Last week, Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders from over twenty Big Tent Judaism organizations “gathered” for an important webinar conversation. The topic? Accommodating people with financial needs who want to affiliate with Jewish institutions. While we could have engaged in many kinds of conversations about the high costs of Jewish life, and hope to in the future, this particular webinar focused on how Jewish communal organizations can better communicate their existing discounts and policies for financial accessibility to engage those who are actually seeking to participate or join. We believe that there are many folks out there who do want to engage, but simply don’t know about or are embarrassed to ask for financial assistance.
When JOI works with a community to maximize its outreach potential we begin with a comprehensive scan of each organization’s policies and communication strategies. More often than not, we find that special rates, discounts, and other policies for financial accessibility exist, but are unpublicized (often unintentionally). A potential newcomer to Jewish life is often required to bravely expose his or her financial status and desire for help up front, in order to find out about such discounts or special rates on programs and institutional membership. We believe that to truly welcome all newcomers, the Jewish community must reveal and consistently communicate the message “we welcome people of all financial means.” As our Purim-inspired Big Tent Judaism campaign encouraged, “There is no shame in asking,” because a Big Tent Jewish organization welcomes people of all financial means, and proactively communicates that message.
Together on our webinar, we began by exploring a variety of policies and initiatives with regard to financial accessibility for programs and membership. We heard from Jewish communal professionals about fair share systems, free membership marathons, special rates for different age groups, and free High Holiday experiences. While many participating organization have policies in place, others are just beginning to embark on establishing guidelines, and appreciated learning from the experiences of their peers.