Shul Fees – Avoiding Taxation Without Representation

Members Fill the Financial Burden
Achieving a firm financial footing is a hard to achieve objective of any non-profit. In many Shuls it is the board and member’s responsibility to insure that the Shul is solvent and much of the money comes from the membership. This income comes in the form of membership dues, high holiday seats, annual dinner pledges, pledges during Aliyos and general donations.

The Budget Process
Determining what fees to charge starts with the budgeting process. The treasurer, often in collaboration with the president and/or financially astute board members, prepares a spreadsheet of income and expenses using the Shul’s accounting system as the primary source of information. Ideally the income should be greater than the expenses, but in recent times this has become a more difficult feat.

The budget should be presented to the board for approval. If the Shul is balancing its budget, then the process often stops with the board since the bylaws often defer the fiduciary responsibility to the board. When the budget is not being met, and fees have to be raised, then it makes political sense to present the membership with an idea of the financial condition without necessarily handing out the line by line budget.

Raising Membership Fees
Taxing the membership with increased membership fees is always difficult, because the Shul invariably contains members who can not afford to pay or who feel that the services provided aren’t worth the cost. It makes sense to discuss membership fee increases at a public meeting, so the membership understands why the increase is necessary. It seems that increases in dinner ads or high holiday seats are often passed by the board alone, perhaps because those fees are often not required, even if they are usually incurred.

Making Exceptions
Due to increased Shul competition and the desire to keep the membership roles stable, many Shuls are trying to accommodate the varying financial needs of their members. Different membership categories are established and exceptions are made where necessary. It’s important to understand the financial stress of those seeking exceptions and to try to deal with their situations with discretion and kindness.

Fiduciary responsibility is a Shul necessity and it can’t be ignored. Budgeting and raising dues and fees are a part of the process and they should be done with the consent of the board and/or membership where appropriate. It’s important that the membership fee process is equitable. Finally, a policy of discretion and kindness will greatly benefit the Shul in the long run.