Board Members’ Blog Begins Here!

Wood ChaliceIt’s official! This unofficial collection of comments and thoughts is live!

Board members want to share thoughts and answer questions in a low-key way. We encourage people to ask questions, share rumors for debunking, or express their own comments as the community moves forward.

Please read the Rules of Engagement for the ground rules we’re working under.  Then comment on any blog post or bring up a new issue — see the Participation page to find out how!

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Why Amend the Bylaws?

Bylaws amendedAt the Annual Meeting June 10th, Members will vote on Bylaw amendments proposed unanimously by the Board of Trustees. The Board thinks/hopes that these are uncontroversial updates,… but that is up to the Congregation to decide!

Please leave a comment or contact a Trustee if you have questions or an opinion to share.

What’s Being Changed?

Five Bylaw sections are up for change. The details of the changes are in this PDF document. The paragraphs below discuss why the Board is proposing the amendments.

Two amendments remove old or unused sections:

Proposal to delete Article II, Section B, Paragraph 2, deleting the formal description of a “friend” of the Society. This category has never been used and confuses people who use the common‐English term “friend” when describing their relationship to the community.

This section was added maybe 15 years ago and the motivation is not clearly recorded. I think the membership numbers were declining over time, and some people speculated that modern people didn’t want to commit and call themselves “members” of a church. So we gave them a way of being officially affiliated but having no responsibility of coming to meetings or doing organizational work.

In any event, there is no record of anyone signing up to be a friend in the 15 or more years this paragraph has existed. Moreover, we use the term “friend” as common English-language word when we talk about friends of the Society. None of the people we call “friends” have gone through the formal friending process described in the Bylaws.

Since the “friend” section has not been used and conflicts with plain English, the Board recommends its deletion.

Proposal to amend Article IV Section A to remove language put into the Bylaws in 2008 to describe how the number of Trustees would be gradually reduced from 12 to the current 9.

The Bylaws describe how we were cutting the number of Trustees from 12 in 2009 to 9 in 2010. This language is not needed in 2018.

Two proposed amendments update the Bylaws to match what actually has been happening.

Proposal to amend Article IV Section D Paragraph 1 to allow the Board of Trustees to lease rooms for 5 years (instead of 1) before requiring a vote of the Membership and also to allow Trustees to sell property received as part of a bequest.

The Bylaws were written to keep the Board from selling the church or renting it long-term in a way which would change the nature of the property. However, they weren’t meant to keep the Board from selling property that was willed to the Society, and this change clarifies that intent. In addition, staff has regularly negotiated five-year leases with the Montessori School for weekday use of the school space. Five years is a commercially reasonable term, and the Board would like the authority to renew such leases in the future without calling a special voting meeting of the membership.

Proposal to amend Article IV Section D Paragraph 5 to delete the 2% maximum deviation in a budget category the Board is allowed to authorize while maintaining the overall 5% cap in expense deviation.

This section of the Bylaws that requires a meeting of the membership if any budget category deviated by 2% was written in the 1980s in a moment of distrust of the then-Senior Minister. The majority of the members then wanted to specify details of the budget down to the staff titles and pay, among other low-level decisions.

In recent years, the Board has wrestled to come up with a reasonable interpretation of this Bylaw clause. A strict reading of the clause might require that the membership approve the minister’s mid-year decision to hire an employee to clean the center employ a cleaning service (staff salaries/benefits) instead of using a planned cleaning service (building expenses). The amount of money spent on cleaning could be exactly the same, but the categories are different and the membership would have to be called to approve the overrun in the staff salaries category.

The Board believes that requiring a meeting if overall expenses are more than 5% above budget is reasonable. But we think that the 2% per category rule is “scar tissue” from past fights which isn’t helpful.

A final amendment reinstates and makes permanent a requirement that we build up our operating reserve.

Proposal to amend Article IV, Section D, Paragraph 7 to reinstate a requirement that bequests not restricted by the donor be used to build up the Operating Reserve balance to a level of 1/2 of the annual operating budget:

For many years the Bylaws required that unrestricted gifts to the Society be allocated first to the Operating Reserve, the “rainy day” fund that would let us operate for six months after an earthquake or other disaster. That Bylaw provision included words that deleted the clause from the Bylaws once the six-month reserve level was achieved.

We achieved six months reserve several years ago, and so the Bylaw requirement self deleted!

Then this year we used almost half of the reserve to cover operating deficit. At the Congregational Meeting called to discuss the FY2018 deficit, Kathleen Quenneville suggested that the Bylaws should provide for refunding the Operating Reserve whenever it dips below the level of 1/2 of the annual operating budget. Members at the meeting were supportive of reinstating the Bylaw provision to fund the Operating Reserve, and the Board added this amendment to the list of proposed Bylaw changes.


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The Big Picture Plan for Talking about Money from Now through June

The ministers, staff, and Board have been working to make the current financial situation clear to the Membership so that the congregation can knowledgeably determine what it wants to do.  We have scheduled a series of meetings – some voting, some just informational – to clarify and discuss what the community is facing.

First, we are not in crisis. We have no debt, no mortgage. We have considerable reserves and additional endowment funds.

However, this year we have received significantly less pledge income than last year. This decrease in gifts to the operating fund, coupled with unexpected and emergency building repairs, has resulted in an projected  end-of-year deficit of $236,970. Pledges are estimated to come in at $152,688 below budget.

Deficit spending of this magnitude is not sustainable. We all believe that we must either increase our income or drastically cut expenditures. And, realistically, most of an increase in income will have to come from our own increase in gifts to the community. There is no magic tenant around who is going to rent massive numbers of rooms when they’d otherwise be vacant.

Here is the plan for talking and voting on our financial situation.

Sunday, May 13. Voting Meeting.


  • Discussion of current church year deficit and recommended funding of shortfall.
  • VOTE on proposed resolution (see text in blog post).
  • Discussion of proposed FY2019 budget. Staff and the Finance Committee is recommending a budget that takes $0 from unrestricted savings next year. This will result in severe cuts to staff salaries and program expenses if pledges do not increase.

Tuesday, May 15. Regular Board of Trustees Meeting

Based on what the members said at the May 13th meeting, the staff will present Trustees with a recommended budget. The Board will debate the budget, potentially modify it, and adopt a budget that it recommends to the Membership.

Sunday, May 20th. Informational Meeting on the Budget

The Board will distribute its recommended budget and conduct a discussion of its contents with members.

Sunday, May 27th.
Deadline for member-submitted budget amendments.

Sunday, June 3rd. Voting Meeting on the Budget.

Sunday, June 10th. Annual Meeting.
If there is a need for follow-on discussion/voting of the budget, the budget will also be on the meeting for the Annual Meeting.

The financial decisions we face reflect our values and make more important our need to talk with each other about Mission, Vision, and Planning. That work will begin formally in the fall.

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Getting more About Explicit Our Need for Your Donations

Should we be more intentional about talking about the need for members and friends to contribute to the operating fund and capital pledge drives? Your lay leadership is wondering!

Unitarian Universalists have traditionally shied away from the emphasizing giving cash to our community.

Giving Word GraphicFirst, we are sensitive that not all members and friends can give. Too many of us are struggling with our own personal expenses. After rent, food, and transportation, there is very little left to give so that Sunday services are conducted by talented ministers. Some of us are working at several low-paid gigs, and others of us are retired on limited income. Our community understands income inequality and does expect people with little money to choose to donate instead of having medicine.

Second, many UU’s want to do nothing that conservative religious organizations emphasize… like tithing. Whether it is actual 10% (tithe) or something more along the lines of what the UUA giving guidelines suggest (link to chart), many of us are terribly uncomfortable about suggesting that our friends make a financial commitment. Some are uneasy even acknowledging that money is important to a liberal religious organization. After all, money is something hide-bound conservatives, not open-minded liberals, focus on. Right?

And, we all are sensitive to the comment that the only time a member or friend is personally contacted is when they’re asked for money.

Unfortunately, for whatever combination of reasons, our 2017-18 operating pledge drive is seriously behind its income goals. So, maybe it’s time to overcome our traditional reluctance to talk about finances and have a calm, positive discussion about cash!

The fundraising last spring combined a capital campaign and the annual operating fund campaign. The capital campaign was a success, but the operating fund pledges seemed below expectations. For many months, glitches in the pledging systems and communications hampered our ability to know exactly what was pledged and what could be expected.

We now have projections for the full year of income and expense. The shortfall is significant and we need to talk about it.

Please read the reports from Treasurer Marc Theobald and Director of Finance and Administration Saira Malik are sharing. They are the numbers people with the latest information.

Here’s what I ask you to do:

  1. Come to the voting budget meeting May 13th after the service. This is where we will discuss the shortfall and what we can do about it.
  2. Give more to the 2017-18 operating budget. If you have had a good year financially, would you please consider helping out the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco? We really need it!
  3. Make a generous pledge to the current operating fund pledge drive. If you haven’t sent in your pledge before, please do it now so we can plan for the year that starts in July. If you have pledged, can you give more?

Overall, our Society is in reasonable financial shape. We have significant cash reserves and endowment funds.

But, we cannot keep spending money at the same rate on ministers, staff, music, security, maintenance, social justice… anything… unless our income increases.

Moderator Galen Workman in the Sancutary

Moderator Galen Workman

As we look forward and consider the community’s vision, mission, and strategic needs we need a realistic understanding of how much money we can spend on our work. Please help with that work by coming May 13th and by being as generous as you can in your gifts.

I think this is a good time to get realistic about the community’s budget and our members’ ability to give financial support. Come and join me in my optimism.

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Special Voting Meeting of the Membership

Meeting GavelA special voting meeting of the Membership will be held after service Sunday, May 13th in the Thomas Starr King Room. The meeting will discuss the shortfall in income and funding of emergency building repairs that have been made since July 1, 2017.

The Membership will be asked to vote on a proposed resolution:

Resolved, the money spent  for emergency building maintenance since July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018  shall be funded from the “Board restricted” funds in the Building Maintenance Fund, and

Resolved, the Board and Administration are asked to take steps to reduce the projected deficit through additional fundraising and cutting of expenses, and

Resolved, any shortfall in revenue and expenses for the church year ending June 30, 2018 shall be funded from operating reserve.

More details will be posted on this blog and and sent to members in the coming days. The Finance Committee is meeting tonight (April 30th) and preparing more information to share.


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