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Healthy stewardship, declining enrollment

2003 financial reports for Unitarian Universalist Association
By Tom Stites
September/October 2004 9.1.04

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Two important indicators of Unitarian Universalism's vitality--total congregational expenditures and investment performance of the UUA endowment--improved in 2003, Financial Advisor Larry Ladd reported to the General Assembly.

Ladd also cheered the success of the $32 million Campaign for Unitarian Universalism, the capital campaign that was launched four years ago. “Given the economic climate of the last three years,” he wrote in his formal annual report, “this achievement is testimony to the faith and commitment of our religious community.”

But not all the news in Ladd's annual report was positive. While total membership of U.S. congregations rose by 0.7 percent to 153,165, continuing a two–decade pattern, religious education enrollment fell for the second time in three years, to 59,700, a decline of 1.7 percent. The result: Combined U.S. adult membership and RE enrollment was flat, totaling 212,865 as against 212,783 in 2002.

The RE decline should be “a warning signal for our movement,” said Ladd, an indicator “that likely predicts a decline in adult membership in the near future.” In his written report he asked: “Is it that our adult membership is aging? Is it that we are becoming less successful in attracting young families and single parents? Is it other factors?” The financial advisor is an elected officer with the specific charge to provide an expert and independent evaluation of financial issues and the fiscal health of the UUA; Ladd's second term ends next year.

On the positive side, the investment return on the UUA's endowment was 4.2 percent in the 2003 fiscal year; in the previous four years, endowment earnings declined, squeezing the Association's operating budget. The 2003 return compared favorably with the 2.9 percent gain for all endowments and 1.9 percent for endowments the size of the UUA's.

Total congregational expenditures in 2003 were 1.6 percent higher than the year before, taking inflation into account. “Individual congregational financial health has been growing since consolidation in 1961,” Ladd reported, “and has grown particularly dramatically starting in 1984.”

Ladd reported also that the UUA had instituted new financial accountability measures, including a board-appointed audit committee to oversee the external auditors who examine the Association's books, to assess internal controls, and to assess business risks. The committee held its first meeting April 7.

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