There is no single formula for Shul financial success, because a 1,000 family Shul in a well-to-do suburb needs a much different strategy then 20 families in a rented basement. The size of the budget and the potential revenue sources are obviously the main driving factors, but I’d like to share some strategies that have been helpful over the years.
Our Shul started with about 20 members renting a basement in a small house. When I became treasurer in 1991 we had moved to the basement of a local high school with about 80 families and a Rabbi on a part time salary. We were 6 years into a 10 year lease at a very reasonable rent. In that year some forward thinking members, with an eye towards our lease ending, pooled together some resources to purchase a house which we subsequently rented out.
In 1995, the Shul President, started to put together a committee and a plan for the building of our new Shul. I was in the fourth year of a six year run as treasurer, and I still have the one page spreadsheet showing the cost breakdown of our $1,000,000 shul and our summary of pledges, loans and cash on hand to cover the projected capital costs. I took over as Shul President, for a 2 year term, the year before we moved in to the new building. A major focus in those years was redeeming pledges and continuing to get new pledges to finance the building.
When we moved into our new Shul in August, 1998 our expenses had increased significantly with a mortgage, outstanding building expenses, a sizable utility bill, a part time janitor, and other expenses necessary for the upkeep of our Shul. Over the past 15 years, I’ve been active on the board working on our finances and our expenses since we’ve moved in to the building have not increased significantly. We’re also approaching paying off our balloon mortgage. Clearly, our financing needs and strategies have changed significantly over the past 20+ years.
I would say that the one strategy that has been consistent over the years is to be frugal. Whenever you are making a purchase for a product or a service, shop around and hondle. Look for the best product at the best price, even if it takes a little more time. Even if you’re not frugal in your own family finances, when it comes to public Shul funds you should adopt that trait. Your goal is to keep the expense side of the budget as low as possible given your situation.
In future weeks we’ll discuss how we made our budget over the years and financed the construction of our building.