Post-High Holidays Road Map for Synagogues
For more than half a year, most synagogues have been physically closed, but working to keep their communities open and connected virtually in prayer, learning, programs and activities. Some preschools and religious schools have re-opened. For many, the focus has been on the high holidays, and with it, membership renewals.
This has been an unbelievable time of resilience, creativity and innovation. Most synagogue lay leaders, clergy, and executives with whom I speak feel deep pride in how their community has met the moment.
So where do synagogues go from here?
1. All Eyes on Financial Health. The board and the professionals need to know and monitor their numbers closely. Budgets should be reviewed at least once a month.
On the expense side: brainstorm creative ideas to reduce costs—such as exploring if there are partners to collaborate with to realize efficiencies.
On the revenue side: focus on retaining members, reaching out to lapsed members, and stewarding donors. Consider thinking about new ways for earned revenue such as renting space – inside or out. If you have been attracting virtual participants who are not members, ask non-member attendees for a one time or monthly support.
2. Support and Care for Your People. Now more than ever, your business is your people. Supporting members spiritually, emotionally, and socially should be top of mind. Your clergy and professional staff need additional support as well. Board members and committee members who have stepped up may feel burnt out. Think about how to increase the circle of support to include past presidents and board members, the executive committee members, congregational members with areas of expertise, community leaders and professional coaches.
3. Offer Relevant, Accessible and Interactive Services and Programs. By now you have a rhythm on Zoom, and are offering services and programs. As the seasons press on, it will be important to continue to innovate the delivery methods and content of programs offered. One easy idea is to send out a quick evaluation form after each program, and ask for new ideas. Additionally, survey your congregation to see what might be of interest; and what talents, skills, expertise they may be willing to share. Members can tutor, offer musical, art or cooking lessons, Zoom-sit, give a talk, teach an exercise class or lead a discussion group. Tap into your congregation’s talent.
4. Communicate Frequently and Personally. Sending out your newsletter, posting on your website and social media are absolutely key. Keep doing it with regularity and clarity. Look for opportunities to personally connect with members by phone, zoom, drive-by or backyard visit. Clergy, staff, board members, committee members and volunteers should all have contact lists of members with whom they check in and invite to engage on a regular basis. Monthly is best, but quarterly at a minimum for personal connections.
5. Plan for the Future While Managing the Present. One of the greatest challenges for every nonprofit organization now is how to plan for the future while managing the present pandemic and unknowns. If you haven’t already engaged in scenario or contingency planning (yes, they are different things), now is the time. If you are operating under a current strategic plan, revisit your strategic priorities, and ask what is still relevant now and what is not. Make sure your leaders are all clear on your priorities. Part of planning for the future for many synagogues, should be asking questions about long-term sustainability and vibrancy; and if opportunities might exist for your synagogue to collaborate along the continuum of joint programming, joint purchasing, shared staff, shared building or campus space, merger or consolidation. These things take time. Every single organization’s runway is shortening with Covid. Plan for now and the future.
We are all in uncharted territory. Having a roadmap for moving forward after the high holidays will help congregations continue to weather the storm.
Nanette R. Fridman is a veteran organizational strategist and leadership coach. She is the president of Fridman Strategies, partner in Working Wonders., and the author of two books, On Board and Holding the Gavel. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.