In the interest of communicating important Board work with our member congregations in a timely and effective manner, the UUA Board of Trustees has adopted a policy which directs us to send a letter summarizing critical information to our congregational leaders after each in-person meeting. This letter does not take the place of the official Board minutes, but rather attempts to bridge the gap between the end of any meeting and the time the minutes are approved and posted. Thanks to UUA Trustees Rev. Jake Morrill, Rev. Jeanne Pupke, Linda Laskowski, Joan Lund, Donna Harrison and Rev. Erik David Carlson for the content of this letter.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND MONITORING
Our Association faces many challenges. We are in a sea of change. Our congregations are all more or less engaged in the question about how our congregations and other U.U. communities can make a real difference in the world today. It is the Board’s role to make sure the question is being engaged not just in our congregations and local groups but in our Association as well. It is the Administration’s role to define what action best helps us all in this mission. It is both of our roles (Board and Administration) to see this is done well, sustainable and in a manner that is accountable to our member congregations and other sources of authority and accountability.
At the April meeting, the Board had a spirited discussion about how we can best be accountable to our congregations and other sources of authority and accountability: Can we provide assurance that the roughly $22 million in operating funds that we spend each year is being spent in ways that effectively and sustainably serve our mission and our values? This is arguably the single most important question that the Board is charged to answer. This is not a new conversation for this Board. And in many ways the urgency of answering it has been put under a spotlight as a result of the Board’s transition to Policy Governance.
To put the current situation succinctly: the Administration believes it is engaging in actions that effectively further our mission and our values. The Board, however, cannot say it knows this to be true. For the fourth year in a row, many of the Trustees did not feel the Administration’s monitoring reports were linking outcomes with expenditures. Several Trustees stated they could not in good conscience vote for the proposed budget without being able to know that the budget is being spent in ways that effectively and sustainably work towards the Ends of the Association. The Administration however has reported at various times that they cannot provide that information the Board asks for or that they are unclear in what the Board requires. Both parties have tried in good conscience over several years to figure out how to proceed more effectively but without a satisfactory result.
During the discussion of Ends monitoring reports at the April meeting, President Morales and members of the executive team again said that they cannot provide the reports that the Board needs. When we arrive at this point where the same problem recurs and the organization is stymied as a result, we cannot responsibly keep doing the same thing. The Board proposed – and the Administration immediately agreed — that we need more expertise than we have among us.
Your Board recognizes that $100,000 is a lot of money. Yet this is less than ½ of 1 percent of the annual operating budget for the UUA. And it is our focus on being accountable for the results achieved with the $22 million that drove the actions taken by the Board at the April meeting. Your Board has identified the need to secure the services of talented, neutral experts who know about such things as systems, structures, accountability, metrics and communications. We think it is important to solve a 51 year old challenge and to do it well. We don’t know if the cost will be less or more, but we are willing to spend up to this amount to maturely learn what it is that we all need to do in order that our Association be vital and accountable to all its member congregations. The board will authorize $100,000 from reserves to hire a consultant to do this.
The Board and the Administration will be working together to select the consultant, and we expect work to begin over the summer. Our plan is that by this time next year when the next budget is reviewed the Board and the Administration will be able to speak with clarity and authority about how the money that is donated to our Association is being used to fund programs in support of a strategic plan that is clearly in support of the Ends of the Association. We also expect able to talk about how we will assess whether the plan is achieving those goals. This will be the foundation for what we hope will be sustained and meaningful work by our Association over many years to come.
RESPONSE TO NEW ORLEANS CONGREGATIONS & GA OFFERING
In January 2012, the UUA Board decided to meet in New Orleans, LA to engage the leadership of the local congregations in conversation about the post-Katrina response of the UUA and UUSC. After nearly seven years, there were still hurt feelings and unanswered questions about how the monies raised by the UUA/UUSC joint campaign were distributed and accounted for. The Board listened deeply, asked difficult questions, and left New Orleans with a commitment to address the issue.
In addition to speaking with the congregational leaders in New Orleans, the Board entered into conversations with a number of UUA staff and volunteers who spent time in the Gulf Coast area after the storms. As a result of this process, at our April 2013 meeting in Boston, the UUA Board approved and sent a letter to the three Greater New Orleans UU churches, acknowledging the pain caused by the lack of clarity in the initial UUA/UUSC fundraising campaign and the well-meaning yet at times unhelpful assistance the UUA provided.
In addition to the letter, the UUA Board voted to designate funds raised from the GA plenary collection to go to the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalists to use and distribute as they saw fit. The UUA Board would like to thank the New Orleans area congregations and everyone who helped out in these difficult years since the storms and flooding of 2005.
FIFTH PRINCIPLE TASK FORCE REPORT AND DISCUSSION
The Fifth Principle Task Force has been charged with re-envisioning General Assembly to make it more representative, more affordable, and more consistent with our value of the democratic process in our congregations and society at large. In the last few years, the UUA Board has reformed itself to be a more representative and accountable body. The Board has initiated conversation toward clearer relationships with Districts, so we don’t have 20 separate governing bodies, all heading in different directions–and supervising staff toward different goals! Mindful of economic accessibility, we have utilized new technology to accommodate off-site delegates to GA. We’ve held formal linkage conversations that seek the direct input of stakeholders. We’ve turned a spaghetti-like organizational chart into relationships where authority and accountability are at least a little clearer–which hopefully results in people being freer in their roles. The goal in all of this: stronger democracy. This summer in Louisville, the UUA Board will seek to engage delegates in the question of reforming General Assembly toward greater participatory democracy.
In conversations with the Administration and the GA Planning Committee last fall, and then widening out to include a range of stakeholders this past January, the Board has explored how to strengthen the democratic process of GA while maintaining GA’s vital non-governance pieces–building identity, community, and leadership capacity. This summer, in small groups, the delegates will be asked for input about values and priorities: What about economic accessibility? What about the relationship of GA to regional, district, and cluster gatherings? What about the relationship between governance and non-governance items? We look forward to your participation this summer in Louisville.
LINKAGE DISCUSSION ABOUT GLOBAL ENDS FEEDBACK
Last January the Board drafted a set of outcomes, called the “Global Ends” of the Association. These global ends attempt to answer the question: what results do we want the UUA to produce, and for whose benefit? In partnership with the District Presidents Association, we have received feedback from over one thousand Unitarian Universalists.
More than 150 of these voices were called and elected leadership of congregations chosen by the district boards because they were superb examples of the values of Unitarian Universalism. These were rich interviews conducted by our district partners. Over 100 called and elected congregation leaders responded by survey. About 200 were drawn from our Current and Future Generations – Youth, Young Adults, Children (through proxy with Liberal Religious Educators), and people who identify as Unitarian Universalist but are not currently members. These were done through both focus groups and survey. Interviews and surveys were also done with a little over 200 people from those representing our Vision of Beloved Community. A number of historians and the writings of key historical figures were consulted. In addition to the roughly 600 people who represented our Sources of Authority and Accountability, we had nearly 400 individual UUs who responded via survey.
What did we hear? A lot. A quote that typifies the overall reaction to the draft came from one of our selected congregations in response to the question “To what degree does this reflect the values of your congregation?” Though 94% of them said it “strongly” or “mostly”, one congregation also said: “As a matter of substance, yes. As a matter of style, not so much.”
Some of the feedback was more about language than concept, but a significant number also addressed the latter. For example, a description of congregations as “intentionally inclusive, multi-generational and multi-cultural in powerful mission to, and with, under-served and un-served communities” was taken to task for the patriarchal tone of “servicing” communities rather than being in partnership with them, as well as raising polity concerns about the UUA describing the mission of a congregation. The concept of “covenanted communities” raised both plaudits and concerns (described as “bubble-speak” by one), and while many liked the clear specificity of language around net increases of congregations, people served, and inspired leadership, others groaned “it is SOOO not about growth. Growth is an unavoidable outcome of doing covenanted community well.”
In response to this feedback, trustees have started rewriting some of these statements. The DPA/UUA Joint Task Force on Linkage, which has been collecting and analyzing the feedback, will be making suggestions to the board in an iterative process over the next month. The intent is still to have a final draft for the board to approve in its pre-General Assembly meeting in June. This then becomes the guidance for the Administration, which has been a key part of creating and revising these statements.
REGIONALIZATION DISCUSSION AND MOTIONS
The UUA Board entertained motions to present changes to the UUA Bylaws and Rules at General Assembly 2013 Louisville that would change the designation of UUA Districts to include regional entities. As the Heartland, Prairie Star and Central Midwest Districts have all voted to consolidate into a single, regional entity starting July 1 of this year, these proposed changes are an important legal consideration for the delegates at GA. The affected language appears in the UUA Bylaws C-3.6, C-13.1, C-13.2, C-13.4 and rule G-13.2.1 sections A and B, and will be on the agenda for GA 2013 Louisville.
The UUA Board also approved an additional motion that would allow the Prairie Star District to transfer their liquid assets to the newly formed MidAmerica Region and to transfer the physical assets of Camp Unistar to the new Camp Unistar Foundation as soon as possible.
GAPC REPORT & PROMOTIONAL VIDEOS
The General Assembly Planning Committee reported that the current registration for GA 2013 Louisville is less than expected and is estimated to be somewhere in the 3,000 – 3,500 range when GA starts. The GAPC liaison confirmed this is beyond the break-even point but that we had hoped for a better response, especially considering the convenient geographic location of Louisville and the stellar turnout last year for Justice GA 2012 Phoenix.
In an effort to support promotion and outreach for GA 2013, individual UUA Board members recorded video invitations to GA which will be available soon on the UUA’s YouTube channel.
Tom Loughrey, Secretary
UUA Board of Trustees