Friday, May 15, 2015

How is GIFT Doing?

by Rev. Susan M. Smith

A lot of you know that I love to study spreadsheets as a form of divination, so I’ve been deep into the GIFT figures as of April 30. The news is good and bad, but the future is full of possibility because of who we are as member congregations of our Association.

The first thing to say is that there are $212,000 in outstanding pledges that I know you will be getting to us by June 30 (though June 1 would be nice, too). But that amount alone will not get us to our expected income for the fiscal year that is ending in about 6 weeks. So, if you have paid your pledge or otherwise contributed to the common good of our Southern Region financially, please take a look at those figures again. Some of your sister congregations have already done so. Eight congregations have paid more than their pledge and given more than $9,000 of what we call in Louisiana lagniappe (something extra that turns good enough into more than generous). Fifteen congregations have given more than their Fair Share amount. That’s right! Several congregations pledged more than their Fair Share.

Comparing Fair Share amounts for FY15 and FY14, I see that the Fair Share GIFT for seventeen congregations was the same this year as last. For 82 congregations, the Fair Share amount for FY15 was actually less than that for FY14 by amounts varying from $3 to $6,000. Can you imagine telling 40% of your congregation that they should give less this year than last? If they took you up on it, your stewardship drive would look like an abysmal failure.  You would really be counting on the 54% who were better off financially this year than last and were asked to increase. Every member would have to give serious thought to what they are truly able to give to make that system work. Can you imagine if only 31% of your members had both made and completed a pledge with only 6 weeks left in your fiscal year?

As we’ve talked to congregations for the past two years about GIFT, we’ve heard near unanimous approval for the principles that it embodies - asking each to give according to their financial rather than numerical size and giving the larger Association a stake in your bounty and your losses. However, I can see now that it gives your congregation a stake in the health and vitality of your neighbor congregations far and near. 

In the past 5 years, the Southern Region has been able to do some amazing things financially. We have added an additional .5 FTE to our Congregational Life staff after many years of functioning with the smallest staff in the Association. This allows us to now have 7 full-time deep generalist powerhouses scurrying around the region sharing their expertise, offering support and bringing you together for education, social justice and fellowship. We hope to have 8 in the near future. We’ve created a highly-skilled administrative support team moving two of our contractors to employees who offer information technology to your webmasters and database managers and event logistic support to your cluster and district gatherings. However, we could use additional help to keep popular programs like Chalicelighters going because they require a lot of staff time without bringing in revenue to the region itself. We’ve taken successful programs from one part of our region and offered them elsewhere even though we sometimes suffer financial losses. Because regional collaboration is first and foremost a way to provide equitable services throughout our large and growing part of the Unitarian Universalist universe.

As I’ve said many times at our two Leadership Experiences and the numerous stewardship workshops I’ve done around the region, you must have three kinds of giving every year in your congregation. There must be a chance for every member to make a stewardship commitment in the form of a pledge. There must also be some fun fundraising from parties and events for people like myself who have been known to pay 3 figures for some sweetheart’s homemade pie in heat of an auction. And there must be the “emergency” appeal, for the angels who want to know that their donation will make a difference whether to bail the congregation out of a jam or make it possible to take advantage of some great opportunity. It’s one of those times, but I refuse to worry. We have always been remarkably generous congregations in the past, and we will continue to be so. We have made great things happen, and we will make even greater things happen in the future. Our legacy as Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists in the South goes back more than 200 years. I know that we will be thoughtful stewards of this legacy even as we venture into unknown territory and bold experiments.