In the spring of 2018, UUSM faced a tricky financial picture: the pledge drive total fell far below the 2018-19 requested budget – a $90K deficit. Investigating further, pledge numbers revealed that a very small percentage of members were shouldering a disproportionate amount of financial responsibility for meeting needs of our congregation.
The top 3% of pledges (nine pledging units, individuals or families) supplied more than 26% of pledge income. The average pledge was about $300 below the average for most UU congregations, which is unexpected for our high-income, urban location. Hypothetically, removing those highest nine pledging units shows an average pledge almost $700 below the national average. In short, for the majority of members pledging had fallen into a pattern of low commitment and low expectations.
Beyond an annual shortfall, when UUSM goes out to search for a settled minister, our pledge levels will determine the salary we can offer. In our high–cost-of-living area, ministers expect and need a higher level of income. We are competing with other, high-commitment congregations based in less-pricey areas. Even if we offer an equal salary package, it will be hard for a minister to choose Santa Monica because of how expensive it is to live here.
In response to the budget gap, the UUSM Board of Directors established the Sustainability Fund as an incentive to move more of our members toward high commitment and high expectations. This pledge-matching fund is intended to stabilize and strengthen our annual income, making us less dependent on the pledge income of just a few members.
The board seeded the fund with $20,000 from the Minister’s Housing Fund, which is not needed immediately in this time of developmental ministry. Approximately 20 UUSM families then stepped up and pledged nearly $44,700 to the new Sustainability Fund. The ultimate target is to raise $100,000 that will spur the average UUSM pledge to at least the average national level, over the next three or four years. Everyone is welcome to help encourage congregational financial responsibility by contributing to the Sustainability Fund; the minimum donation is $100.
During the Sustainability drive last spring drive, the fund encouraged pledge increases in several ways: see the Stewardship/Fundraising page for details. To qualify for matching funds, all pledgers needed to have met their 2017-18 pledge, and all were asked to maintain their pledge at that level or higher for the next three years. Pledge increases are matched for one year only, beginning July 1, 2018. (Depending on future Sustainability Fund incentive plans, further increases may be matched in coming years.)
During the spring Sustainability Drive, the board voted to change the pledge year to track with the fiscal year; the goal was to better inform planning and budgeting (see Pledge Year Redefined). So members who made eligible pledge increases during the spring drive are matched through this fiscal year: July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.
We are moving in the right direction! The average base pledge (the two largest pledgers excluded as outliers) has, thus far, increased more than $100: from $1190 to $1307.
The spring 2018 Sustainability Drive garnered 95 pledge increases and new pledges totaling $36,328 that qualified for matching funds. The total already transferred from the Sustainability Fund to 2018-19 operating income was $32,178 (remembering that not all pledges were matched dollar-for-dollar).
But wait. If a member makes a pledge that qualified for matching funds but does not fulfill that pledge, the matching funds will be taken back out of operating income at the end of the fiscal year and returned to the Sustainability Fund. (Some members are being made aware of this via an end-of-the-calendar-year pledge reminder.)
As a restricted fund, use of Sustainability monies is authorized by the Stewardship Committee chair(s). Don’t assume that next year’s matching strategy will remain the same, as Stewardship will target portions of the pledge base that need more encouragement to increase their pledges. Look for that information when the drive launches in the spring.
Stewardship is so grateful for your pledge, which is critical to our covenantal community and to supporting our mission and ministry. We are pleased to support you, in return.
- For questions about how to fulfill your pledge, or to make a change in your payment method, contact Finance Assistant Nancy Thompson.
- For questions about the new pledge year schedule, contact Kit, Gretchen or another member of the Stewardship Committee.
- To discuss your level of giving, including perhaps raising your pledge in December, legacy giving, contributing to the Sustainability Fund, or transfers of stock or other assets that might have further tax benefits, contact UUSM President Jacki Weber or Rev. Greg Ward.
It’s never too late, or too early, to help us move in the right direction toward financial health.
– Stewardship Committee
Cochairs Gretchen Goetz and Kit Shaw