$1.3 million deficit surprises UUA administration, board

Tim Brennan describes deficit, June 24, 2014 (Nancy Pierce/UUA)

Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer, addressed the Board of Trustees about the UUA’s $1.3 million year-end deficit during the board’s June 24, 2014, meeting as President Peter Morales and Moderator Jim Key listen. (Nancy Pierce/UUA)

The Unitarian Universalist Association will end the fiscal year on June 30 with an unexpected $1.3 million deficit. The Board of Trustees met with the UUA administration this afternoon, June 24, to ask how they had all been taken by surprise by a drop in revenue from major gifts to the UUA’s $24 million operating budget. The administration agreed to submit a revised budget with lower revenue projections for the new fiscal year by August 1, and said it was reviewing staff procedures to understand what had gone wrong.

On June 18, President Peter Morales alerted the board’s executive committee that the UUA had failed to raise approximately $1.5 million of $2.4 million it had projected as revenue from unrestricted major gifts. On June 20—last Friday—he notified the full board about the deficit. He also sent a memo to staff that day informing them that the Rev. Terry Sweetser, vice president of Stewardship and Development, had told senior staff about the shortfall earlier in the week.

“This was a shock to me, a shock to us, and clearly a shock to the board,” Morales told the trustees during their pre-General Assembly meeting in Providence, R.I. “In retrospect I should have seen some things coming, and responded to early indicators.”

Tim Brennan, treasurer and chief financial officer, presented updated figures to the board, identifying a $1.2 million shortfall in major gifts. The total deficit is $1.353 million.

Morales and Brennan told the board that the UUA would spend the next month examining staff procedures and preparing a modified budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

(In March, Sweetser announced his plans to step down at the end of GA from his role as head of Stewardship and Development.)

The board’s Finance Committee chair, the Rev. Sarah Stewart, responded to the administration’s presentation by telling her colleagues, “We need to be in an accountable relationship, but not an adversarial relationship.”

Stewart said the executive committee had asked Morales “for an action plan to fix systemic problems so the board can be confident in the budget.” She proposed having trustees examine income projections for each proposed budget three months prior to voting on the full budget. The board currently reviews and approves the budget each April.

Financial Adviser Larry Ladd did challenge Morales: “The president needs to be the chief fundraiser. That should be an expectation of the board.”

“Major donors give more and feel more obligated to give if they’re engaged with the CEO,” Ladd added.

The Rev. Rob Eller Isaacs, a trustee, said the practice of budgeting unsecured major gifts in the operating budget “needs to stop.” “Relying on major donors to balance the budget is a very old, time-honored tradition among us,” he said, but “it represents a cultural motif that we are attempting to overturn.”

Delegates will hear more about the UUA’s finances during General Session presentations on Friday morning and in a budget hearing immediately afterward.

New metrics draw praise

In other business Tuesday, trustees refined a set of principles they will introduce to delegates and use in reimagining General Assembly. Trustees also reviewed a report about how the UUA responds to allegations of misconduct by religious professionals in congregations, which Moderator Jim Key and other trustees will present on Friday.

And trustees responded enthusiastically to a presentation by the administration on its metrics—a topic that has generated tense conversation in past years. The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s program and strategy officer, introduced a Congregational Self-Assessment Tool the UUA has developed. Congregations will find the tool useful to themselves, she said, while giving the UUA insight into the data it collects from them. (The Congregational Self-Assessment Tool is included in the written report the administration submitted, beginning on page 21.)

The Rev. Harlan Limpert, chief operating officer, thanked Policy Governance consultant Eric Craymer for the work he has done with the board and administration to develop a meaningful and useful approach to metrics. Moderator Key moved that the board accept the report “with gratitude,” which they did.

The board will complete its pre-GA meeting Wednesday morning, after which two trustees— Natalia Averett and the Rev. Clyde Grubbs—will complete their terms. Two newly elected trustees will join the board on Monday, June 30, after the conclusion of this week’s GA.

  • Larry Ladd

    This is Larry Ladd, the UUA Financial Advisor. It’s the revenue side of the budget that can bite you, so its important that the administration and board most closely monitor revenue. And, in recent years, the UUA began to use major gifts to fund operations, which is a mistake. The financial results are the consequence of that unfortunate practice. My “fundraiser” were broader comments, but I made them because the relationship to major donor shouldn’t be left to mid-level administrators.

  • mperloe

    Can’t recall the last time that any UUA reps invited major donors to a local small group get-together to hear from leaders and offer feedback.

  • Jim Sechrest

    A budget is just a budget. Major gifts can be used to fund operations. There is nothing wrong with that. It is just hard to budget what the amount of major gifts will be. Instead of targeting the President for the failure of the major gifts to reach the preselected budget level, just revise the budget to a much more realistic expectation than what was in the budget. You under-estimate gifts, and over-estimate operating expenses in a budget. A budget is just that. A budget. It’s just a budget.

  • Sue Hausamann Henshaw

    Why does the budget on the UUA website have no line for salaries? What percentage of the highest paid UUA employee does the lowest paid employee make? How much did the branding campaign cost? How does someone find out the salaries of UUA employees who are really employees of those sitting in our congregations?

  • Steve Majerus-Collins

    The church’s finances should be completely transparent, online and simple to follow. All of our employees should be named, with their job titles, and have their salaries posted. They work for us, after all.

  • Sue Hausamann Henshaw

    Over the past year, I have asked over and over again about the salaries.. and I was told someone else had that information. So I asked again. I wanted to brag that in our faith the highest full time employee only makes … more than the lowest… never got an answer. Asked about the branding campaign. never got an answer. Asked how much it cost for the Standing on the Side of Love campaign in AZ and just maybe that money could have been used to establish a law office in the area to help those seeking citizenship but no answer

  • Marie DeYoung

    As a retired UU minister, I teach in a high poverty racially balanced rural Louisiana School District. You can discern my salary by accessing my school district website, adding my years of education/years of service. Salaries should be transparent, of course. That being said, I am extremely disappointed that in our denominational demographic of high-end income members, we are so extremely stingy in our giving. I am extremely disappointed that clergy and other board members pointed the finger at our President, when in fact, it is THEIR job, and the job of congregational leaders, to raise the funds for us to have an adequate public voice as the faith of progressive liberal compassionate loving humans. Walk the walk, people! Or, face the consequences, when hopeful visitors realize we are all talk, no walk!

  • nelliefb

    I would look at the list of major donors to the UUSC to find the shortfall -

  • Sue Hausamann Henshaw

    So what happened at the business meeting?

  • john lawrence

    To Sue and you, thanks for echoing my concerns about transparency and the UUA. I still haven’t been able to find out what the “outside consultant” actually did for us. Is a 28 page list of guidelines(for one example) really helping us or is it just more blah-blah in a world already filled with “blah”. Why do we need highly paid people sitting around generating great quantities of “blah”?

  • john lawrence

    Yay, Sue. You expressed some of my concerns exactly.

  • Tet Gallardo

    No answer again? Unbelievable!

  • Sue Hausamann Henshaw

    So, has anyone heard anything more about this deficit? How is going to be handled?

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