West Bloomfield Synagogue Eliminates Dues System
Temple Kol Ami to launch new pledge system, believed to be first of kind in Metro Detroit synagogues, in effort to help congregation in down economy.
An innovative Reform Jewish temple has become a little more unique to the Metro Detroit area in a big way.
West Bloomfield-based Temple Kol Ami voted to abolish its dues structure effective July 1. Kol Ami's approximately 340 families are currently being solicited for a one-time annual pledge, based on personal discretion, in lieu of an annual membership statement.
"By pledging this financial commitment, we are making a gift from the heart rather than paying a bill"
The change, believed to be the first of its kind at a Metro Detroit synagogue, was made in order to facilitate members which had arranged to pay less than the standard dues, as well as to attract new families without the concern of finances.
"Temple Kol Ami is a smaller, warm, friendly congregation, and the concept of dues just didn't fit with our identity," Paul Gross, 50, the congregation's vice president, said via email.
Gross assumed the task of researching, reporting to the executive board, and communicating with the congregation beginning last November. After an almost uniformly positive response, Gross reports that the Union for Reform Judaism network of clergy and congregations is watching closely in what could be a unique situation to Metro Detroit Jewish institutions.
Treasurer Gene Farber is confident that pledges will break even. "We built this year's budget based on the assumption that the new system would be revenue-neutral, although we hoped it would increase," Farber, 65, said via email.
Last year, full dues for a family was $1,995, which according to Gross' research was in the ballpark of what other area synagogues' dues. There were other dues categories for single person households, young adults, and senior citizens, and some congregants negotiated their dues based on ability to pay. Some did not pay.
Regardless of the pledge, everyone gets the same basic services which are offered to membership currently: reservations on the High Holidays, pastoral services and programming associated with the temple.
"Our financial situation has been stable considering the Michigan economy," Farber said. "We have not raised dues the past few years and have added a second Rabbi, Ariana Silverman, in 2011. We also have expanded the role of cantoral soloist, Tiffany Green, to increase the number of times our choir participates in weekly services."
"Slightly less than half of the congregation has already submitted their pledges and, compared to what these same members actually paid last year, revenue is up," Gross said. "Some of those who paid reduced dues have responded to the pledge system by pledging more than they paid last year, which is a true testament that this system is a much more egalitarian method of collecting our general operating revenue."
"I am very confident that this will succeed," in that all of the pledges will be collected, Gross added.
He has good reason to feel confident. In 2008, he said, a pledge drive to benefit a new education wing resulted in over 95 percent of pledges paid in full.
Temple Kol Ami has already proven an innovator in saving money by sharing space with the Conservative B'nai Israel Synagogue since 2010.
"By pledging this financial commitment, we are making a gift from the heart rather than paying a bill," Gross said.
Gross estimates that dues systems in Reform Jewish institutions have been active in Metro Detroit for 60-70 years; this is believed to be the first time in the temple's 45-year history that such an idea has gone to vote.