Economic concerns foremost at October board meeting

Economic concerns foremost at October board meeting

UUA board hears financial reports, works on policy governance.
Jane Greer


The Unitarian Universalist Association is lowering its income expectations for the current fiscal year by about 5 percent and reducing expenditures by 5 percent, UUA Treasurer and Vice President of Finance Tim Brennan told the UUA’s Board of Trustees during its October meeting.

“We have reduced estimates for revenue by $1.3 million and cut expenses by a commensurate amount,” he wrote in a memo to the board. “While we believe that these estimates are reasonable, it is possible that economic conditions could deteriorate further requiring additional budget adjustments.”

In other business at its October 15–19 meeting in Boston, the UUA board worked on developing “ends” statements, a crucial step in the process of moving to a policy governance model. It voted to raise GA registration fees by $10, to create a separate budget for General Assembly so that GA surpluses or deficits won’t affect the rest of the UUA’s budget, and to work toward holding more environmentally sustainable meetings. The board reviewed a proposal to change the way that the UUA’s president and moderator are nominated and elected, and approved one more independent affiliate organization.

Although the majority of the meeting’s time was devoted to developing ends statements for policy governance, the economy was much on people’s minds. Brennan reported that UUA income (not including campaign income) had experienced only a modest decline. One of the UUA’s main sources of income, the Annual Program Fund (congregational donations made on the basis of membership numbers) is 2 percent under its projected target as of the end of the first quarter of FY ’09. According to Brennan, the APF is expected to meet its budget.

However, Friends of the UUA donations—individual gifts—have decreased and are expected to bring in $150,000 less than planned. The number of gifts has remained the same, Brennan said, although the gift amounts have lessened.

Income from the UUA’s endowment is down 3 percent, a small decline because the means of assessing that income is based on a 13-quarter average, which has a leveling effect, Brennan said.

UUA investment funds, however, have taken a big hit through market volatility, Brennan reported. The UUA’s UU Common Endowment Fund (formerly known as the General Investment Fund) decreased in value from $135 million in January to $111 million in September. And the UUA’s retirement plan, administered by Fidelity, had decreased by almost 10 percent in value between January 2008 and September 2008, and has probably decreased further in the month of October.

UUA President William G. Sinkford urged calm in the face of financial uncertainty. “The reality is that no one knows how severe this financial crisis will become,” he said in an address to the board. “I can only promise that we will continue to monitor our financial situation carefully. During the coming months, our leadership task is to manage the anxiety.”

The lion’s share of the five-day meeting’s time, however, was dedicated to preparing for a shift to “policy governance.” This model of governance, in which the board is charged with setting policy and visioning while the staff is responsible for executing the policy, has been adopted in some form by many large UU congregations and 11 of the UUA’s 19 districts. The board voted in April 2006 to adopt this model of governance and has been gradually moving toward its implementation with the goal of beginning operation using the new model by July 2009.

Proponents of policy governance say the model prevents boards from spending time on lower-level decision making that is essentially the staff’s responsibility.

The process of shifting to policy governance is a complex one, however. Members of Unity Consulting, a consulting group based at Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, Minn., helped board members work on a “global ends” statement over the course of two days. “Ends” statements are high-level goals that are formed after communicating with constituents and stakeholders. Once ends statements have been formed and passed on to the staff for execution, the board is responsible for monitoring progress and evaluating results. The board is also responsible for communicating with constituents and stakeholders throughout the process.

As part of the formation of the global “ends” statement, the board spent considerable time meeting with constituents and stakeholders. On Thursday, seven district presidents shared their own experiences with policy governance with the board, and later that evening members of the UU Ministers Association met with the board.

On Friday, the board drafted the following global ends statement: “Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.” They shared this statement the next morning with UUs attending the New England Regional Gathering in Worcester, Mass. Each board member met with a group of UUs to get feedback.

Each trustee will take the statement to their own district for further discussion and will share the results at the January and April 2009 board meetings.

The board also discussed the need to make some bylaw changes to accommodate policy governance. These changes will be drafted at a future board meeting.

In his board report, Sinkford talked about the shootings that took place Sunday, July 27 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, in which two people were killed and eight injured. Sinkford praised the UUA’s quick response. “The Association’s response was rapid, robust, and much appreciated,” he said. “By the time I arrived the following day, members of the UU Trauma Response Ministry were already holding listening meetings for congregation members and offering pastoral care to members of the community. District staff were there and offering support to congregational leaders.”

Sinkford said that the media attention following the shootings, which exposed many people to Unitarian Universalism for the first time, had been a revelation. “We . . . . came to believe that, properly staffed, we could make earned media, rather than paid media, the center of our [marketing] effort,” Sinkford said. “We are hoping in this coming year to pay for fewer, if any, print ads, but to work for and get far more press coverage, both print and broadcast, about who we are and what we stand for.”

Sinkford also cited the success of the UUA’s Google AdWords campaign, especially in drawing hits to the UUA’s page on bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender equality. “It is becoming increasingly clear to me,” he said, “that our most significant voice is around our approach to human sexuality. It reflects a profound difference between our and other faith traditions.”

The board’s Association Working Group presented a draft of recommendations concerning the election of the UUA’s moderator and president. According to this document, the moderator and the president would each serve one eight-year term. Under the current system, both positions have four-year terms with the possibility of a second term. Almost all of the UUA presidents elected since the 1961 merger have had two terms and four of the six previous moderators have served eight or more years.

The reason that the draft mandates one eight-year term is to ensure a continuity of leadership and experience, according to the working group. Under the current system, the president or moderator would need to run for re-election after the first four-year term, representing an expenditure of time and energy that detracts from the Association’s work. One of the options yet to be discussed is whether the moderator’s and president’s terms should be staggered.

The nominating process for both positions is also being reconsidered. Under the proposed plan, candidates for both positions would be nominated, not self-identified. In the case of the moderator, the UUA board would nominate two candidates. In the case of the president, a nominating committee would be formed to assess the needs of the congregations and then nominate three candidates. Under the proposed plan’s terms, the announcement of the candidates would take place at GA one year before the election.

Additional candidates for both positions could also enter the race via petition.

The Association Working Group will continue to discuss and modify the plan, with the goal of presenting a finalized version for a vote at the 2010 GA. The proposed changes will not affect the election of a new UUA president in June 2009.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved to accept Interweave Continental as a UUA affiliate organization.

  • Voted to increase GA registration fees by $10.

  • Voted to report General Assembly financial activity in a separate budget segment beginning in FY ’10. (Beacon Press and the UU Common Endowment Fund are also in separate budget segments.) This separation promotes more transparent reporting, according to UUA Financial Advisor, Dan Brody.

  • Approved shifting the Unitarian Fellowship of Murfreesboro, Tenn., from the Thomas Jefferson District to the Mid-South District.

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