Dues Their Household Pledges.  Our annual dues structure seeks to provide flexibility for us and our household to reflect on how we can best support our shared  community.

  • First-year members are provided a substantial discount to check out membership.
  • Renewing members are provided with a suggested range based on the number of incomes in the household and the age of household members. 
  • All members are free to diverge from the suggested range if it’s not compatible with their household’s financial capacity, though it is hoped that all who can, do contribute within the suggested range.  
  • Different payment plans are available through the online pledge form. 

Part I:  What does Kehilla financially need to function (all values shown are for fiscal year 2019-2020)

The Board of Trustees approves budget expenditures each year, in consultation with the Executive Director, the Senior Clergy, and Board-led Personnel, Finance and Generosity Committees.  Expenditures approved for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 total $1,161,532.   

Members can – and are encouraged to – attend all board and committee meetings, with the exception of Personnel.

Personnel expenses

In keeping with our values, we seek to provide Kehilla staff with compensation that provides a livable wage for the Bay Area.  Employees working 50% time or greater can also elect to receive health and other benefits. These are people we know and love. We want our values and love to be reflected in how we compensate our staff. 

Personnel expenses for this fiscal year are $823,021.  They include:

  • salaries ($636,735), 
  • employer payroll taxes ($57,856),
  • health and dental benefits ($55,789), 
  • professional development ($8,550),
  • workers compensation ($6,387),
  • retirement contributions ($35,154),
  • outside services ($18,900), 
  • payroll processing fees and general personnel costs ($3,650).


With the needs of a growing congregation and an unprecedented national political situation, our spiritual leaders, Rabbi Dev (Senior Rabbi) and Hazzan Shulamit (Musical Director), are currently working 50-60 hours per week, each with multiple areas of responsibility. We acknowledge that even now all the needs of the community cannot be met.  These demands will only increase. Our congregation has a large proportion of members who are 40-65+ years old, and as members age, we anticipate that pastoral counseling needs will continue to be a significant part of clergy duties. We also have a large proportion of younger members, including several upcoming large b’nei mitzvah classes.

To assist in the senior clergy’s workload, we are seeking to hire a half-time Assistant Rabbi to begin in July, to assist with leading services including Bar/Bat Mitzvah services, offering pastoral counseling and other duties

We also anticipate that the clergy team will need increased administrative support in the next year. These will need additional budget support. 

Executive Director, Youth Education and Administrative Staff 

Our executive director, Michael Saxe-Taller,  is managing multiple projects that have stretched him to need extra support.  For this reason, a half-time Development and Communications Associate, Batya Gelfand, was hired during this fiscal year.  This expenditure will need additional budget support.

The responsibility for managing all aspects of the school is done by Rabbi Gray Myrseth and Natalie Boskin.

The Program and Membership Engagement  position is currently held by Maya Joshua, who will be leaving in April.  A search is underway to fill this position.

Other essential staff include: our office administrator, Dee Ward, Molly Melamed, our bookkeeper, and our custodial staff Josef Straub and Fred Williamson.  Josef, who has cared for our building since long before we arrived, is retiring in April. Because of the needs and complexities of managing and caring for this large and aging building it has been decided to replace him with someone who will take on management tasks which have been done by the ED and the office administrator.

This past winter, we hired Ruthie Levin as our first-ever People of Color Organizer.

(Click here to read in greater detail about the areas of responsibility of our clergy and staff.)  

Non-Personnel  expenses 

-Building expenses ($129,913) 

  • mortgage interest ($83,000); 
  • repairs and maintenance ($22,000); 
  • security and utilities ($9,650); 
  • janitorial and kitchen supplies ($9,500)
  • solar lease interest and property taxes combined ($5,550). 

The Terumah Fund is budgeted to raise $45,000 towards mortgage costs.  Rentals for the year are budgeted to bring in $58,200.

-Program expenses ($125,757) include:

  • High Holiday costs ($54,745); 
  • Retreats  ($19,665); 
  • Shabbat services ($14,880);
  • Program supplies and costs ($14,567); 
  • Food costs ($7,450); 
  • Passover Seder ($5,500); 
  • Adult Education/Workshop ($4,000); 
  • Simchat Torah and other holiday programs ($3450); 
  • Young Adult Glitter initiative ($1,500).  

-Operational expenses ($82,840) include 

  • Admin and Office Expenses ($41,690) 
    • Bank and credit card charges ($12,500); 
    • Other Costs ($27,550) including Restricted Funds expenditures of $19,500; 
    • Fundraising costs and events ($13,600). 

-Kehilla School and Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program:

Dues and donations subsidize both the School and the BBM program.  For this year, school income (primarily tuition) is $90,000 and expenses are $150,000, and BBM income (primarily tuition) is $76,000 and expenses $92,000.  In addition there is the cost of custodial staff, ED time, the percentage of utilities used, and other things to support these programs.

Part II. As members and Board members, we want to ensure that all households learn that their dues pay for the essentials of holding and serving the Kehilla community.

As you see, your dues primarily pay to support the people on staff that you know and love, those that inspire us and attend to the needs of our community. These incredible folks are the backbone of how our community functions. They are key to ensuring that being a Kehilla member is not just a consumer experience (i.e. What did I get for my money?), but rather belonging to a community that makes an invaluable difference in the world (i.e. What would I do if I didn’t have Kehilla?). 

We wish to introduce two references, the SF Bay Area Consumer Price Index and the concept of Sustaining Annual Dues.  Consistent with our views about how all workers in society should be compensated, the Board has been considering how to ensure that all of our employees have salary and benefits that ensure self-sufficiency (i.e. a living wage, health care, etc.) and that keep up with the cost of living (COLA), based on fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Some of the same issues are relevant to Kehilla non-staff contractors.  In particular, the CPI for the Bay Area increased by 3% from October 2018 to October 2019, which included a 3.2% increase in rental costs

Part III:  Sharing 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 amount of dues they can pledge or the donations that they contribute. In that context, we want to introduce 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, discounting any additional income or fundraising, the Sustaining Annual Dues amount for FY 19-20 was $2,323.  

Board members as a group have differing means and we are sensitive to the fact that not everyone is able to pledge the Sustaining Annual Dues amount.  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.  In this next fiscal year, we are asking for all who can do so to pledge this amount or greater. If so, we can collectively support Kehilla’s viability, each according to our means. 

In conclusion, the Board wants to reinforce that we all add value to our community, and not just based on your ability to pledge funds or volunteer time.  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!

 Stay tuned for April’s Kol Kehilla continuation of this article. We wish to engage the community in examining whether the number of household income-earners and age stratification of suggested dues should continue in future years.  We will talk about this at the May community meeting. Please respond here , if you’d like to be part of such a discussion. 



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