USCJ June 2010 Update, Consultant Report and More…

The USCJ is struggling to deliver on last year’s promises. <a href=”images/TBS/bulletins/10junbul.pdf” mce_href=”images/TBS/bulletins/10junbul.pdf”>

This is the June 2010 Strategic Planning Update from Rabbi Wernick

This is the report of the consultant, Ukeles Associates, Inc

A Summary Profile: the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

This is the current USCJ Vision and Mission Statements

This the new Draft Vision and Mission Statement

and finally below is an analysis of the above by Ira Fink of Beth Sholom B’nai Israel Manchester, CT, as posted to the Google Bonim group.

USCJ has finally come out with the draft of the new Mission and Vision Statement, and the Profile that has taken months to create.  I have attached copies of both, in case you have not received them from USCJ yet.

There is absolutely nothing new here.  The mission and vision statement is just gobbledygook-a rehash of the old mission statement with no real meaning or direction.  It can be interpreted, or misinterpreted, any way you want to see it.  It is just a lot of nice, ambiguous thoughts with no real direction.  Either way, it was a waste of time.

The profile is a weak attempt at twisting the meaning of the statistics, or perhaps it was presented in such a way as to try to sugar coat the bad news.  As Benjamin Disraeli is reported to have said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”   I will explain as I go along.  The following are the headers that go with the statistical charts in the profile that was created by Ukeles Assoc. for USCJ.  The actual charts are in the attached profile.  I have interjected my analysis after each header (headers are in bold type).  Please note that all the statistics, both theirs and mine, were taken directly from the charts in the Ukeles produced profile.

“One quarter of Conservative congregational leaders report their congregations in serious financial difficulty”

But 83% report that their finances are either tight, in some financial difficulty or in serious financial difficulty.  Only 17% report that their financial circumstances are good to excellent.

“In contrast, 5 years ago, only 8% were in serious financial difficulty”

However, 5 years ago 68% said that their finances were tight, in some difficulty or in serious difficulty.  This was before the economy tanked, yet things were already bad.

“60% strongly agree that their congregation wants to grow”

However, only 1.5% disagreed or strongly disagreed that their congregation wants to grow, and 95% of the congregations agree or strongly agree that they want to grow.  3.5% were unsure.  This is a sure sign that additional membership is key to our survival.

“Only 24% strongly agree that their congregation celebrates their denominational heritage”

Only 11% disagreed or strongly disagreed, with 65% that agreed and strongly agreed that their congregation celebrates its heritage.  The remaining 23% were neutral or unsure.

“Only 17% strongly agree their congregation is willing to change to meet new challenges”

Less than 14% disagreed or strongly disagreed that their congregation is willing to change to meet new standards.

“Only 13% report that their congregation has a lot of rotation in leadership roles”

This is not a surprise.  All non-profits are experiencing this problem.  It is a sign of the times, not a sign of this problem being unique to the Conservative Movement.

“42% report that there are mixed views within their leadership regarding satisfaction with USCJ”

But 19% report being somewhat satisfied and only 9% reported being very satisfied.  That leaves 30% that are somewhat or very dissatisfied.

“Congregations are more likely to seek help from USCJ than any other source in every area except fund-raising”

Where else would we look?  We are paying for this help and don’t really have other places to go for it.  That has, perhaps, been the big failing of USCJ.  Notice that the statistic doesn’t say how happy the recipients are with the help they received.

“The Seaboard/Southeast Region has the largest number of congregations (120) and the largest number of membership units (43,400)”

I’m not sure of the significance of this, but the region goes from Maryland to Florida and as far west as Arkansas.

“44% of congregations have fewer than 200 members; but they account for only 14% of membership units”

But medium to very small (the above statistic of less than 200 members refers to the “very small” category) account for 87% of the congregations and 62% of the membership units, leaving “medium large” to “very large” as only 13% of the congregations and 38% of the member units.

“Over the last nine years, USCJ has lost about 6% of its congregations and about 14% of its membership”

This pretty much speaks for itself.  While 6% doesn’t sound like too much, it actually represents about 50 synagogues that no longer exist.  Losing 14% of membership may indicate something entirely different.  If our synagogues are not attracting new, younger members, and we are an aging community, what would the actuarial tables show as a normal loss rate from death over 9 years?   It strikes me that an aging community that is not adding young members could easily lose the better part of 14% of their members through death over 9 years.

“The largest declines in membership units have been in the Northeast (30%) “

This is another meaningless statistic.  How many of these people moved to warmer climates and joined synagogues there?  And how many or those who moved joined USCJ congregations in their new location?  Each member who left the Northeast reduced the membership there, but increased it elsewhere.  Is there any consideration taken for the lesser decline in membership in those areas due to migration?

“The largest congregations have declined the most, both in number of congregations (33%) & in membership units (38%)”

Again, this is a misleading statement.  The numbers did not decline because they ceased to exist, but because their membership dropped enough to change their category to “large” rather than “very large”.

“The USCJ is responsible for more than 40 separate national programs and services”

This is one of the problems.  Most congregations don’t make use of more than a handful of these services and programs.  Most of the rest are a waste of money, time and effort.  They may be wonderful in concept, but they are a major inefficiency that we have been paying for.

“The FY2010 Budget is nearly $20,000,000; projects a 1% shortfall”

We are barely half way through the year.  Let’s see if their projection holds up with the number of synagogues that can’t pay all, or any, of their dues this year.

“USCJ revenue is heavily dues-dependent; program expenses exceed program revenue (see next slide)”

Our synagogues are also heavily dues dependent.  There is a critical mass that is needed to keep the doors open, but I don’t see any references here to increasing membership.

“USCJ central staff expenses are somewhat larger than district/regional staff; program expense exceeds program revenue by about $2,000,000”

There are 40 programs, of which we use only a few, and program expenses exceed revenues by $2 million.  There are too many well intentioned, but ineffective and apparently (based on participation) unwanted programs.  Cut programs to cut costs.


“USCJ faces substantial external and internal challenges”

How much did USCJ pay for this Profile to learn this?

“But, this is the moment for USCJ to marshal all the intellectual, spiritual, and material resources of the hundreds of Kehillot, thousands of leaders, and hundreds of thousands of members to create a dynamic and powerful central organization to energize sacred communities.”

This conclusion worries me.  All of the statistics presented show that we need to increase membership.  If dues is the major source of income, it makes sense that increased membership = increased income.  But this report doesn’t say anything about increasing membership.  In fact, their answer is to “create a dynamic and powerful central organization to energize sacred communities.”  This is just more of the same old, same old.  It appears that their entire focus is on growth through internal means.  This is certainly valid, up to a point.  But we need much faster and higher volume growth and that calls for a massive public relations, advertising and marketing  campaign to reach some of the approximately 3,600,000 unaffiliated Jews in this country, not to mention those members of the Reform movement who might be looking for a little more.

I’m afraid that Ukeles Assoc. seem to have come up blank!

Ira Fink
Beth Sholom B’nai Israel (350~)
Manchester, CT

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