General Assembly 2003
By Donald E. Skinner
The numbers that defined Unitarian Universalism this past year show that it was a year for some caution, some encouragement, and some sacrifice.
Membership numbers were up slightly, but not enough for celebration. Financial giving by congregations was up, but investment income was down significantly, requiring belt-tightening by the Association. The fragile economy of Beacon Press held steady.
Financial Advisor Larry Ladd reported to the General Assembly that the adult membership of UUA congregations grew 0.6 percent in the previous year, to 158,607. Religious education enrollment grew by 2.7 percent to 63,080. Ladd observed that our modest growth “compares favorably to the steady declines experienced by mainline Protestant denominations since the mid-to-late 1960s, but should be a disappointment to us all because we have so much to offer.” The proportion of Unitarian Universalists in the U.S. population has stayed constant at 0.08 percent for six years, he said.
Financial giving to the UUA increased 3.2 percent after adjusting for inflation, due to congregations’ donations to the Annual Program Fund. Individuals’ contributions to Friends of the UUA, however, continued a decline that began in 1999.
Moderator Diane Olson took the unusual step of asking GA attendees to contribute to Friends of the UUA through special envelopes handed out during a plenary session. “We’re short $100,000 income from the Friends,” she told delegates. “In this difficult economy we’re struggling to finish this year without a deficit.” There were no raises for UUA staff this year, several positions were cut, and the Board of Trustees has reduced its expenses by 30 percent over the past three years, she reported. Olson’s appeal raised $56,500 in 24 hours and has increased to more than $62,000.
Donors have also made commitments of $28.3 million to a $32 million capital campaign that was announced at the 2001 General Assembly, Ladd reported.
The UUA’s endowment, the General Investment Fund, declined 12.5 percent in value, mirroring the general decline in the stock market. Ladd said the UUA endowment has underperformed other endowments for the past three years. The underperformance was more pronounced in the past fiscal year than in the previous two. As a result, Ladd said, the UUA has replaced its investment counselor, reviewed and revised its asset allocation policy, and replaced some individual investment managers. He also reported progress in the UUA’s commitment to socially responsible investing.
The UUA recorded a $57,000 surplus at the end of the 2002 fiscal year, following a deficit of $361,000 a year earlier. The UUA’s budget, however, is tight: Budgeted expenses for fiscal year 2004 are down more than $1 million from fiscal year 2003.
Beacon Press finished fiscal year 2001-2002 with a loss of $49,000, compared to a deficit of $363,000 the year before. Beacon has experienced losses in seven of the last eight years, and was projected to lose $181,000 in Fiscal Year 2002-2003, which ended in June. Ladd cautioned that Beacon remains financially risky and must be carefully watched from year to year.
One other financial issue remains to be resolved. It is standard practice for convention planners to book large blocks of hotel rooms years in advance to ensure adequate supply. Rooms for GA 2003 were booked before the travel economy faltered and before Internet booking of bargain rooms had grown widespread. Consequently many of the hotel rooms the UUA booked were not used but may still have to be paid for. The UUA is negotiating with conference hotels.
The financial advisor’s complete report is available at www.uua.org/TRUS/financial/.