Accepting Loans From Congregants

There has been recent talk on the UU-Money email list about accepting loans from congregants. The following information might be helpful.

The staff and consultants of the UUA Congregational Stewardship Services program are not supportive of seeking loans from congregants, especially when those loans are used to help balance an operating budget.

There is, however, one situation in which congregant loans might be a reasonable option. If a capital campaign has been completed and there are still insufficient funds available to complete a renovation or to grab that perfect building or piece of land that suddenly appears, congregant loans might be a short term, temporary solution. Even then, there are many issues to consider before seeking congregant loans.

Building Fund, Capital Campaign Commitments, and Personal Loans

Ideally, the congregation will have created a significant building fund in anticipation of this occurrence. And/or they will have recently completed a capital campaign in which enough money was raised to pay for a renovation project or to make a down payment on a building or piece of land. If the congregation exhausts its building fund and completes a capital campaign but more money is still needed, lay leaders may seek congregant loans. It is important to note that, in this scenario, the possibility of seeking loans should not even be considered until all of the capital campaign contributions have been committed. For obvious reasons, it is far better to receive contributions rather than asking for loans.

Opening Our Hearts to Stewardship

Love heals, love reconciles,
love helps us move when we are stuck,
love helps us cast out all fear…

– Rev. Laurel Hallman

Photo by Gabe Caby

Stewardship is a holistic concept that encompasses and connects how we understand and appreciate:  what we have been given and inherited, what we have earned, how we track and account for those resources, what we decide to do with them (according to our values/beliefs), and how we ensure that they are skillfully used to those purposes. As such, it is integral to our spiritual, ethical, and philosophical lives.

As Unitarian Universalists, our programs and communications addressing stewardship must be congruent with our core belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. These approaches follow the same paths that we have learned are effective in challenging sexism, bias against sexual preference, and in anti-racism: We seek to reduce generalizations and discrimination (based on giving and economic status or the indicators of status), to encourage self-examination, to promote consciousness-raising, and to understand all people as interdependent, multi-faceted, and developing over the lifespan. Shaming, judgment, assumption, reproach, guilt, pressure, elitism, censure, and demanding language (or programs built on these concepts) are inappropriate and ineffective tools to open people’s hearts to deeper stewardship.

Aligned stewardship programs and communications use:

  • Orientation toward individual spiritual needs as well as the needs of organizations
  • An appreciative inquiry approach
  • Empowerment and choice models
  • Facilitation of personal development and spiritual growth
  • Inspiration and leadership
  • The provision of rich information (mission, planning, accounting, etc.) to increase motivation
  • Respect for each person as a rich repository of diverse resources as well as individualized needs
  • Caring systems (not cold, inhumane processes)
  • A respect for the challenges inherent in countering our consumer culture by aligning our values with our resources
  • An understanding of the reasonable fears and past wounding that may challenge a broadening of generosity
  • A view of giving and receiving as dynamically linked

Below is a hotlink to a chart intended to provide language for responding to people who are negative, frustrated, or angry about the stewardship of others. Just click on the line below:

Language Choices in Stewardship

How do you see loving stewardship as opening hearts and hands to both give and receive in your congregation? What language do you use to help you convey that?

Champions of Change: Growing Effective Lay Leaders

ChangeAs we approach the completion of the FORTH stewardship development demonstration project, several elements of success have been discerned. Among the findings, we have determined that the chances of successfully implementing a stewardship development program are improved when there is one committed lay leader with a big picture understanding of stewardship development. The successful lay leader has an understanding that raising money for the annual operating budget is but one of at least five stewardship components; stewardship education, joyful giving, ministry and good works, the annual budget drive, and planned giving.

Further, we have learned that chances of success are improved when the lay leader receives consistent guidance from an external coach. The role of this coach is different from the traditional consulting arrangement in which a consultant uses her expertise to tell a congregation how to “do it right.”

A coach, on the other hand, works collaboratively with a client (a Champion of Change lay leader in this case) as a partner to define the lay leader’s goals. Through the coaching alliance the coach and the leader discover appropriate actions, compatible with each lay leader’s values and desires for their particular congregation. In this partnership, the coach and the lay leader work together to find each lay leader’s own answers, to facilitate personal growth, and to help move their congregation forward.

Five lay leaders from the Beyond Fundraising course at the recent Southwestern District Conference have been selected to become champions of change. Each leader is teaming with Wayne to create and implement an 18-month personal plan for leading change in their congregation. Wayne’s role is to guide and coach. The five leaders are doing the heavy lifting. Each has committed to twice monthly phone conversations with Wayne.   The five participants have each identified their individual growth goals, indicated below:

Future of Congregational Stewardship Services

bluechaliceThe Future of Congregational Stewardship Services

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Perspective of Wayne B. Clark, Director

January 28, 2010

As congregational lay leaders become more knowledgeable about stewardship and generosity, we continue to move toward a more collaborative model. We take our services to a higher level as we acknowledge the importance of spiritual generosity in a consumer centric world.

We provide a more flexible template of services by partnering with professional and lay leaders to promote healthy congregational growth. We emphasize the stewardship of shared ministry and fair share giving. We introduce resources (web sites, communication forums, blogs, workshops, articles, books) while not necessarily delivering these resources.

We provide guidance through conference calls, video conferencing and webinars. We continue to decrease our travel to congregations. However, we are still on site to share our wisdom and experience through assessment visits, strategic planning weekends, orientation workshops, annual budget drives, financial feasibility studies and capital campaigns.

We continue to expand the Green Sanctuary program, supporting an ever-increasing number of congregations that are intentionally pursuing stewardship efforts to protect the Earth. We provide a green sanctuary manual and offer workshops for lay leaders. For the past 20 years, we have provided financial support to qualifying congregations. We continue to offer building loans, loan guarantees, grants, and awards to facilitate the growth of our congregations.

We ask more questions, searching for congregational success stories to build upon. We take an appreciative approach, helping congregations identify their strengths, rather than looking for problems to solve. Our assessment visits continue to evolve from the medical model of diagnosis and treatment to an exploration of what’s already working well. We encourage leaders to become experts on the root causes of success while we guide them away from cycles of blame and defensiveness.

We build upon what has been learned during the three-year FORTH stewardship development project; a stewardship development program is most successfully implemented when there is at least one leader with an understanding of, and passion for generosity and spiritual stewardship development. This is especially true when that leader receives guidance from an external coach.

We launch Champions of Change, an 18-month lay leader development pilot program. The program offers a way to help build congregational stewardship. It is not offered as a “silver bullet” solution to all congregational ills. Five lay leaders have begun a coaching alliance with Wayne Clark. These leaders are being encouraged to discover meaningful actions that are compatible with their spiritual values. Wayne coaches them to find their own answers, to focus on personal growth, and to help move their congregations forward.

We add outcomes based evaluation to our well-documented outputs analyses. We begin each congregational relationship by gathering baseline data. We look for our impact upon congregations.  We measure growth and progress that occurs during and after our consultation. We measure specific outcome indicators; what is seen, heard, read, enhanced, increased, altered, begun.  From this data, we continue to tweak our services to help create healthy, vibrant and growing congregations.

Environmentally and Socially Responsible Electronics Recycling – Hinsdale, IL

elec-recycl 003The members of Unitarian Church of Hinsdale understand that environmental justice and environmental actions are directly related not only to the Seventh Principle – the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part – but also to the First Principle – the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Recently, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale has begun working on electronic waste (e-waste) issues.  E-waste that is not disposed of in local landfills but collected in “recycling” efforts is transported to China or developing nations in Asia or Africa.  This e-waste is then processed in primitive conditions, with plastic insulation burned to get at copper wiring, lead-based solder melted over hot plates, and poisonous residue washed into drinking water.  Congregants at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale felt that they needed to help break this cycle to help heal these environmental injustices.

After hosting the films The Digital Dump and Exporting Harm to educate the congregation and community about e-waste by, members of UCH found a local responsible electronics recycler through the Basel Action Network (BAN).  The company accepts electronics of all kinds and removes the most valuable copper wiring, pulverizes lead-containing monitor glass for transport to a smelter in Canada, and crushes and sorts the remaining plastic, ferrous, and non-ferrous metal parts.  None of the material is sent overseas and all waste is disposed of in accordance with the BAN recycler’s pledge.  Recently, thirty members of the congregation toured their responsible electronics recycler, Sims Recycling, to see how the electronic devices are dismantled, shredded, and the pieces are separated for recycling.  After this, the UCH Green Sanctuary committee scheduled two electronic recycling events at the church: one in the fall of 2007 and one in the spring of 2009.  The first event brought in 1,800 pounds of electronic devices.  The second event, after being publicized to the wider community, led to the collection of over one ton of material.  Each person dropping off an electronic item paid a fee (as much as $10), to promote the idea that responsible recycling is not free, and received printed materials about the need to recycle e-waste locally and responsibly.

Book Table – A Fundraiser for External Ministries

Are you looking for a way to fund an external ministry? Maybe raise some money to support your partner church in Transylvania? Or money for earthquake-ravaged Haiti? Rose Hanig, our UUA bookstore manager, wrote the following article. You can contact her directly at if you have any questions.

bookseller Help…

I just volunteered to run my church book table

A number of UU congregations have books available for sale before and after Sunday services.  Some use the bookstore as a way of raising funds for church programs and others simply to make members aware of the resources that are available.  The UUA Bookstore is always happy to help churches start their own bookstores (also known as book tables and bookstalls).  It is a great way to get our books distributed to people who are not familiar with the UUA Bookstore and to people who prefer to see books before they purchase.

The following are some of the most commonly asked questions about running a UU church bookstore (A.K.A. a book table or bookstall).  We hope this information will be a handy reference for both novices and experienced church bookstore managers.

1.) What kinds of discounts are offered to church bookstores?

We offer Skinner House and Beacon Press books for re-sale at the following discounts:

  • 1-9 books (assorted titles published by Skinner House or Beacon Press) = 20% discount
  • 10 or more books (assorted titles published by Skinner House or Beacon Press) = 40% discount.

2.)    Can I get discounts on books that are not published by Skinner House or Beacon?

You will notice in the UUA Bookstore catalog that there are a number of books by other publishers.  The only discounts offered on those titles are quantity discounts: 5-9 copies of the same title qualify for a 10% discount.  10 or more of the same title qualifies for a 20% discount.  There are no re-sale discounts offered on hymnals, pamphlets, or curricula. These discounts do not apply to any edition of Singing the Living Tradition, the Meditation Manual Sampler to any of the sets (Storybook Set, etc).

3.)    How do I find out who publishes a book?

“The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales” – A Book Review

barefootbookFor a child to understand their own connections to the Earth as well as the commonalities between themselves and other children around the world is a priceless gift. This can help children to understand the importance of Earth, its care, and can have a lasting effect on any child. The tradition of oral storytelling, which has been practiced for thousands of years, can act as a connection between children all around the world and their Earth. The tradition continues to grow and change and the book, The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales written by Dawn Casey and Anne Wilson, commits these traditional oral stories to print. Each story is connected in some way and all celebrate the beauty of nature and remind us of the importance of Earth.

There are also some unique characteristics to this book that make it special. Prior to each folk tale, there is a brief history of where the story originated from, and how it has sustained its popularity. Additionally, after each folk tale there is an activity that has some sort of connection to the story or the history of the region from which the story came from. Some examples of activities are how to build a willow den, how to make a pinecone birdfeeder, how to make a song-line painting, and how to make a cornhusk doll. Directions for all activities are simple, materials are inexpensive, and all can be completed in less than an hour.

Congregational Financial Comfort Level

churchbuildingIn this tight economy, it has become increasingly difficult for congregations to finance needed building improvements. Are you considering external financing from a local lender or from the UUA to help finance a building project? Because financing can be fraught with peril, I offer the following guidance.

Each congregation has its level of financial comfort. Some are comfortable with a relatively high amount of debt, while others are comfortable only if they are debt-free.

Most lenders, including the Unitarian Universalist Association, consider that some level of debt is healthy and can help a congregation to fulfill its mission. Here are three guidelines for determining an appropriate amount of debt:

  • Be sure that annual debt service does not exceed 25 percent of the congregation’s annual operating budget. 25percentThe Unitarian Universalist Association does not even consider a loan or loan guarantee request if the annual debt service exceeds this level. The concern is not whether the congregation can service its debt; the concern is that the congregation may focus too much attention on making loan payments rather than on fulfilling its mission.
  • Keep the total project cost within two to three times the annual budget total.
  • Keep the total project cost to a maximum of 50 percent of the total property appraisal (when the project has been completed).


A Thriving Ministry of Local Foods – UU Rockland, ME

Port Clyde, home to he fleet of the Midcoast Fisherman's Association, credit Peter Ralston
Port Clyde, home to he fleet of the Midcoast Fishermen's Association, credit Peter Ralston

When First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME (UU Rockland), with other local churches, founded the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Bank, the seeds were planted for a thriving ministry of local foods.  In addition to regularly collecting food for the Food Bank, the congregation participates in the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen where they prepare, serve, pack-up left-overs, and clean-up a meal on the fifth Sunday of the month at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rockland.

In November 2004 the congregation teamed up with the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Maine Council of Churches Environmental Justice Program to co-sponsor a Harvest Supper potluck with the theme “Thinking Globally/Eating Locally” , featuring locally produced foods,  followed by a program inviting conversation on how food choices impact the environment.  In November 2005 the congregation again participated in the Harvest Supper featuring Russell Libby, Director of the Maine Organic and Gardeners Association speaking on “Who Is Your Farmer?” (more…)

Program Budgeting: Say “YES” to pie charts and “NO” to line items

Are you frustrated that your fixed costs and employee salary packages represent the bulk of your line item budget? Can you imagine your annual budget development process devoid of drama, line-by-line contentious arguments, and anxiety about which line items to decrease or eliminate? Because this scenario is so prevalent and fraught with negativity, I want to share this information with you.

When congregants are asked to make a financial commitment to the annual operating budget, most want to know where their money is going and how it will make a difference. At the same time, they don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much financial detail. The best approach is to develop a program budget and to communicate it through pie charts.

Program budgeting is a method designed to clarify and simplify the operating budget. A typical congregational program budget divides annual income into four or five sources and annual expenses into four or five broad categories. Pie charts show the proportion of income from each source and the proportion of expenses in each category.

A program budget does not replace a line-item budget. It serves as an introduction to the proposed budget. The program budget proposal is shared with congregants when they are asked to make their financial commitment. The pie charts make it easy to see where financial resources come from and how the congregation chooses to allocate them, including the relative significance of various programs and ministries. These priorities may be altered if the congregation chooses. After the annual budget drive, the pie charts are converted into a line-item budget and presented to the congregation for adoption.