In 2012, the UUA and the Southern Region embarked on a new course to improve how we share our resources to support the larger faith. 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.
Any time a change as large as this takes place, there will naturally be issues needing clarification. This page is designed to share questions that come up periodically about the GIFT program and to provide answers. Leaders and members of the Southern Region are encouraged to read and share these FAQs. 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: email@example.com.
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 our UUA to provide support, expertise, search and settlement assistance, religious education curricula, social justice resources, conflict management, and worship materials. Our 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, our UUA counts on congregations to provide the resources that in turn enable the Association to support congregations.
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.
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.
Q: Why is the GIFT pilot being done only in our region?
A: Although the mechanics of GIFT are reasonably simple, 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 learnings have 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.
Q: 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 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 district 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.
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.
Q: How are the expenditures calculated against which the 7% gifts are applied? Is this applied to the entire congregational budget?
A: The Certified Operating Expenditures, as reported by each congregation, are defined by the UUA in accordance with standard accounting procedures and terms. 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)
• 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 principal or other capital expenditures not related to regular maintenance)
A full definition may be found on the UUA web site, http://www.uua.org/directory/data/faq/certifyingmembership/190168.shtml. Here you will find definitions, exceptions, and a point of contact for related questions.
We want to emphasize here that our UUA receives your certification information with trust. Just as they did not ask to examine membership records under the previous system, they do not do that with Certified Expenditures either. Ours is a mutual relationship, and we want the trust to go both ways. If you have a question about how to figure out your calculations that these resources don’t answer, please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss it.
• Contact your Southern Region Primary Contact
• Contact the UUA Congregational Giving Director, Rev. Vail Weller
• Utilize the dedicated GIFT inquiry email address at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Why is the shift in calculating contributions being moved from membership to Certified Operating Expenses?
A: Basing our calculations on the basis of membership has two inherent and important flaws.
One, there is no standard definition of what constitutes membership across our UUA. In our 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.
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 (APF and District dues). 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.
Q: What if we have other questions or suggestions concerning the GIFT program?
A: A special email address has been established at the UUA specifically to facilitate this type of communication, which is welcome and encouraged. A UUA representative will receive the communication and ensure it is forwarded to the best representative at the UUA or the Southern Region.
That email address is email@example.com. You are also welcome to contact your Congregational Life Staff Primary Contact with questions or suggestions, or the UUA Congregational Giving Director, Rev. Vail Weller.