Changes are Coming
- URJ’S ROLE IN THE REFORM MOVEMENT
- ASSUMPTIONS UNDERLYING THE STRATEGY
- CHANGES IN OPERATIONS
The URJ has evolved and expanded its services over time to respond to the changing times and the needs of its nearly 900 member congregations. Beginning with Rabbi Jacobs’ leadership two years ago, the URJ committed itself to developing a more coherent and aligned set of service offerings that will have the greatest impact on the most pressing issues facing Reform congregation as well as advance Reform Judaism in North America and internationally. In addition, the proposed strategy focuses the organization’s resources on activities that no individual congregation can do alone, work that will help to seed, foster, and innovate practices that can be replicated in other congregations and the larger Jewish community.
This strategy places a premium on activities that meet multiple strategic objectives. The URJ will be disciplined in providing a well-structured approach to our menu of services. This will enable the organization to cost-effectively maximize its impact.
We live in an era of technological innovation that enables our congregants and their leaders to independently access resources immediately that are individualized and customized to their interests and needs. No single organization can provide all the answers in an environment of increased access and competition. As such, organizations (not just the URJ) must be more agile and nimble. The proposed strategy emphasizes partnership and collaboration, relying on strategic allies and partners (our Reform Movement partners certainly, but much broader than that as well) to create a network of services. The URJ believes a network of strategic partners will result in increased opportunities for member congregations, individuals, and communities to access services that build and sustain Jewish identity directly, immediately, and cost-effectively. We believe strategic partnering is critical to the success of building a vibrant Jewish ecosystem, and we are committed to being a leader in promoting and supporting collaboration between and among congregations as well as other organizations.
This strategy depends on focusing on evaluation, and learning at the core of every activity. We believe we must measure the quality and impact of all investments. Additionally, the URJ believes that these investments and learnings must be summarized and made public to advance the Movement and promote the scale and replication of best practices. Similarly, the URJ will require members who participate in our communities of practice to contribute to the collection of data, articulate best practices, and to disseminate the results of their work to promote learning and innovation.
There is no question that the URJ needs to maintain a break-even operating budget. Any new strategy will include a plan that insures break-even results on an ongoing basis. Given the transition from current operations to those envisioned in the proposed strategy, the transition period is likely to require additional support from board-designated funds. Going forward, the model for funding the Movement will evolve according to the work of the Dues Policy Review Committee. View the Dues Policy Review Committee Reccomendations below.
The rollout of the Campaign for Youth Engagement will continue and we will carefully evaluate the success of our newly existing year-round youth engagement hubs in Northern California and Texas/Oklahoma. The Active Learning Networks and Communities of Practice will move forward immediately, building into their activities resources for research, evaluation and documentation.
Noticeably, we will be changing the ways we approach publishing. Reform Judaism Magazine will no longer be published and mailed quarterly. Going forward, we will have far greater flexibility in matching the medium to the message. Most of the time we will share information electronically; there may also be times we want to send “hard copies” to specific lists, or to the larger list of Reform households.
URJ Books and Music will also wind down operations over the next several months. We are already beginning conversations with potential publishing partners to acquire the URJBAM catalogs. We are optimistic that the future will include a deeper partnership with CCAR concerning publications. We will maintain the current level of support for CHAI and Mitkadem as we build partnerships that will carry these curricula into the future.
The more time-consuming elements of this strategy involve the development of the technological infrastructure, platform, and content to support our Network Services; the development of a congregational assessment tool; and the design and development of training and material resources.
The URJ will develop a staffing system, including an emphasis on recruitment and training, that enables the organization to effectively carry out the newly structured types of work, focuses on professional development, and continues to emphasize the importance of creating and sustaining a culture of innovation and excellence. Additionally, we will identify and invest in strategic partners who have these competencies and the necessary structures and operational mechanisms to deliver specific programs and services outlined in this strategy.
In general, roles will transition over the next three months. We anticipate having the new structure fully in place by next summer. At the same time, we are acutely aware that one of the hallmarks of an effective organization is that it never stops learning or evolving.
- When will the realignment be completed?
- In general, roles will transition over the next three months. We anticipate having the new structure fully in place by summer 2015. At the same time, we are acutely aware that one of the hallmarks of an effective organization is that it never stops learning or evolving.
For decades, the URJ stretched to address the immediate needs of its member congregations, creating scores of programs to meet as many needs of our member congregations as possible. Although these programs helped members address real and pressing issues, and despite their relative success and good intentions, our resources and organizational focus were fragmented and often staffed and delivered in “silos.”
We tried too many things and then, being stretched too thin, did not always deliver programs and services with the excellence our congregations have a right to expect. This led to less impact and to some congregations questioning our relevance. At the same time, we know that some of our most important offerings, like our camps, are branded separately and not well understood as part of the URJ. Therefore, they may not be perceived by congregations to be a benefit of participating in the Reform Movement.
We must address the adaptive challenges that confront Reform Judaism. Today we recognize that we must change dramatically or congregational life and Reform Jewish identity will dissipate. It is time to cast off old assumptions and to restructure, renew, and re-focus our efforts. We must act boldly.
Programmatically, sometimes less is more.
Just as our patriarch Abraham heeded God’s call to leave his native land, we must have the courage to go forth to a new future we cannot yet fully envision.
At the same time, we will begin to better align our North American Board and other lay structures to support the new strategy. This process will need to be just as far-reaching as the new budget process and the new staffing structure.
DUES POLICY REVIEW COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS
After much research, many discussions with constituents by phone, webinar and at the Biennial, and mathematical modeling developed and tested by the nonprofit consultants of Grant Thornton, the Dues Policy Review Committee is about to recommend a new proportional dues approach for consideration by the Movement. The objective has been to develop a new methodology that is fair, simple, transparent and more sensitive to changes in a congregation's financial situation. It is also the plan that as the URJ and HUC ramp up fundraising from other sources, we will be able – over time – to reduce our reliance on MUM dues to fund our activities and initiatives, and we will be able to reduce, in the aggregate, the percentage of congregational budgets that are required to support the Movement.
This new proposal will use net operating revenues of each congregation as the basis for calculating a congregation's proportional investment in the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion and the Union for Reform Judaism. Revenues are more sensitive to changes in congregational financial situation, as they can decrease more quickly than expenses when times are tough, thus reflecting a congregation’s changed situation more quickly in their dues calculation.
Our current dues are based primarily on net expenses, and depend in part on the number of members in each congregation. This has led to dissatisfaction on the part of congregations for several reasons:
- Even when congregation's dues-based revenues decline due to membership declines or a higher percentage of congregants paying reduced dues, the congregation’s expenses are less likely to be downwardly variable. In the current model, MUM dues can remain roughly constant, even though congregational revenues have declined.
- Secondly, many congregants pay less than full dues, and the congregations have resisted paying a per member charge to the movement when more and more of their members do not pay full dues to them. As we are encouraging congregations to experiment with new models of membership and “Audacious Hospitality” in order to develop ‘engagement before dues,’ it is inherently inconsistent for the Movement to charge congregations in proportion to the number of ‘members’ they have in their databases.
In addition to recommending a new dues paradigm, we are embarking on a thorough review of the entire process for calculating dues, documenting the annual calculation, paying periodically, and being clearer about the benefits of paying fully, the consequences of not paying in full, and the process for requesting dues that are lower than what is calculated by the formula. The task force to develop new processes and programs associated with membership has been formed and is expected to make their recommendations before the end of 2014.
Our goal is to develop broad commitment to the new membership formula, and to calculate and validate the financial impact of the new approach for both congregations and the Movement before March 2015. It is our hope that congregations will be in favor of the new plan, and we will implement the new plan as soon as possible, subject to the by-laws of the Union.