Friday, October 24, 2008

Congregation-Based Community Organizing

The term "congregation-based community organizing" (CBCO) may still elicit blank stares, until someone says, "you know, what Obama did". Obama, following in the footsteps of Saul Alinsky, learned and practiced a form of community organizing that is not only effective, but promises to revitalize the congregations that participate in it. It certainly had an impact on Obama.
Jim Eller, minister at All Souls UU Church of Kansas City, met with the Board on to "preach the gospel" of CBCO on Thursday. It is an exciting approach that the Veatch Foundation is supporting through matching grants for churches to join and train their members. Though Unitarian Universalism has a rich tradition in social justice, congregations do not always find their efforts as effective as they might like in dealing with the underlying issues.

CBCO addresses some of the barriers to effectiveness congregations may face, such as lacking relationship within the communities they wish to impact, or assuming problems of poverty and systemic racism do not affect us. It impacts change by creating networks of religious organization, community groups, and (sometimes) unions and schools that use democratic principles to determine local priorities. The network sets up the process and trains leaders to work within it. These "leaders in training", according to Congregation-Based Community Organizing: A Social Justice Approach to Revitalizing Congregations, "learn the technical skills of organizing, including weighing alternatives, negotiating differences, and developing strategic plans. They also learn concrete skills such as clariying one's self-interest, viewing and accepting conflict, and analyzing the power dynamics of institutions." PCD congregations listed as affiliated with a formal CBCO network include the UU Church of Palo Alto, the UU Fellowship of Redwood City, the First UU Society of San Francisco, the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, and the UUs of San Mateo. I would be interested in hearing experiences from any of these congregations - just post your comment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

UUA Finances in Difficult Times

Second in a series of posts on the October UUA Board Meeting

The day I flew to Boston the market dropped nearly 800 points, right after a 936 point rally the day before. Though I would occasionally check the market on The Magic Box (my iPhone), I was glad I had something more important to do.

The short version of how this impacts UUA finances is that it has a major and immediate hit on the balance sheet (because of the drop in the value of the UU Common Endowment Fund), but so far income reduction on the operating statement is offset by reduction in spending. This is because most of the income reduction is in special donations for specific projects which are not implemented without those funds. These donors do not want to liquidate funds (sell) in this market.

The longer term impact is yet to be seen, but will likely include the annual transfer of funds from the endowment to the operating budget (about $2.2 M, but less as the market value drops), and the impact on the annual program fund (the annual support from congregations, just over $7 M), and Association Sunday (currently projected at $350,000). The estimates for essentially all income sources have been decreased by the UUA staff, with corresponding decreases in expected expenditures. These are not easy times, but we are blessed with timely and accurate information we can trust, and an executive team that takes fiscal responsibility to heart.

According to President Bill Sinkford, our non-profit partners have seen a major drop off of income. What does one do in these kinds of times?

Though it is tempting to “hunker down” to protect what we have, I believe generosity is even more important now. In his book Who Really Cares, Arthur Brooks provided study after study that shows that people who give to others, regardless of income level, are healthiest and happiest. Though it may be counterintuitive, I believe the best way to make it through these times and remain whole in spirit is to share what we have been given.

Next post: Congregation-Based Community Organizing

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Policy Governance as Holy Work Part II

First in a series of posts about the October 2008 UUA Board Meeting

One way to gain insight into the UUA Board is to look at how we spend our time together. The October Board meeting was particularly grueling, with five more-than-full days, formal meetings running from 8:30 am to 9:00 pm, but many others before and after. Based on that criteria, the hands down winner for mind share is Ends Development and "owner linkage" in connection with the Board’s move to Policy Governance, which covered 2 1/2 days.

If you have been under a rock for the past few years and have never heard of an “End”, it is the John and Miriam Carver term for high level goals: what benefits we are providing for whom, and at what cost. Working with Unity Consultants, the Board spent Thursday reviewing the input from the Appreciative Inquiry at General Assembly, and listening to members of the District Presidents Association (including the Pacific Central District's President Mary Ellen Morgan) and the UU Ministers Association Executive Team. We spent all day Friday developing values, writing the initial “global ends statement” (more or less a mission statement), and defining our “owners”—those from whom we get our moral authority and to whom we are accountable. There is still significant work to develop the next layer of ends, which will have more specificity about what we want to accomplish, but we first need to evaluate "how we are doing so far" with our owners. These ends are what we provide to the next President, saying “make these things happen, but as you do so, don’t do this.”

In addition to the time on Friday, the entire Board traveled to Worcester (the second largest city in New England!) on Saturday to meet with 300 or so New England UUs. Together we watched Laurel Hallman and Peter Morales “debate” as UUA presidential candidates, with what I thought were far better performances from both of them compared to General Assembly. Then the Board did what the Carvers call “linkage” – talking to our “owners” about their values and what they thought the mission of the UUA was. Each of us sat at a table with 8-10 New Englanders and went through a rapid-fire exercise to get input on what we had created the day before.

The exercise was fun and insightful. Most of it was positive. Each Board member will be doing some version of this over the next six months within the Districts. Mary Ellen Morgan will be leading this with me, and we hope to get input from as many members in the Pacific Central District as possible, through a variety of means: travel to meet with congregations, at District meetings, through conference calls, and online. Look for more information through PCD Currents and here as it develops.

Next post: UUA Finances in Difficult Times