Yom Kippur ended a few hours ago, and I'm giddy. This is no surprise – I'm always giddy after Yom Kippur. Sugar and forgiveness are a potent combination.
But I've been mulling a serious topic for a while now, and I want to put some preliminary thoughts down on 'paper'. The topic is Shuls: Giving and Taking.
Story #1 – At one point early in my rabbinate, I needed to raise funds for a community project. I approached someone for help, and was surprised to be turned down flat. Why? As he explained it, he was saving up for a particularly large expense – but, more, he had never been in my office before. He had learned at dozens of classes, davened at plenty of minyanim, but he had never been in my office, and so he didn't feel our relationship was at a point at which I could ask him for help. [Yes, I learned a lot from this encounter.]
Story #2 – A woman in our shul received a tzedakah box from Chabad, to be used for any tzedakah she chose. She commented to me something along the lines of, "See, they aren't always taking. Why can't our shul also give sometimes?" [Of course, we regularly raised funds for ARMDI and other Israeli causes, as well as our local Federation campaigns, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Day School, and Benevolent Fund... sigh.]
The parties involved were regular recipients of the shul's "giving" through davening and classes and aliyos and shul-sponsored kiddushes, but they saw the shul as a Taker rather than a Giver. This makes life difficult for synagogue fundraisers, since one of the most basic rules of fundraising is to make even the Taking feel like Giving [as in "We're giving you an opportunity to do something great"]. Instead, even the shul's Giving doesn't feel like Giving!
1. One part of the problem is that the synagogue does spend so much time Taking: Taking the time, effort and stress of volunteers, in addition to the money required to run a shul.
2. Another part of the problem is that people view the shul's Giving as automatic, since anyone can enjoy the benefits without paying for them.
3. Another part of the problem is that even when a shul Gives, it does it in the form of Taking. Shuls recruit would-be recipients, advertising their 'gifts' and campaigning to get people to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities. "Please come to minyan!" "Come to a shiur!" "Participate in our youth programs!" "Hear this speaker!"
Tell me this: If you need to sell me on your gifts, are they really gifts? The result is that people feel the shul is Taking even when it's Giving.
4. Yet another part of the problem is that when the shul rewards a member's Giving, as in a Thank You call/note/meeting by the Rabbi and/or Synagogue President, it's more likely to be seen as an individual doing the the thanking, rather than the shul as an institution. The result is that the institution Takes, while individuals offer reward.
5. And yet another part of the problem is that shuls don't have products to sell for fundraising, so that fundraising often involves selling what should be their gifts. Schools are forever generating projects to endow. Various types of tzedakah-based organizations perpetually acquire and dedicate new equipment in honor of donors. Shuls, on the other hand, can only raise dues, or charge for their 'gifts' – aliyos, classes and programs. [Cookbook fundraisers and the like don't count; they raise a tiny percentage of the funds a shul needs.]
The upshot: The shul is not seen as a giver, because 1) It takes so much, 2) Its gifts are taken for granted, 3) Its gifts are seen as just another way the shul takes, 4) The institution takes, while its individual leaders are the ones who give back, and 5) it ends up selling its gifts, instead of giving them away.
This is the problem. Solutions will need to wait for another post…