May Day! Budget Crisis! What To Do

One of your top donors moves to be closer to their grandchildren. Another major donor gets a new job two states away. And then two or three of your oldest members pass away.

When your annual stewardship drive comes along, your finance folks discover that–in spite of an overall growth in membership–these losses in the top quartile of your pledge distribution can really affect your bottom line.

Here’s what you can do:

How to meet the budget in a time of distress

by Patricia Infante, UUA Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Region

 

  • Reduce variable and discretionary expenses
  • Raise income from within the congregation
    • Increase pledges, even incrementally
    • Increase pledge units, turn friends into members
    • Special “fill the gap” campaign
    • Large donor matching gift program
    • Legacy Gift program
  • Raise income from sources beyond the congregation
    • Facility rental: generate new
    • Facility rental: renegotiate tenant agreements
    • Sell gift cards (bought at a discount) from local grocers
    • Seek entrepreneurial opportunities
    • Grants, crowdfunding campaigns
  • Ensure you have technology to catch money from all sources
    • Online donation capacity on your website
    • Electronic Check capacity for recurring donations
    • Onsite electronic payment tool (such as Square) for one-time payments or  collections at special events
  • Renegotiate debt
  • Scale back ministries
  • Cut staff benefits
  • Cut staff hours
  • Layoff staff
  • Sell real property
  • Merge or close

Additional Resources:

 

Don’t Leave Money on the Pew!

Two decades ago, you could be pretty sure that people in your church would carry a checkbook, cash, or at least a spare check or two in their wallet.  Today, it’s becoming less and less likely that people carry cash or checkbooks. Yet, the ritual of the offering plate continues, and it is less likely to be filled with spontaneous gifts.

Some congregations have been paying attention to this trend, but has yours?  Here are some technical ways to make it easier for people to give to your congregation:
(Please note that the services mentioned are not meant to be an endorsement!)

Automated Giving

Members and supporting friends may already have their banks set up automatic transfers for their pledge payments. But you can make it easier for them by enrolling in a turnkey electronic payment service such as VANCO.

One small congregation has created special “I give electronically” cards that members and friends who pay electronically can put in the offering basket.

E-Giving

Other congregations have set up PayPalSquare, or similar e-giving accounts, and make tablets available for people to give using their credit or debit cards.

Text-to-Give

Still other congregations (especially those with online streaming) have subscribed to a “text-to-give” service where participants can use their cell/smart phones to send their financial gifts. Here is a partial listing of popular services:

Service Fee
Tithe.ly

 

$19/month

 

GivingFire

 

$49/month

 

Txt2Give

 

$25/month +1%

$60/month +0%

 

EasyTithe

 

$0/month+3%  +$0.39 Flat

$29/month+2.6%  +$0.30 Flat

 

GivingFuel

 

Free for 1st $5K
$59/month
Givelify

 

$0/month+2.9%  +$0.30 Flat

 

 

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding apps such as GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo seem to be quick and easy ways to raise money for a project or concern.  But they also have significant fees that reduce the amount of funds that actually go to your campaign. There is an alternate UU crowdfunding app called Faithify that has a much smaller financial transaction fee that means that more money goes to your campaign!

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Central East Region, UUA Congregational Life

We Are Communities of Care

When I first started attending my local UU congregation, I was fascinated by the opportunities for members to share in a part of the service called “Joys and Concerns.” It was an open-mic format where people shared personal anecdotes, milestones, political/social concerns, stories about ailing friends/co-workers/loved ones, and grief and sorrow over the deaths of pets/friends/relatives.  Sometimes it was intimate and comforting. Other times is was a bit awkward. And occasionally, someone took over the service with sharing that was almost as long as the sermon.

When I went to seminary, I learned more about the history of this practice. It was started with good intentions, but not with a good articulation of the purpose of the ritual nor with the boundaries of what could/should be shared to keep a sense of reverence for deeper levels of sharing. We had discussions about how to balance the intimacy of the congregational community with the need for Sunday morning to be a public (or “third”) space that is welcoming to the stranger.

This tension was brought into the spotlight for me when I heard this story: A church that had the open-mic format of Joys and Concerns had a Sunday where members shared impersonal concerns about national events and minor concerns about ailing pets. Then one member got up and shared that their child had died that week, and they didn’t know how to share such a deep grief following what had already been said.

That story convinced me that the worship leaders needed to moderate–or even refocus–this element of the Sunday service. I think that the core, generative question is, “how do we balance the need of being a community of care during members’ significant times with the need to be relevant to the newcomer in our Sunday worship services?”

I’ve seen lots of variations and modifications of the “Joys and Concerns” format. But I want to share one model that was so moving, so authentic, and so participatory that I was moved to tears.

The UU Church of Akron, Ohio has developed a ritual where the minister and a member of the Pastoral care team stand by a rack of candles while meditative music plays. Members, friends and visitors line up, and
the pastors connect with each person as they light a candle. Whispered words of gratitude, grief or joy might accompany the lighting.  Each person is heard, and each sharing is acknowledged in a satisfyingly personal way.

During that ritual, I could feel how deeply that community loved each other, and how deeply they were open to loving the strangers within their midst.

I’m not suggesting that this ritual is right for every congregation. But I do want every congregation to be as intentional about being a community of care for the newcomers as well as the established members. You can see this ritual in action in the congregation’s welcome video:

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Consultant, Central East Region

Re-Invigorating Social Justice Ministries

Photo Copyright Peter Bowden/UUA
Photo Copyright Peter Bowden/UUA

I’ve been hearing stories from different congregations where the Social Justice Ministries are re-inventing and re-invigorating themselves by finding out the potential sweet spot where the congregation’s mission, capacity and will meets the needs and potential impact of the community.

Here is a story from the Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, associate minister of the UU Congregation at Asheville, NC.

Once upon a time… There was a congregation whose Social Justice Council met at noon on a weekday. There were a small group of regulars who came to meet, all retirees but one, who came on her lunch break from work. All of them mostly did their own projects in the name of the church. One day, after a lot of convincing, they decided to change the meeting to a more widely accessible evening time. It took a while for the changes to catch on, but eventually, more people came, and more projects got started.

Then, the Earth & Social Justice Ministry (its name had been changed to reflect the intentions of the group) held an Open Space Technology event with childcare provided, in which lots of congregants of all ages got together and decided what issues they wanted to work on together. It was exciting and inspiring.

And then one day the steering committee observed that it was difficult for parents of young children to participate in the congregation’s justice work, so they proposed a weeknight of action (Action Wednesdays) in which groups would all get together and meet at the same time — that way they could provide childcare, and there would be multi-generational interactions and cross-pollination between groups, letter writing, phone banking, etc.

We don’t know yet if they will all live happily ever after, but what we DO know is that the reason this new thing was proposed is that there was a parent with young children on the steering committee, which not only normalized their experiences, but also put the voice of the need for childcare and other support for parents to be in the room where it happens. Five years from the change of meeting time to this new event. Institutional change is slow, but it does happen.

People Get Ready, Part 1

Following the shock of this week’s presidential election and the social turmoil it has welcoming-vs-otheringprecipitated, UU Churches should expect an influx of first-time visitors and returning old friends. On social media, people are looking for community and are being pointed to our congregations. Gone are the days when a liberals asked with puzzlement, “You’re a Uni-What?”

We need to be ready, this Sunday. We need to be at our best, showing up on the Side of Love, and ready to meet people where they are. We need to encounter one another without assumptions and stereotypes clouding our interactions.

What you can do:

  • Print and share this 2-sided welcoming tips card with your greeters (both formal in informal) so they can practice open-ended questions.
  • Add intercultural communication skills to your greeter training, such as this Welcome Table course.
  • Signal that your congregation includes allies of marginalized groups. Have a bowl of safety pins and a copy of this article explaining what they are for.  You may even want to incorporate passing them out as part of the Sunday service of part of our commitment to bend the arc of the universe toward justice, one human encounter at a time.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

The Bubble of Beloved Community

Sometimes, living in a bubble can be a good thing. It can create a barrier between harmful things on the outside and precious things on the insidebubble-by-serg-c.

In some ways, our congregational covenants operate in this way. They articulate that “in this community, this is how we will be together.” We promise to treat one another not only with respect, but with a sense of mutuality so that every one of us can flourish. We promise to work toward becoming our best selves, to learn from our mistakes and to help one another learn and grow.

As religious liberal communities, especially in the current climate of hateful rhetoric, we have a responsibility to model to the rest of the world how we believe people should treat one another. When our congregations are at their best, the are truly communities of people who care deeply and feel cared for.

The funny thing about bubbles is that–no matter how beautiful they may be–it’s human nature to want to pop them. It’s also not uncommon in human nature for some of us to want to pop the fragile bubble of beloved community. This is why our congregations must keep and renew our covenants with the same patience and persistence as a parent blowing bubbles for a toddler.

But sometimes more than a gentle reminder is needed when one of us is out of covenant. If someone persists with a behavior that is hurting the community, congregational leaders need to rely on good, faithful policies to address disruptive behavior. If someone is using racist, sexist, sexual or threatening language, the leaders have a responsibility to step up and stop the behavior, and the members of the congregation has a responsibility to support them in setting those limits.

Now might be a good time to review and refresh your congregation’s covenant as well as your safety policies, especially around disruptive behavior. Let’s keep our bubbles intact.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff

Resources:

http://www.uua.org/safe/disruptive-behavior-policies

https://www.uua.org/leadership/skills/conflict

Never Call Them Jerks By Arthur Paul Boers

 

Church Governance Should Serve, Not Rule

Rev. David Pyle
Rev. David Pyle

Congregations often look to the corporate and not-for-profit worlds for models of leadership, organizational development, fundraising and volunteer management. Unfortunately, they also look there for models of governance to the detriment of their core purpose.  Congregations are ground in covenant, not bound in contract, so the relationship between minister and governing boards should not copy the relationship between a CEO and a corporate board.

Rev. David Pyle, Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region, recently shared what congregational governance should look like on his Facebook Page:

1. The purpose of church is not governance.

The purpose of church is mission. The purpose of church is transforming lives to transform the world. Governance is important only as it helps you to live your mission in the world. If you are spending more time on governance than you are on mission, something is wrong. Governance should free your congregation for mission, not serve as a replacement for mission.

2. Corporate style governance systems were not designed for religious community.

Neither were traditional non-profit governance systems. Both import an adversarial mindset between the Governing Board and the Executive that is detrimental to religious mission. Both depend on the Board’s ability to terminate the Executive, which Congregational Boards often cannot do (called ministry). You can make corporate or traditional non-profit governance systems work in congregations, and it takes significant energy and effort, often detracting that effort and energy from mission.

3. There is no perfect governance system.

Governance is about providing some order to the power relationships amongst human beings working together for a common purpose… and human beings are endlessly creative, messy, and chaotic. Governance is far more art than science, because human beings are infinitely complex. Good governance is a creative compromise, and it takes leaders who keep their eye on mission. Good governance is about how can we best all build the “world made whole”.

4. There are many forms of good governance.

Almost as many as their are churches. I am not picky. If Policy Governance helps you best fulfill your mission, then Amen Hallelujah! If having an Operational Board works best for you, then Amen Hallelujah! I even know a Portfolio Board or two that achieve mission well, and a few Family Model congregations who kick serious mission butt. I am not a Governance Fundamentalist. Because it is your religious mission that is vital, not necessarily how you get there. Whatever you do, do what best leads you to mission.

5. Institutional structures come, and institutional structures go.

They are tools, not talismans. They must change as time and culture changes. It is religious mission that remains. Neither Jesus nor Buddha founded significant church structures or governance, they left that to their followers. They focused on religious mission. If your governance is supporting your religious mission, amen. If not, then change tools. But realize they are only tools (including Congregational polity). Letting governance or polity replace mission as the center of our religious focus is a form of idolatry. Our eyes must be on the mission of transformed lives that transform the world, and we must craft tools that best help us to achieve that.

Especially Congregational governance.

Finding Your Governance “Sweet Spot”

governance_and_ministryCongregational governance is an art. Church leaders need to learn how to navigate the line between governance and ministry.  In other non-profits, there are different parties to consider:

  • The Board sets mission & vision, makes policy and assures fiduciary responsibility
  • The CEO and staff carry out the mission
  • The Donors help support the mission with their financial gifts
  • The Beneficiaries are the “object” of the non-profit’s mission

In the congregational world, members of the board don’t just govern, they are also donors and beneficiaries and–at times–staff (when they are also serving as part of a ministry such as being a worship associate or being a pastoral visitor). In other words, church governance is a little bit messy.

There is no one-size-fits-all kind of governance for congregations, but there are resources to help UU congregations navigate a governance change. One is the consultants at Unity Consulting, who have adapted John Carver’s Policy Governance® for congregations.

Another is Dan Hotchkiss, former Alban Institute consultant and UUA staff member, and the author of Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership.  Rev. Hotchkiss has just released a second edition of Governance and Ministry.  I had the opportunity to interview him about what he learned since writing the first edition, and about the significant changes compared to the first edition:

 

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Congregational Life Consultant

Additional resources mentioned in this blog and interview:

Books:

Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership, Second Edition by Dan Hotchkiss

Mobilizing Congregations: How Teams Can Motivate Members and Get Things Done by John W. Wimberly Jr.

When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations by Rev. Susan Beaumont and Gil Rendle

Consultants:

Your UUA Regional Staff

Congregational Consulting Group

Unity Consulting

Are Your Church’s Retirement Benefits “Legal?”

January is always a good time for a church to take stock of its fiduciary responsibilities. Rev. Richard Nugent, the UUA Church Staff Finances Director, has some important advice for UU congregations, in particular about how congregations administer their retirement plans:


Congregations are legal entities required to comply with all sorts of legal requirements. While religious institutions

Rev. Richard Nugent, Church Staff Finances Director
Rev. Richard Nugent, Church Staff Finances Director

might be exempt from a FEW legal requirements, churches are NOT exempt from most. This includes many requirements stemming from being an employer.

Today’s post pertains to the UU Organizations Retirement Plan. Our plan is a 401(a)/401(k) non-electing church plan. It is governed by IRS and US Labor Department rules. It is also governed by a plan document that every participating congregation has adopted/re-adopted in 2014 or 2015. In adopting our plan, by motion of your governing board, your congregation committed to abide by the rules of the plan (and hopefully federal regulations).

What does this mean:

1) All employees (and all means all) must be offered enrollment in the plan for purposes of making their own employee contributions toward their retirement.

2) All new employees, who never worked for a UUA-related organization before, MUST receive employer contributions after meeting the requirement of 12 months of employment during which they worked 1,000 hours or more. If someone previously worked for a UUA-related organization and was enrolled in our plan, then they must receive employer contributions from day one of employment. New ministers who completed a UUA-related internship are also eligible immediately. After meeting the 1,000 hour/12 month requirement, if anyone’s hours are reduced, they still receive employer contributions. Essentially, once in our plan, always in our plan.

3) Personnel policies that limit eligibility for retirement benefits to certain employees DO NOT TRUMP THE UUA REQUIREMENTS. Our requirements rule, and congregations agreed to that when they signed on to our plan. .

4 All employees eligible for employer contributions must receive the SAME percentage contribution. THE MINISTER CAN NOT RECEIVE 10% OR MORE WHILE EVERYONE ELSE RECEIVES 5%. This is not allowed by our plan and in violation of IRS regulations. I am happy to discuss this with anyone who finds their congregation in this situation.

5) The minimum employer contribution is 5%. 86% of congregations contribute 10% or more. Fair Compensation requires an offer of 10% or more. People need to put away 14% of their salary to ensure the possibility of retirement.

6) If you believe your congregation might be in violation of these policies, please contact me to discuss how you can legally come into compliance.

7) For any questions about our plan, the very helpful and informative Linda Rose directs our retirement plan. As a spouse of a UU minister, Linda understands congregational dynamics. Linda can be reached at retirement@uua.org.

We at the UUA are appreciative of all the hard work you do, and the challenge of keeping up with administrative details.

Reverend Richard Nugent, UUA Church Staff Finances Director

 

Keeping Your Laundry Out of the Living Room

house sideBelonging to and being a part of a community is an important aspect of congregational life. Many of our members think of their congregations as a second home and think of the other members as part of their extended family. The relationships that we create and nurture by sharing the details of our lives are an important part of the glue that binds us.

The problem is that the existing, integrated members’ needs for intimacy is in tension with providing hospitality for those who are newer or even visiting for the first time.  How do we balance that tension?  We can still take our cues from how families operate.

Imagine how a congregation is like an American middle-class house.

Curb Appeal

In a private residence, these are all-access public spaces like the front porch and yard, that are visible to all and should be inviting and clearly marked.

These are the outside parts of our buildings, our parking lots and gardens and our website. We let the world know who we are and what we care about, in language they can understand.

Open House

Then we have inside semi-public spaces where we provide hospitality to non-family such as in an open-house party: the living room and dining room. We provide comfortable seating and make sure people are safe and can participate as they wish. We make sure everyone is included in the conversation without being put on the spot. We refrain from over-sharing. When offering refreshments we make sure that everyone can partake, offering gluten-free, caffeine-free and non-alcoholic choices.

These are our Sunday morning worship and fellowship times. This is where newcomers come to learn about us without being put on the spot. We get a chance to get to know them through engaged–but not too personal–conversation.  This means we try to avoid behaviors that might “creep people out” or make them feel like outsiders.

Dinner with Good Friends

Then we have the close-friends spaces such as the kitchen table and back porch.  These are the spaces for more intimate sharing between people who already have relationships.

These might be covenant groups, chalice circles or cottage meetings in our congregations.

Doing the Laundry

Then there are the family-only spaces (bedrooms, laundry and rumpus room). These are spaces where we can be ourselves, let our hair down, fuss about the neighbors or perhaps whine about whose turn it is to scoop the litter box.

In our congregations, the equivalent spaces might be town hall discussions where we make space to hear one another and meetings of committees, boards and the “congregation in meeting” where decisions are made.

What does this mean for our congregations?

Sunday Mornings

This is your congregation’s “open house” time.  As many of our parents say, “Church is here to remind us that it’s not ‘all about me.'”  Sunday worship is a public expression of who we are (our DNA or core values expressed in our mission) and who we aspire to be (our aspirational values as expressed in our vision and strategic plan).  A competent minister has a finger on this pulse of the congregation.

How we support and care for one another must be expressed in a way that is inclusive and welcoming.  If you have a fellowshipped UU minister who is an active UUMA member, they will have the wisdom to find out the best practices from their colleagues.  (It’s rare that a congregation over 100 members can do this well with an “open mic” Joys & Sorrows format.)

The time of fellowship (often called “coffee hour”) is our opportunity to provide hospitality to the newcomer — not just a chance to connect with dear friends.  Congregations who have a commitment to growth have leaders who covenant (promise) one another to refrain from conducting business and personal conversation until 30-45 minutes after the service ends.

Your Semi-Public Space

Once people walk through your doors, you will want to make sure you have a clear, consistent message, from your signage (where are the restrooms), to your greeters (where should one sit), to how new parents can know how their children will be kept safe.

If your congregation provides gender-neutral bathrooms or accommodations for people with hearing disabilities (such as a loop system) or other initiatives that may be unfamiliar to newcomers, be sure to have trained greeters, ushers and other welcoming volunteers to help new people acclimate.

Tend to the Laundry

If there is an active conflict in your congregation, do not give in to the temptation to process it in the public and semi-public spaces. In fact, any active conflict affects visitors, who can feel the tension when they walk through your doors.

Instead, make sure that you have opportunities to “do the laundry” in your congregation with town hall and cottage meetings when ever there is an issue that is eliciting conflict.

The world need our saving message of rational thought and universal love.  Let’s be sure to open our doors and set our tables so we can invite people to hear that message.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, UUA Congregational Life Staff