Board Buzz: President’s Report, May 2019

by Tom Doe, Board President

With the Holly House vote behind us, a major focus of the Board is shifting to the budget and our Mission Fund Drive. Last Sunday and this Sunday, members of the Mission Fund Drive team will be prominent around the campus provide encouragement to get your pledge cards submitted. While it is understandable the Mission Fund Drive took a backseat to the Holly House vote, our pledges remain the most important income source for funding for church. Without pledge information it is difficult to prepare a budget for next year. The Fund Drive team has been scheduling member dinners to help with building our community. We are still looking for volunteers to host, and we hope to include all church members in this activity over the next several months.

Following the budget town hall meetings in April, a second round will occur in May with proposed budgets based on feedback from the members. Keep your eyes open for the announcements and please plan to attend.

One complement of the budget town halls will be some work that I have been doing looking at our pledge history over the past decade or so. One thing that is clear is our membership and the number of pledges have been falling since about 2008, the onset of the global economic recession. The decrease in pledging has largely been offset by increases in the average pledge amount as well as increases in rental income that our Executive Director has worked hard at utilizing our facilities, especially the parking lot during weekday hours. Also over the past four years we have made major strides in properly compensating our staff both in providing healthcare and in bringing our salaries to UUA midpoint levels for regions with similar costs of living. Fairness to our dedicated ESUC staff is an important core value.

We have managed these increases in costs at the same time we have had decreases in pledges, again, thanks to the increase in our average pledges and increases in rental income. However, those trends have limits and they are not sustainable. Our campus and our staff are sized to a church that we were several years ago but are not today. As the Financial Stewardship Committee under Claudia Hirshey has pointed out in the five-year financial plan and our discussions of the Holly House vote, the solution lies in growing the church. While the membership and pledging trends are not as obviously impactful to our church as a fire or earthquake, they do constitute a crisis to our sustainability as an organization, albeit a manageable one if we are willing to commit a portion of wealth to invest in its solution.

The current budget discussions include several things needed for church growth including expansion of our music programs, our adult programs, and our outreach. We are currently discussing the possibility of using Endowment money (with possible payback from Holly House funds), to do some of the following:

  • increase Aisha Hauser, Director of Lifelong Learning from three quarters time to full time, with a refocus of her time to reflect for expanded goals in right relations and anti-racism through adult programs
  • increase Amanda Uluhan, our RE program coordinator to full time to focus on our children and youth programs under Aisha’s supervision
  • hire a part time office administrator to cover Amanda’s current 1/4 time in that role and free our Membership Development Manager, Nicole Duff, to concentrate on membership growth and development activities full time
  • increase our Director of Music, Eric Lane Barnes, ¾ time to enhance our music programs both in worship and through activities like East Shore Live.

Further details on these proposed changes will be presented in the budget town hall meetings and materials distributed for the annual meeting, June 9. These investments need to be tied to a strategic plan that looks at the wise use of our wealth. That plan needs to look at our resources holistically – campus, endowment, and Holly House proceeds, as well as the most important resources of all – our membership and our mission. Also, investments will need to be tied to growth objectives. Continuing beyond 2020 the proposed increases in staff time and allocations of resources will have to in some way be contingent on having growth in the pledge income.

All investments have risk. There is no assurance we will be able to grow the church. The staff hopes to fashion much of their 2019-20 programming on becoming a radically hospitable congregation—where visitors can’t help but want to join. We have a compelling mission that should resonate with our larger community. We would be unfaithful to our mission if we don’t invest in our programs to do our best to grow our church.