No inspiration, no pitch, just a little explanation of our finances

This piece is little more than a summary of how the pledge drive and the church functions.  It is a simple transparent narrative take on church finances and structure.  I wrote this with newer folks in mind, but it is a good summary for all of us who were not on the zoom Financial Review.  Let’s begin.

If you are reading this, you are likely one of the members or friends who have or will be asked to pledge to Pacific Unitarian Church for the upcoming year.  If you are new to this process, we are about to enter the roughly one-month pledge drive in March.  That drive, or “canvass” as it is called, is for the year July 2021 to July 2022.  UUs have a long history of modeling the church year off the traditional academic year.  It’s a thing. 

We work to keep the pledge drive or canvass to the first three weeks of March, and close it formally, ideally with a bang, on the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day.  We traditionally have a dinner and famous speaker to mark “our anniversary” of the first meeting of the church in 1957.  Sometimes we even have green beer.  

If you are a newbie, pledges are the largest portion of our income. In conventional years, they make up about 60% of our income. This year, with other sources of income diminished by the pandemic, that number will prove to be above 75%.  That obviously means that pledges pay the lion’s share of staff salaries, the electric bill, insurance, etc.  

For the edification of those who have not been around for our new-member classes, a small percentage of your pledge also goes toward paying our dues to the Unitarian Universalist Association – the church is headquartered in Boston – and to our Pacific Western Region, a foolishly large area that stretches from Denver to Honolulu.  We pay these dues – roughly $100 per member – but they don’t own us.  UU churches are, in the crassest of business terms, very, very independent franchises that pay voluntary dues to our parent corporation.  It’s way more democratic than that, but you get my point.  We’re mostly on our own.

Traditionally, in a year when all goes well, some figure hovering around $60,000 in a combination of “rent” and “revenue sharing” comes from Pacific Sage Preschool, which is presently running, for pandemic reasons, at about 60% capacity. Sticking with the business language we are running with, we “own” the preschool, but that word doesn’t feel right; let’s go with “partner with.”  

Since you didn’t ask 😉 I will tell you that, in addition to the annual pledge drive, in traditional years we raise a little money from our weekly plate – roughly $150 a week – and a little to a lot more by other direct donations (let’s say $10 to 15k). We also get as much as, but no more than $7k in interest from the endowment.  In normal years we “make” – again, not the perfect word – roughly 25k from rentals – mostly weddings – which will have nearly disappeared this year.  Hopefully, that is the biggest hit we will take financially.  In a way, the biggest financial hit we’ll take is up to you.  We are going to need you, but not yet. That’s for next month.  

As if this were one of those “how I spent my summer” vacation letters which, instead, turned into “how I survived the pandemic,” we can say that we’ve learned how to stream our services and other offerings, learned a lot about racism, and we’ve learned how to host meetings in pajama bottoms.

What we didn’t do well was maintain or strengthen our committee structure, which was eroding even before that little virus made our campus mostly a ghost town on Sundays.  Get more families up here, ideally – if the pledge drive goes well – with a new DRE, and make ourselves patiently, step by step, a more culturally open and dynamic place that, by that very cultural openness, evolves to make us larger, more diverse, and more impactful. 

But dreaming ourselves forward is for the pledge drive.  To me, the most important question I ask myself around the financial review is:  Have we earned your support?  Are we running a tight ship?  The answer has been and, as long as I’m here, will be “yes.”  Sure, sometimes Sylvia’s staff drive my inner frugal puritanical ecologist crazy, leaving the lights on in the kitchen, and I think the rates Church Mutual Insurance charge us are too high.  However, as I write this, my mind wandering around in search of waste, nothing is coming to mind, and that’s a good thing.  Oh, yeah, we probably didn’t need the landscaping this year that we paid for, and, likewise, we probably did hire back Jose a few months sooner than we really needed to, but it’s Jose, and he’s fabulous.  Mostly, we don’t waste much, I promise.  I will always make and keep that promise to you. 

This letter might feel like it’s creeping toward some pitch, but it really isn’t; that begins in about three weeks. I hope that helps.

This year’s goal – not quite yet determined – will be to raise some $220,000 in pledges before the sun sets on March 20th.   Knowing what our members and friends intend to donate helps us develop a realistic and balanced budget for the coming year, and, most importantly, know what new dreams and incarnations are possible for what Pacific Unitarian can become.  

Right now Tara – probably Lora, too – is cringing because I’m blowing an opportunity to hit you up. But since they’ve both earned their way off the pledge drive with years of volunteering, I am kicking that rock down the road until next month, when you will be asked to support our beautiful, justice- and joy-minded institution. 

I will close here with a back-and-forth list of the good and bad things that the last year has brought us as a church: The bad news is many of our sources of support are down. The good news is that a PPP loan allowed us to have a surplus from last year.  

The good news is most of our pledgers have not been forced to leave their pledge promises unfulfilled, and, pledge-wise, we are on pace for this year. The bad news is we have yet to feel the full economic impact of people not having the communal benefits of being at church for nearly a year.  

The good news is we received more than $80k in PPP grants last spring.  The bad news – or truth – is that the majority of that has gone to supporting our preschool.  

The good news is that, over the last three years, we have been increasingly fiscally responsible.  The bad news is our membership numbers are in a very slow decline, and we are highly dependent on a few older major donors.  

The good news is our increased audiovisual and digital capacity has been serving some newly involved people, but they are not yet member or donors.  The bad news is we have no experience or history deepening that engagement beyond having them as observers.

The truth is, the vision I can most taste is being back together again.

With love and gratitude, Rev. Steve Wilson