Interviewer: Daniel, thank you for sitting down with me today to discuss the 'Economic State of Temple Beth Ami.' I understand that you are a very busy man having a full time job, being a family man, and presiding over the Temple Beth Ami board of trustees.
Daniel: It is absolutely my pleasure. In fact, I thank you for allowing me this opportunity. I have always found Q & A sessions a great way to organize my thoughts and communicate to a wider audience.
Interviewer: You are coming to the end of your second term as President. Have you spent any time reflecting on what has occurred during your tenure?
Daniel: Yes, in fact I try after any major decision or event to take some time to reflect. Leadership is often thought of in terms of future events and for good reason – after all, a leader does just that, 'leads' people to new territory. However, in my opinion and experience, to efficiently lead into new areas, one must have an understanding of both where we are now and how we arrived there.
Interviewer: I noticed you used the word 'efficiently' in your last answer. You and I have chatted in the past and that is something that seems to be a focus of yours. Can you expand on that concept for the readers?
Daniel: Yes, of course. Fundamental to effective management and leadership is the concept of 'efficiency.' History has thought us that virtually anything can be accomplished. Monuments can be raised and empires can be built. But all that stands the test of time is that which is built with efficiency in mind. One must understand that there are certain 'laws' that must be observed such as the economic law of scarcity – that all resources are limited. All successful ventures are built on the foundation of this knowledge. We should demand that our leaders keep this concept at the forefront in all planning. Failing to understand this simple concept will eventually result in ruin, no matter how successful the venture initially appears.
Interviewer: Looking back, as you close in on your second and final year of being TBA President, what has been your most satisfying accomplishment?
Daniel: Without any doubt or hesitation I can answer this question – but it may not be the answer that most people would think obvious. When I became President, our operating budget was severely in the red. The congregation was having difficulties meeting our basic monthly obligations. Through a combination of budget austerity, modestly increased revenue, and money generously donated to the Chai Campaign (a fund established for the specific purpose of ridding TBA of all debt), we have been able to come current on all our financial commitments and put ourselves on track to complete the year without having to borrow from our future. I am very proud that we have righted our financial ship. But that is not the accomplishment of which I am most proud.
Interviewer: Really? Ok if it is not that, than what is it?
Daniel: It is something subtle. Something that is difficult to measure and even harder to accomplish. I am proudest of the fact that we have begun the process of changing the culture of the governing board. We have begun to alter the fundamental way the board collectively thinks. Because of the transient nature of boards, specific accomplishments, such as having a balanced budget are far less significant than a 'culture' shift of an organization.
Interviewer: So what is the 'culture' of Temple Beth Ami and what was wrong with it before?
Daniel: Let me be clear – there was nothing wrong with the culture of TBA prior to me coming on-board. Temple Beth Ami's founding mission is to 'worship God, to promote Jewish education and the fundamental principles of Judaism, to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, to cultivate love, understanding and enjoyment of our Jewish heritage and to encourage community involvement.' Each board since our inception has worked to further this mission in the here-and-now. The culture shift I speak of is one where we think in terms of our future; one where we stop borrowing from our future and begin thinking in terms of how we achieve our collective mission now and in the future.
Interviewer: 'Borrow from our future.' You mentioned that twice in this interview. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Daniel: I am glad you are paying attention! Over the last several years that is exactly how TBA boards have balanced the congregation books – by borrowing from our future. Each year we came up short and asked congregants to pre-pay the future year's membership dues. The following year we would come up short of funds earlier than the previous year. This was clearly an unsustainable cycle. When I became President I vowed that by the end of my presidency this cycle of borrowing from our future would end. And I am glad to share that we are on track to do just that! While there are still challenges to achieving this, it appears we will end this year without having to ask any congregant to pre-pay future year's dues!
Interviewer: Earlier you credited the Chai Campaign for helping to payoff debt. Can you update the congregation on the campaign?
Daniel: We are off to a good start! But before I give specific numbers let me remind you that campaigns, by their nature, are designed to be successful in the long term. While the goal of the Chai Campaign is to wipe out all TBA debt, nobody thought this could be done in just a few months. Understanding this, I can share with you now that Chai Campaign has raised over 10% of the stated goal. Yes, that is well short of our ultimate goal of paying off all debt and burning the mortgage but what we have done in this area so far is a big deal and we should take a moment to thank everyone who has given to the campaign! However, like all ongoing campaigns, there is hard work to be done before we can declare ourselves victorious.
Interviewer: How can congregants and other contributors be sure the money will be applied towards the principle owed on the mortgage?
Daniel: Great question! The natural temptation or moral hazard if you will, of any governing body is to borrow from a designated fund to fill gaps in the general budget. We see governments do this all the time. There should be no confusion that the ultimate goal of the Chai Campaign is to burn our mortgage. But we have other stops on that journey. We needed to pay back some back wages owed to staff; we needed to pay back some congregants for personal loans made to TBA in the past. While I am glad to report that we have accomplished these small milestones, I want to assure you, the congregants, and all those who have been generous enough to pledge that we have instructed our bookkeeper to keep track of every penny pledged to the Chai Campaign in a separate account, held as a liability to TBA until such time as it is used pay down the principle owed.
Interviewer: So, if I understand you correctly, we have paid off some back debt which TBA owed thanks to the Chai Campaign?
Daniel: Exactly! That is exactly why the Chai Campaign was established – to make us debt free. But to ensure the integrity of the fund the board has asked that any money donated to the Chai Campaign be held on our books as a liability until such time as our mortgage is burned. We are on the path to doing this, burning our mortgage, right now!
Interviewer: Daniel, I know we have run past our allotted time. Thanks once again for your time!
Daniel: My pleasure. I know you asked me to focus on fiscal issues for this interview, but would you mind if I ended by reminding the readers to always keep in mind why we exist as a congregation? This board is dedicated to the belief that Temple Beth Ami must have a stable economic foundation, now and tomorrow, so that we can deliver on our collective mission to 'worship God, to promote Jewish education and the fundamental principles of Judaism, to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, to cultivate love, understanding and enjoyment of our Jewish heritage and to encourage community involvement.' This is our mission – in the past, today, and in our future, for many years to come!