UUA will not need loan from endowment, although financial challenges remain.
Proceeds from the sale of the gift—from Ken Carpenter, former chair of the UUA Finance Committee, and his wife, Lois Carpenter—means the UUA will not have to borrow $400,000 from its endowment in the current fiscal year. The sale of mineral rights to land in West Texas that the Carpenters gave to the UUA in 1992 generated $944,000 for the UUA, bringing the Carpenters’ total giving to the UUA close to $2 million. (See companion story.)
“Ken and Lois Carpenter are models of generosity that is not only bighearted, but is also steadfast over decades,” Morales said. Their gifts “have made a huge difference” for the UUA and other organizations, including their home congregations in Colorado and Texas, the UU Service Committee, and Meadville Lombard Theological School.
The Carpenters’ gift helps fix a problem that emerged this summer. In June, Morales surprised the board with news that the 2014 fiscal year would end that month with a $1.3 million deficit because specific major gifts had not materialized. The board decided in August to close a comparable gap in the new fiscal year through budget cuts totaling $900,000 and a loan of $400,000 from the endowment that the UUA pledged to repay as soon as possible. Now, the loan from the endowment won’t be necessary.
“It doesn’t mean we’re suddenly flush with money, but it does take some of the pressure off that we’ve recently all had to deal with,” said the Rev. Harlan G. Limpert, chief operating officer. The Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, director of Stewardship and Development, said the UUA has not yet decided how to use the remainder of the Carpenters’ gift, upon which they have placed no restrictions.
Despite the windfall, a number of financial challenges remain, the board learned at its fall meeting, which ran October 16-20—including that the UUA still faces a $400,000 budget gap for fiscal year 2016. It hopes to close that gap by raising at least that amount through fundraising this year, said Morn, who took over the chief fundraising position in August from longtime director, the Rev. Terry Sweetser.
In addition, only three months into the current fiscal year, the UUA’s $388,000 contingency fund—used to pay unexpected expenses—is already down to just $100,000, UUA Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Tim Brennan told the board. The interest rate on monies from the sale of the UUA’s four properties on Beacon Hill is only 0.6 percent, not the 1.3 percent that the UUA’s investment advisers predicted, resulting in a shortfall of about $120,000 in interest income, Brennan said. And a clause in the lease of the UUA’s new offices at 24 Farnsworth Street, which assigns responsibility for real estate taxes and certain operating costs to the UUA rather than the landlord, “went unnoticed,” he said, adding another $149,000 in expenses so far this year.
“We’ll have to be even more vigilant,” said Brennan, adding that the UUA is “developing new techniques for monitoring, especially major gifts.”
Morn said the UUA’s Leadership Council, Stewardship and Development staff, and the Finance office “are working together to find new ways to have rigorous and continuous monitoring on our accomplishment toward our goals,” including through more transparent communication among those groups. At the same time, she noted that it can be difficult to measure the success of fundraising efforts, since the benefits of some gifts, including the Carpenters’, don’t appear until many years after first pledged. She also emphasized that although individual donors are essential, the UUA continues to depend on congregations for the bulk of its support.
The board reiterated its commitment to cutting $50,000 from its $500,000 budget—which covers its own expenses and that of such board-appointed committees as the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. The board will cut approximately $12,000 from its own expenses by, among other things, using new technologies to reduce in-person meetings and related travel costs. The board is discussing the other $38,000 in proposed cuts with UUA committees before announcing any specific funding decisions.
Sale of the UUA’s properties on Beacon Hill, including 25 Beacon Street, netted a total of $34.2 million, Brennan told the board. (See his related report.) For tax purposes related to the seller, the UUA is leasing its new building until it formally purchases it on January 6. Redesigning the new headquarters on Farnsworth Street cost $10 million, he said, which the UUA borrowed from a bank at 3.2 percent interest. Although the UUA could have paid cash for the renovations, borrowing the money made more financial sense because $9 million from the property sales has been placed in the endowment and invested at 8 percent. The UUA will also reap significant funds from the tenants that lease the top three floors of the new building, he added.
Brennan also described a “dramatic improvement” in the UUA’s balance sheet, with total net assets increasing by $42 million, from $132 million to $174 million, including unrestricted net assets increasing by $34 million, from $17 million to $51 million. “So that’s really good news,” he said.
The four-day board meeting included several hours of conversation about the UUA’s anti-racism and multiculturalism efforts. Perhaps the spiritual highlight of the meeting was discussion of the board’s upcoming trip to Selma, Ala., in March to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma voting rights campaign. In March 1965, more than 500 UUs, including nearly one-fifth of all UU ministers at the time, answered the call from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for religious leaders to come to Selma to support voting rights for African Americans. Two UUs—the Rev. James J. Reeb and Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a laywoman—were murdered there by civil rights opponents. The week of Reeb’s funeral, President Lyndon Johnson introduced the Voting Rights Act to a joint session of Congress. (Read UU World’s 2001 cover story about Selma and the discovery of King’s eulogy for Reeb.)
The Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed, author of The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, led the board in an examination of what the UUA did well and where it failed during the civil rights movement. “We are prepared to be brokenhearted and we invite Mark to help us be brokenhearted,” UUA Moderator Jim Key told fellow trustees. Under Morrison-Reed’s guidance, the board compared the racial climate of 50 years ago with the current situation in the U.S.—noting in particular the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August—and reflected on how Unitarian Universalists can recommit themselves to racial justice today.
Key has urged UUs to participate in a 50th anniversary conference and celebration in Birmingham and Selma March 5-8, 2015, sponsored by the Living Legacy Project. Trustee Julian Sharp, the board’s liaison to the Selma conference, said UU participation is critical because there is much more work to be done. “We’ve been blind to a new caste system that’s emerged from the new Jim Crow,” he said, referencing Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, which describes the mass incarceration of young men of color as a continuation of racist policies. Key said a webinar is being created on what the Selma event can mean for UUs and racial justice going forward.
The board will hold its spring business meeting in Alabama in March rather than in Boston in April.
There were a number of firsts at the October meeting. Three newly elected members participated in their first full board meeting: trustee Christina Rivera, director of religious education at the UU Fellowship of Waynesboro, Va.; trustee the Rev. Andy Burnette, senior minister of Valley UU Congregation in Chandler, Ariz.; and Benji Janapol, of the Woodinville, Wash., UU Church, the board’s 2014–15 youth observer.
The October meeting also marked the first time the board convened in the new headquarters building at 24 Farnsworth Street. Many trustees praised its new technologies and design for making their work—and that of staff—much easier. For the first time, the entire meeting was live-streamed, and recordings of the meeting are available at UUA.org
“Peter, I think this building is going to be the lasting legacy of your presidency,” the Rev. Sarah Stewart, chair of the Finance Committee, told the president. “This wonderful space to work in, where people can collaborate and work across departments and move UUism forward, is a major change of culture.”
On Sunday morning, the board participated in a ritual of dedication of the new building created and led by the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh. As part of the ceremony, each board member wrote a word connected to UU values on a small stone. The stones—and those inscribed by people from other visiting groups in coming months—will be placed in a garden behind the building.
In other news, the board:
Officially welcomed Iowa Lakes UU Fellowship in Okoboji, Iowa, as a member congregation of the UUA. (Application for membership; related report.)
Continued discussion about creating a formal process to evaluate the performance of the UUA president, as part of governance reforms.
Heard from Jacqui Williams about the work of the UUA Presidential Search Committee, which is finalizing a job description and will begin reaching out to potential nominees for the next UUA president by early November 2014. Peter Morales’s term ends in June 2017.
Learned that in the wake of the General Assembly’s vote in June 2014 for the UUA to divest from fossil fuels, the Investment Committee has set up a process for monitoring the environmental, social, and governance standards of all its investments. According to UUA Financial Advisor Larry Ladd, the committee has allocated some monies to invest in green bonds and is examining investment in green real estate.
Continued to discuss ways to support emerging groups that connect with UU values or goals but don’t fit neatly into existing definitions of a “congregation.” The UUA staff is working on a pilot program to identify and work with these groups and will report back to the board at its January meeting.
Heard from Morales that a new interfaith entrepreneurial ministry program, Beyond the Call, expects to enroll about 30 UU ministers as well as clergy from the United Church of Christ and the Union for Reform Judaism. The two-year program, which the UUA and the UU Ministers Association developed with business school and nonprofit leaders, will launch in January. (Related report.)
Heard from Stewart, chair of the Finance Committee, that UUA committees are currently not asked to account for monies they spend or to detail their budgetary requests; Stewart is leading a board team that is working on a process of more accountability.
Approved a $15 increase in the General Assembly full-time registration fee to $350, while continuing discussion on how to make GA more financially accessible to those who would like to attend.
Discussed shortening the length of board meetings to save money and decrease the time commitment of board members. Janapol told the board that she lost her part-time job when her employer learned she would be gone five days in October to attend the board meeting.
Sent back to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee language the MFC had proposed for changing the process for investigating allegations of clergy misconduct. The MFC’s two-part proposal would move responsibility for handling investigations to a team not made up of MFC members, and would extend an invitation to complainants and their designated advocates to meet personally with the MFC Executive Committee. The board asked for clarification about whether the advocates could be lawyers. The board expects to vote on the proposals in January. (Related report; responses.)
Discussed at length but did not take action on a wide range of suggestions related to governance, including alternating the focus of GA each year, with one year dedicated to governance, the next to issues of UU identity and values.
Approved eight monitoring reports related to financial policies, but asked the administration to revise and resubmit five others by December 20.
Went into executive session once, for about 25 minutes, to discuss matters involving real estate and appointments.
Photograph (above): The UUA Board of Trustees meets for the first time in the chapel of the UUA’s new headquarters in October 2014 (Lew Phinney). See below for related resources.
Please note: newsletter on hiatus
Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.