Mar. 21, 2023.
By David Michael, Treasurer, UUCF Board of Directors.
This year’s annual pledge campaign – “What If” – is about possibilities. As people return to campus and others find us for the first time, and as rental and other revenue are going up, we have a window of opportunity. What if we were to meet this year’s ambitious pledge goal? What if we were to become full stakeholders of UUCF? This opportunity, while real, faces headwinds. Religious participation in this country is declining. Church membership has declined significantly since 2000, and UU membership has also fallen since 2010. As the Treasurer on your Board of Directors, I’m here to inform you of our financial situation and issue a call to action.
We’ve had a challenging decade. At UUCF, we’ve had a decade of declining income and increasing expenses. Over the past decade we’ve lost 30% of our pledge units – that’s 136 households. This is a loss of over $200,000 annually in pledge revenue. We’ve survived without this revenue by increasing rental income, spending prudently, and deferring annual maintenance and upgrades. We’re now running deficits, as annual expenses have overtaken income the last 2 years.
What does the future hold? Let’s project these trends forward 5 years. Instead of actual trend data, let’s optimistically assume a smaller decrease of only 10 pledge units per year, and a smaller expense increase of only 2% per year. Using these more optimistic projections, after 5 years we’ll have a budget gap of $368,000. This translates to a cut in 5 years of up to 31% of staff and programs. As substantial as this deficit would be, know that if trends continue unabated, we could be in even a worse financial situation. In either situation we will face difficult choices. What will we choose to let go of? Music and Arts? Religious Exploration? Social Justice? Pastoral Care? Our campus? Our ministers?
Single-year analyses are misleading. This 5-year projection avoids the false complacency that happens when we look at our numbers one year at a time. In any one year the budget challenge feels manageable. Every year expenses are cut further, staff do without salary increases, and necessary maintenance and upgrades are deferred. After 10 years of this practice, there is nowhere left to cut. The disruption to the Sunday service livestream is just one impact among many of our dwindling resources. It’s important that you know where we stand and where we are heading, as we need the full picture to create our future.
How do we fix this? This year’s annual giving campaign goal is $1,040,000 – a 25% increase in last year’s pledges. Meeting this goal would restore $200,000 lost over the past decade and allow a basic level of support of staff, facilities maintenance, and payment of the full UUA fee. Optimizing pledges is an important step we can take now. We are truly at an inflection point, and we have an important choice to make as each of us determines what to pledge.
Thinking differently about our Pledges is essential. Our mission statement can help: “To transform ourselves, our community and the world through acts of love and justice.” This mission statement suggests that to transform our community and the world, we must first transform ourselves. What does this mean? Let me tell you how my own family’s thinking about pledging has shifted over time.
When we first arrived at UUCF 15 years ago, I’d write a check for $25 and put it in the Share-the-Plate every Sunday. That $25 a week seemed fair as it amounted to over $1,000 in a year, way more than we gave to other charities. We later made a formal online pledge and increased it every year. As you can see in this pledge pyramid, our pledge was similar to what two-thirds of us at the bottom two brackets now pledge – up to $200 or so a month. When UUCF held its last full capital campaign in 2013, Mark Magee came by our home and talked to us about supporting it. After considerable discussion, our family made a 5-year capital campaign pledge on top of our annual operating pledge. We had become more embedded at UUCF by then. Our daughters attended RE and OWL, Hanh and I were teaching RE, facilitating covenant groups, serving on committees, attending events, and, as I like to say, becoming a little more human.
Think of your Pledge as a car payment. A couple of years ago, a UU friend spoke about his monthly pledge amount as a “car payment”. That stayed with me, mostly because it seemed like a lot to pay for a pledge. Once I joined the Board I got to see more clearly where our money goes and learned that pledges – 80% of UUCF’s income – drive all the good work done here. I kept thinking about my friend’s comment of his pledge as a monthly “car payment.” You make that car payment because you need a car to get around, right? And I thought about how important UUCF has become to me, and asked myself “Is UUCF as important as having a car?” My answer was “Yes”, as this congregation helps me get around better in so many ways.
How big a “car payment” are we talking about? We have an old Mazda6 and an even older Prius – the iconic UU car! I Googled the cost to finance a new Prius and learned a 2023 Prius LE has an MSRP of $28,545 and can be financed with no money down at 8.9% over 72 months for $514 a month. That’s one answer – $514 a month, or what we can call the “Prius Standard” for making your pledge. Of course, your own pledge will fit your individual circumstances. Maybe your pledge is like financing an older Prius, or you’ve got a trade-in or are putting money down, so your car payment will be different. That’s okay. Or maybe you’re driving an Audi or a Benz. That’s good, too, as there’s always room at the top of the pledge pyramid.
We transform ourselves by thinking differently about Pledging. I began to think about pledging in terms of the full value UUCF holds for me and our family. Thinking of pledging as a “car payment” is one way to open us to a deeper understanding of pledging and how we can better support UUCF. In my own family, thinking more deeply about pledging led my wife, Hanh, and me to consider whether we could support the pledge goals set over the last two years. After considerable discussion and discernment, we were able to support these pledge goals by increasing our pledge by over 25% both last year and this year. In the words of Generosity Team Chair Pete Krone, it’s moved us from being simply participants here to being stakeholders. Your own discussion and discernment can lead you to a pledge that reflects the full value UUCF holds for you, as reflected by your own circumstances.
If we’re going to transform our community and the world through acts of love and justice, we first must transform ourselves. We find ourselves with a significant financial challenge, yet it is a challenge that offers us the opportunity to think differently about how we pledge. If we are able, we need to move away from the incrementalism of pledging just a little more than last year, because that incrementalism keeps us from considering the full value UUCF holds for us. Consider how important it is for UUCF to be here to transform us, our community and the world. We can do all of this if we meet our pledge goal. Whether you’ve made your pledge or haven’t yet done so, consider thinking more deeply about your pledge and raising it courageously if you are able. Your act can be a statement of your values and a commitment to the future we will create together. We can do this! What if our collective efforts lead us to meet this year’s pledge goal of $1,040,000 to provide a financially sustainable budget for UUCF?
Think about your pledge like a car payment. Is UUCF at least as important as a car? My answer is still “Yes.” Thank you for courageously making or raising your pledge so that UUCF can continue to take us places your car will never go.