I’ve wrote in the past about “Running a Successful Shul Dinner” (http://www.shulpolitics.com/2013/04/24/running-a-successful-shul-dinner), where I focused on the logistics of the event, such as getting an honoree, picking a venue, encouraging member participation, making the event run smoothly. Most organizations can’t afford to overlook the fund raising aspects of the dinner, but there is another very import function of the dinner and that is bringing the members together for a celebration focused on the Shul.
Shuls fill an important role, and like many things in life we sometimes take them for granted. That’s why it’s important to have a night where the focus is on hakaros hatov towards the Shul, its members, and the functions it provides. Our Rabbi pays tribute to the officers, board, committees and other people that are involved in running the Shul. The honorees and other speakers recognize the critical role the Rabbi plays. Hearing the expression of thanks while sitting with your fellow members builds important bonds between the members and the Shul.
Two steps our Shul has made to increase attendance over the years is to give first year members a nice discount or free pass, and to try to accommodate members who might not attend because of financial considerations. Generally, the committee sets the minimum to cover the food costs. The benefits of having a larger attendance and giving more people an opportunity to build deeper connections with the Shul, outweighs the decrease in revenue that such policies might bring.
In our speech-averse times, it’s rare to have an event where people want to listen to the speeches, but a well attended Shul dinner breaks the mold. People want to feel good about their Shul, so it’s important to work on getting as many people as practical to attend.