Membership is More Than Money

Membership is More Than Money

If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!

My first attempt to convince a shul that membership dues are a thing of the past failed. I thought my letter to leadership was comprehensive and persuasive. I was wrong on at least one count: they were not persuaded.


Fearless Leaders,

As you gear up for the membership drive, please consider the shul’s long-time failure to gain or retain members. A prime reason is membership costs. The current system  disincentivizes becoming a member for those who are struggling financially. Rather than allow people to pay what they wish, you demand that they demean themselves by telling the shul office that they are too poor to pay full price. Effectively, you’re saying that they can join us, but since they’re poor they can’t be counted as regular members of the community.

New graduates, the majority of the annual communal influx, are unlikely to spend an amount totaling their first paycheck on shul membership. Because you miss that initial window when someone first moves in, they adjust to not being a shul member. By making the membership price out of their reach, we all lose out. But a member isn’t just a person who pays a subscription fee; it’s someone engaged in the community. In many ways, the failure to bring in members has weakened the volunteer basis on which shuls operate. Volunteering in shul activities strengthens peoples’ bond to the shul, making them more active members of the community. So make volunteering part of membership. Allow people to pledge their time, and make that the standard for their membership fee. Let those who wish to do so pay off their membership in hours rather than dollars.
Those who currently volunteer for the shul are the selfsame people who already give back more than they receive; and that’s the same thing we want from all members – to invest themselves in the shul’s future. By enabling people to be members by giving their time, they’ll see how much further their money can go. And when they have the means, they’ll bring that too.
The ideas above are part of a larger conversation. Meanwhile, I beg that you change one thing immediately – don’t force people to contact the office to say that they don’t have the money to be a full-fledged member of the community. Allow them the option to sign up online as a member, in good standing, at whatever amount they can afford.
Thank you.
As you can imagine, the powers that be didn’t bite. But I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe they just couldn’t visualize what such a membership sign-up would look like. So, I’ve written it for them:
Hello! I’m delighted to become the newest shul member and pillar upon which the community rests. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m up to the challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing to keep the community running:
Hero Membership
I ain’t got much to  give, but what I got, I’ll give to you. 18 hours of my priceless time, plus $18 so you can get yourself something nice – like salt for those winter sidewalks.
Welcome Membership
It takes money to keep the shul open for each of us. But what kind of shul would it be if we didn’t always have room for one more? At $2,000, welcome in the stranger on me!
Utility Membership
It takes $1,000 per person to keep the shul open. Keep the doors unlocked and the ac pumping and you have yourself a deal.
Choose Your Own Adventure Membership
I’m happy to pay the most affordable shul membership fee of $[my choice] I’ll ever be asked to pay!
Because, at the end of the day, if you want to be a member – you should be a member. If you don’t want to be a member, don’t be a member. Either way, you’re always welcome here.