CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - Insert2
For the Central Conference of American Rabbis Part II in a Series
"Finances Are a Partnership Matter in a Sacred Community: What Might Be My Role as Rabbi?"
As noted in Part I of this Series, the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic
impacts may cause congregations and rabbis to reevaluate their contractual relationships.
This guidance is designed to help rabbis identify issues and consider available options.
This guidance is not a substitute for legal and/or tax counsel, which is
Partnership Relationship: The Importance of the Rabbi's Voice
We are in the midst of a monumental transition in American life, including our
Jewish communal world, brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The old normal
may be gone, and the new normal, whatever it is, has not arrived. We are in the inbetween: the past is over and the future is not yet here. We are in the "liminal state"
or, in transition terms, we are in the "neutral zone." This "neutral zone" is terrifying
and exciting-terrifying in that we have no idea what lies over the horizon; and
exciting in that it can give rise to creative solutions and out-of-the box thinking.
In this situation the rabbi is a key voice and leader, especially in the synagogue
setting. The rabbi is best situated to see both the breadth and depth of the
opportunities and challenges. Every aspect of the synagogue is undergoing this
transition simultaneously: worship, education, programming, lifecycles, governance,
and finances. Yes, rabbis in partnership with the lay leaders need to be engaged in
the financial challenges created by the pandemic. And in most settings the rabbi will
be called upon to be the manager of this transition.
Several principles apply to this situation.
* Alignment of mission, values, and goals: Remember that you bring the mission
of the community to the financial conversation. You are also uniquely positioned
to play a role in prioritizing activities and services to achieve the mission. Finally
and most importantly, you are the leader in caring for your community. As such,
you have "inside information" as to the needs and desires of the community. In
sum, you can help to identify the key parts of your mission, your relationship
touchpoints, or services to members that are a priority.
* As Ed Friedman taught us, rabbis also serve as the "non-anxious presence" in
finance conversation. It is important for leadership to separate the real and
known from the anxiety and unknown - for the individuals who are part of the
conversation and for the community as a whole. It is difficult to have discussions
with leaders who are scared and acting out of fear. Be sure there is ample time
for sharing in the course of financial conversations. No doubt, you too will be
experiencing plenty of your own anxiety. To be the "non-anxious presence" does
not mean you feel no anxiety; it means you are monitoring and are in control of
your own anxiety.
* You are best suited to being the "adaptive leader." You, as rabbi, enjoy the bigpicture perspective of your synagogue in a way that the lay leaders do not. This
enables you to ask the questions that will result in collaborative answers. You need
to know which issues you and the leaders need to address; you do not need to
know the solutions. You need to facilitate the high-level conversations that will
As the rabbi, you can identify key uncertainties and possible responses to them. This
will allow for planning without immediate actions as to the unknowns. Indeed, you
can also contribute to the finances conversation by engaging in scenario planning.
Asking Questions to Further the Conversation and to Ensure
That Information Is Shared
As rabbis, we are all experienced in the process of questions and answers. In facing
financial challenges, you can play a key role in asking the right questions and
allowing your experts to provide answers.
Some short-term questions might include:
a. What needs to be done now and what scenarios might we anticipate?
i. Is there an immediate problem or a planning opportunity?
ii. What expenses have we reduced already in our programs? What might be next?
iii. What income have we already lost? What might be next?
iv. Are furloughs or staff cuts inevitable?
1. Are there other areas in which we can reduce expenses?
2. Are there other non-profit experts who are asking the same questions
about furloughs, unemployment benefits, ethical issues, etc.
b. How do we look to increase income at the same time as we are talking about
recommended if the employment contract will be modified in any way.
Every congregational setting and every contract is different. Be sure to contact the
CCAR and/or a tax or legal professional before you act. (Part I addressed specific issues
in a rabbinic contract.)
re there cash reserves, endowment monies or other funds that might be
available to the congregation to assist with operating expenses? (Even where
there are restrictions on such funds, the Board should be able to look to
possible borrowing of such funds in exigent or dire circumstances, and even
asking the donors to redirect funds for the immediate need.)
ave the lay leaders and you explored all other options before discussing
contract modifications? What about options such as:
i. Federal, state or local government programs that can help
(for example, can the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES)
Act provide relief? See Richard Hammar's overview at ccar.co/pensions
ii. Are there special grants for non-profits from Foundations?
o we have specialty programs that could be funded by grants, especially
in the education area?
e. Have we explored all other special fundraising and development opportunities?
i. You truly can help to identify and/or solicit major gifts now-ask yourself
who can help and how?
Some longer-term questions:
You may be able to contribute significantly by asking questions and leading some
scenario planning to imagine the future-even if currently unknown. Try to
uncover with your leadership and community members hopes and aspirations, key
uncertainties and fears, and possible ways to lead through them.
a. What might we want our synagogue to look like a year from now?
b. Who might be among our participants and members?
c. What opportunities may exist to meet the needs of our members and to
provide opportunities for engagement?
d. What programs and services will we want offer? (Continued, renewed or new
e. What models of staffing should we plan for?
f. What kinds of revenue streams can we anticipate? How much revenue will they
generate? Can we begin to cultivate them now?
Understanding Financial Data
To be a full participant in financial conversations, you should first review your
community's financial data and projections. This is not to say that you must become
a financial maven. Rather, it is to say that you need to fully understand the financial
realities and possible impact of the current situation. To do so, you may want to
find someone to guide you (even if it is behind the scenes). There are also learning
See for example: ccar.co/finances
Your Role in Financial Resource Development
It is often said that fundraising is called development because it is all about
developing relationships. As rabbis, you are at the heart of relationships between
your community and possible supporters. Indeed, you play a key role in creating
opportunities for tzedakah.
Certainly, every rabbi's particular role in financial resource development may
be different from another rabbi, and it is different in every congregation/
organization depending on numerous factors from size of community to
nature of the professional staff. See for example: ccar.co/fundraising and
There are also a number of development consultants who can work with you behind
the scenes if you wish.
As previously announced, there are a number of coaches who have volunteered probono sessions for CCAR member rabbis. See: ccar.co/pro-bono-coaches
If you are interested please contact Rosemarie Cisluycis at email@example.com.
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 1
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 2
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 3
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 4
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2020 - 5
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