A friend of mine serves as the treasurer for the local synagogue that we both belong to. He recently told me the temple can’t afford to pay what it pays the head rabbi and that we should downsize from two full-time rabbis to one, and maybe an assistant.
I wasn’t expecting to hear that. It was a shock. But I did know we were running small deficits over the past few years, borrowing from an endowment to make annual budgets even out. The day of reckoning came to us this past fall.
It was like hearing your favorite band is breaking up. For the past decade, I have been a member of the temple, I’ve only known it to have these two rabbis. They’re young, different, and progressive. They’ll be gone by June.
The reality is the temple is not merely running a deficit or possibly mismanaged. It’s shrinking.
Like many religious institutions across the country, worship service attendance and participation is down. A few generations ago the temple had 1600 families. It now has fewer than 500. It’s bleeding red ink and people. Something needs to be done.
I recently led an effort to find a way to retain – and grow – membership for a dying institution. It’s still in its infancy, but the process of marketing the temple appears to be an obvious task. It’s just that it hasn’t been done much - or well – in recent years, if ever.
The task is tall, the need is great, and the chance of success is unknown to unlikely. But we must try.
The key ways we’ll grow is with:
· Strategic marketing efforts.
· Constant and consistent outreach.
· Great follow-up.
· A division of labor by many people.
We’ll need some marketing materials, a limited budget, and for some luck to come our way. But it is a numbers game. If we expose a positive message to a targeted group of people we’ll likely win over someone. Maybe a few someones. Over the year, if we grow by 5%, and again the next year, we’ll be in far better shape than we are now. More members bring new ideas, passion, and the reward of expanded community. And more money to the temple.
The principles to marketing a temple, to a degree, are similar to those for promoting a book. For example, you need a good message sent to a targeted group of people. Word-of-mouth works best. You need referrals and to have loud mouths act as feeders for you. Authors need someone to send readers their way; temples may need local realtors, pediatricians or PTAs to share information about them to prospective adults and families.
Maybe the biggest similarity to marketing a book or temple is praying. Why not? Praying to get more members can’t hurt – nor can praying for book buyers. You need to feel inspired and optimistic to market anything.
At some point, if people are to join the temple, they’ll need to decide:
Do I want to belong to a temple?
If so, why this one?
Readers, too, need to decide:
· Do I want to buy a book?
· If so, why this one?
Each temple – and each book – offers something specific. People need to feel a need or desire is being met. They need to trust in you.
Even though the book industry stopped declining and experienced a bit of a resurgence this past decade, it feels like books are still in danger. A smaller percentage of adults read books than previous generations. They buy fewer books, per capita. The art of reading a book has become fractured. We’re not all reading the same books, not even in the same format.
Religion is the same. Church and temple closings happen on a regular basis. Membership has slipped and people simply are not as tied to their house of worship or faith to the same degree that society used to be. It’s still a strong, relevant demographic, but like books, temples and churches are not guaranteed super longevity.
But many people value either or both. They see religious organizations as a central part to society’s growth and personal functioning of many. They also see the book as the backbone to an informed, educated, and enlightened society.
I don’t know what will become of my temple, or even books, but I will keep fighting for the things I value highly. Marketing is vital to keeping the temple – and books – alive. Say a prayer for either or both.
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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.
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