Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Giving 7% of Our Operating Expenses Seems Like a Big Increase

by Bill Clontz, Stewardship Consultant

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. 

Q: An amount based on 7% of our Certified Operating Expenditures seems like a big increase to what we were contributing to the UUA previously. Why is that?

A: Remember that GIFT replaces not one, but two, calculations and contribution systems. GIFT includes both contributions to the UUA and to the region. What had been two formulas and two contributions is now one formula and one contribution. When most congregations compare their previous two-system amounts to what is asked of them by GIFT, they find the new system is simpler and in most cases asks no more from them. 

Q: I understand the calculation basis is 7% or our Certified Operating Expenses. However, I have heard that some congregations are contributing as little as 5% and still have been certified as Honor Congregations in supporting the UUA. What is the story about that variance?

A: The covenantal nature of our faith is mutual. The UUA recognized that the move to a 7% ask under GIFT might represent a challenge for a few congregations, so the UUA wanted to offer support to congregations with a plan to get to the full ask amount. Therefore during the first year of the GIFT program, congregations were accorded full Honor Congregation status when contributing at 5% or higher. This year, contributions of 6% or above will be considered Honor, but this too is a temporary “stopping place” on the way to the full 7%. Next year, 7% contributions will be Honor level. Remember, no increases were built into the GIFT program. The GIFT program is a more equitable funding program, but only if those who are asked to give do so. When we contribute less, less is available to support our wider goals and support structure.



Questions? Contact your Southern Region Primary Contact (if you do not know who serves as your Primary Contact, identify them at http://uuasouthernregion.org/staff/primarycontact.html

You may also contact the UUA Congregational Giving Director, Rev. Vail Weller, at vweller@uua.org or utilize the dedicated GIFT inquiry email address at southerngenerosity@uua.org 


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why the change from membership to Certified Operating Expenses for calculating contributions?

by Bill Clontz

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examining the question: Why the change from membership to Certified Operating Expenses for calculating contributions?

A: For a LOT of us, the old membership based system was badly flawed, and we were glad to leave it behind. It felt like a poll tax and had a number of inherent problems. Basing our calculations on the basis of membership had two important flaws.

One, there is no standard definition of what constitutes membership across the UUA. Some people are surprised to hear this, but in our tradition of congregational polity, each congregation makes their own determination. In some, one need only sign the book. In some a pledge is required, in others, a contribution of record is required. Some make a minimum amount of volunteer service as criteria for full membership. Some have other categories, such as emeritus members.  In short, the previous system was based on a key element in which there was no common standard, and so as an unintended consequence, congregations contributed disproportionately more or less than another congregation that may have looked identical, but had different definitions of membership.

Two, the previous system often led to discussions as to whether someone was “really a member,” not out of a sense of community and inclusiveness, but because declaring someone a member incurred a cost to the congregation. This is not the basis upon which we should want to think about the commitment to membership, or to our faith.  



Questions? Contact your Southern Region Primary Contact (if you do not know who is your Primary Contact, identify them at http://uuasouthernregion.org/staff/primarycontact.html
You may also contact the UUA Congregational Giving Director, Rev. Vail Weller, at vweller@uua.org  or utilize the dedicated GIFT inquiry email address at southernregiongenerosity@uua.org

Friday, May 15, 2015

How Are Certified Operating Expenses Calculated?

Thinking about GIFT FAQs: 

Why Should We Support the Region and the UUA?

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on its web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examining this question: 

Q: How are the expenditures calculated against which the 7% gifts are applied? Is this applied to the entire congregational budget?


A: This is a topic that comes up often, and it’s an important one. Try as the UUA has to keep things simple and clear, developing a formula to fit us all is a complex task, and so its not surprising that there is some confusion from time to time as to what the formula means. Let’s break it down.

First and foremost, the 7% calculation is not based on the entire budget of a congregation, but on those elements common to just about all congregations. The number to which the 7% is applied is know as The Certified Operating Expenditures, as reported by each congregation every year – we tell the UUA what that number is, using terms and definitions established by the UUA in accordance with standard accounting procedures and terminology. 

Certified Operating Expenses common to all congregations are included in the calculation base. Congregations begin with their Operating Expenses, which may include:

  • Personnel expenses (salaries, amounts paid to contract employees, wages, housing allowances for ordained ministers)
  • Benefits (medical, dental, disability, life insurance, pension, employer retirement savings contributions, employer portion of Social Security and Medicare)
  • Rent
  • Mortgage interest expense
  • Utilities (electric, gas, telephone, internet, water/sewer, municipal waste fees, heating oil)
  • Other costs of operating and maintaining the property (ongoing non-capital expenses such as lawn maintenance, annual contributions to major maintenance or restoration fund, repair of normal wear and tear)
  • Program expenses (religious education supplies and materials, social action programming)
  • Fundraising and administration expenses

From these expenses, the following are then DEDUCTED:


  • Contributions to GIFT program
  • Prior Year Total Capital Expenditures (which varies, but could include mortgage principle or other capital expenditures not related to regular maintenance)


A full definition and a calculation tool may be found on the UUA web site at http://www.uua.org/giving/apf/apf-gift-resources/operating-expenditures-calculator
Here you will find definitions, exceptions, and a point of contact for related questions.

The whole process is based upon a system of mutual trust, starting with our certified expenditures we send to the UUA. No one asks for proof of records: This is a mutual relationship, with trust flowing both ways. If you have a question about how to figure out your calculations that the link above does not answer, please don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss it.




Sunday, May 3, 2015

Does GIFT Ask More of Congregations Than the APF Did?

Thinking about GIFT FAQs: 
Why Should We Support the Region and the UUA?
by Bill Clontz, Stewardship Consultant


In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examining the question: 

Does the GIFT program ask a higher level of contribution for congregations than the previous system? How much more is being asked of congregations?

A: The short answer is no, for most of us the amount we are asked to contribute is about the same or less than under the old system. Important factors to remember (which some of us forget when thinking about GIFT) in considering this question are in bold text below.

The change in the amount requested from the current system will vary by congregation; you can easily compare what you were asked to pay previously (before the GIFT program) to what you are being asked to pay now. Keep in mind when calculating and comparing that the amount asked by GIFT program covers both the regional and the UUA funding requests (which would now be $86 per member under the earlier APF formula), and that the ask is based upon 7% of your certified congregational expenditures as reported by our congregation on myuua.org. and that the ask is based upon 7% of your certified congregational expenditures.

Under the GIFT program, the majority of our congregations are asked to remain at about the same level of contribution, or are asked for less. About 40% of our congregations have experienced an increase (most minor, but some significant). The system is designed to be a zero sum gain; that is, the Southern Region overall is not giving more than it did under the old system. Contributions at 7% of expenditures across all Southern Region congregations will fund the UUA and region at approximately the same level as they were previously; GIFT just spreads the cost more equitably. We are glad to work with congregations who are asked for more under GIFT to help them make a plan to get to full participation.


As always, your questions, comments, and suggestions are welcomed by your Regional Congregational Life Staff Primary Contact, the Congregational Giving Director, or at a dedicated email address at the UUA: southerngenerosity@uua.org.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why is the GIFT Pilot Being Done Only in the Southern Region?

Thinking about GIFT FAQs: 
Why Should We Support the Region and the UUA?
by Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examining a fundamental question: Why should we share our resources when congregations already feel financially challenged?

Q: Why is the GIFT pilot being done only in the Southern Region?

A: Although the mechanics of GIFT are reasonably straightforward, this sort of funding program represents a major change within the UUA. Such a major change is best launched first as a large-scale pilot program. After what is learned from GIFT has been studied and modifications made as needed, such a funding program will be considered throughout the UUA, but only at the pace that each district or region is ready for. The Southern Region was asked to take this on as the pilot program because this region’s progress toward regionalization and this region’s levels of giving by all measures have historically been among the best in the UUA. 

Put succinctly, the GIFT program is necessarily a large and complex initiative that connects directly to how we run things and to our culture as an Association.  Recognizing that, the approach has been designed to implement in one region first, to validate the concepts and prove out the technical aspects on a large enough scale to stress the system, but small enough to adjust without excessive repercussions. As we are learning the lessons of implementation, this is proving to be a wise course. It likely will take another 2-3 years to ensure we have this right. The basic approach is solid, but as always, the devil is in the details – we still have work to do.


The Southern Region took the lead as an exceptionally diverse and traditionally generous region. No other region could be a better trailblazer than the Southern Region.

As always, your questions, comments, and suggestions are welcomed by your Regional Congregational Life Staff Primary Contact, the Congregational Giving Director, or at a dedicated email address at the UUA: southerngenerosity@uua.org.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Is the GIFT Program Being Piloted Now?

Thinking about GIFT FAQs: 
Why Should We Support the Region and the UUA?
by Bill Clontz, UUA Stewardship Consultant

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examine the question of why conduct GIFT now.

As the question and response below note, this has been a long time coming, in response to a number of challenges. 

Q: Why is the GIFT program being piloted now?

A: Many of us have felt for some time that the methodology used to fund our district and national programs have been more cumbersome, multi-layered, and at least potentially unfair than should be the case. In addition, the existence of one approach for large congregations and another system for everyone else led to mistrust and discomfort in both large and small congregations.  The UUA was asked by many of us to reexamine our existing funding model with the goal of finding a better approach. Teams at the UUA and districts have been working on this problem for some time now; the GIFT program is the resulting solution. It was rolled out as a pilot program in one region to validate the concept and processes.


GIFT is designed to replace a system that was more cumbersome, had greater potential for unfairness, and lacked a clearly shared foundation. Developing a replacement system was an effort that took time and reflection. As soon as it was ready, GIFT was rolled out in this one region, a large and diverse region, to validate the concept and methodology.


As always, your questions, comments, and suggestions are welcomed by your Regional Congregational Life Staff Primary Contact, the Congregational Giving Director, or at a dedicated email address at the UUA: southerngenerosity@uua.org.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Should We Support the Region and the UUA?

by Bill Clontz

In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources. GIFT, Generously Investing For Tomorrow, is intended to be a simpler and more equitable program for providing the resources that enable our UUA and Southern Region team to serve our congregations and to represent our values and priorities at levels we could not do as individual congregations. 

To provide information and to encourage reflection on GIFT, the Southern Region has provided a number of GIFT information tools on this web site, including most recently a set of GIFT FAQs. This blog will, from time to time, focus on one of those FAQs in an expanded discussion. Today we are examining a fundamental question: Why should we share our resources when congregations already feel financially challenged?

As the question and response below emphasize, this goes in many ways to the heart of our relationships with each other, as individual Unitarian Universalists and as an Association of Congregations. 

Q: Congregations are financially strapped, not long in coming out of the recession (and some have yet to do so). We feel that our first obligation is to our own programs and ministries. Why should we support increased commitments that are expected from some to District, Region, and the UUA now?


A: Resources are indeed stretched, as they always are, and so we make any requests for resources carefully. The GIFT program was created with this reality in mind.

Ours is a covenantal Association.  We exist on the basis of mutuality. Each congregation expects the UUA to provide support, expertise, search and settlement assistance, religious education curricula, social justice resources, conflict management, and worship materials. The UUA is expected to represent us regionally, nationally, and globally, and to do those things we cannot do as effectively alone. In keeping with the mutuality that connects us, the UUA counts on congregations to provide the resources that in turn enable the Association to support congregations. us, 

The fact of the matter is that the covenantal nature of our Association means that congregations in your district and region, as well as in all other areas of the country, depend on your support. Your giving locally makes a strengthened Unitarian Universalism available to others. This is what your covenantal support means, and what it provides.  Our relationship is real-time, dynamic, and mutually supportive. We do not have the luxury of taking care of our home congregation first, and then supporting the UUA at some future date, or vice versa. Our tradition will not thrive without all of us participating at a generous level. The districts, regions, and the UUA have undertaken a wide range of cost saving measures, increased efficiencies, and are working hard to ensure best use of our shared precious resources. Staffing is lower at all levels and redundancies have been targeted. The organization is as lean as it has ever been. 

Much of this discussion will revolve around how we see ourselves as a larger community. If we are simply a thousand or so outposts out there alone, then our focus truly is inward, with the districts and the UUA being little more than servicing organizations. 

But as we increasingly see ourselves as an Association consisting of vibrant communities joined by covenant, then we will be both independent and networked. This vision allows us to mutually support each other, to reach those yet to find us, and to stand for our values in ways we cannot do just as individual congregations. If we believe that Unitarian Universalism has something significant to offer the world, then we need to commit to our Association and to each other by resourcing that relationship in a meaningful way.

In other words, the GIFT program is not simply a matter of what congregations get back from the UUA and district or region in return for funds. Rather, GIFT offers us the opportunity to put our values of interdependence, equity, and generosity into practice. 

There is nothing more important to most of us than the transforming inspiration we have experienced in our congregations. Our support of the GIFT program makes that experience available to people outside of the walls of our individual communities. We have a story to tell and work to do – and the only way we can do that, is together.

As noted before in this space, it has always been a source of concern and irritation to me that Unitarian Universalism is so small a movement; we have much to offer and should be a greater presence. One reason we find ourselves so is that we often focus inward, just on our individual congregations. This FAQ discussion reminds us that we are more than just a collection of congregations; we are part of something larger and of enormous potential. How well that potential is realized depends directly on us, and our willingness to share for the common good. 

As always, your questions, comments, and suggestions are welcomed by your Regional Congregational Life Staff Primary Contact, the Congregational Giving Director, or at a dedicated email address at the UUA: southerngenerosity@uua.org.



Bill Clontz is a stewardship consultant with The Stewardship for Us Team, supporting the UUA. Bill can be reached via bill@stewardshipforus.com,via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Network, (http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml ), or through your regional staff.
This blog has a new posting no less than once a month. You may find it and more at our website, www.stewardshipforus.com. You are welcome to sign up for stewardship updates at the blog. Comments and discussion are always welcome; share your experiences with us.