Archive for the 'Financial considerations' Category

Counting the cost of division

I attended the North Carolina Yearly Meeting Representative Body on March 4th. If you’ve been following this blog, many recent posts have reported that the same spirit of division which has overcome several other yearly meetings has also damaged North Carolina Yearly Meeting.

I’m still a newcomer to North Carolina, but I see a real generational factor at work in the divisiveness at work among us. When I arrived at Representative Body, I estimated a little over 200 people were present. I looked carefully around the room, and I estimate that fewer than 20 people in the room were under the age of 40; the majority of the group were probably over the age of 60.

For readers who are not members of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, this report may help you to understand the stark cost of division among Friends. The figures quoted are from reports at Representative Body last weekend:

  • During the last 3 years, North Carolina Yearly Meeting has gone down from having 72 monthly meetings to only 46, a decrease of 36%. Four more monthly meetings have withdrawn from the yearly meeting since we last met in November.
  • Our membership has decreased from 7,565 members 3 years ago to 4,214, a decrease of 44%
  • As programs have been cut and staff have been laid off, yearly meeting budget askings have gone from roughly $923,000 5 years ago to about $432,000, a decrease of 53%.
  • Actual giving to the yearly meeting budget was only $303,000, an additional 33% reduction.

In every yearly meeting I have observed, division has a catastrophic effect on ministry and mission. North Carolina is only the latest example.

The pension fund for pastors is being discontinued; retired pastors and surviving spouses will receive a lump-sum payment proportionate to the years they served. Health insurance is no longer offered. North Carolina Yearly Meeting has become dramatically less attractive as a place for pastors to serve. This will affect the quality of leadership we can expect in years to come, and will make it difficult for many meetings to attract any new leadership at all.

During this difficult period, the yearly meeting superintendent, Don Farlow, has voluntarily reduced his own salary. This personal sacrifice has helped to keep the yearly meeting going – but it also means that it will be difficult to raise the budget again if we ever want to have a full-time person in the yearly meeting office.

Under the current scenario, this may not take place – if the yearly meeting becomes a financial “shell organization”, we may only have a single part-time staff person in the yearly meeting office, or perhaps farm out the responsibilities to an accounting firm. Each of the new “associations” which belong to the yearly meeting would be responsible for hiring whatever staff they can afford (if any).

Quaker Lake Camp currently receives about $160,000 – about 40% of its annual funding – as a subsidy from the yearly meeting. Quaker Lake is a very popular program which nearly everyone in the yearly meeting supports and does not wish to see hurt. At Representative Body, we had a first look at several different scenarios for how funding for Quaker Lake can be achieved:

  1. by diverting income from all possible trust funds to support the camp; this would drastically reduce income available for other ministries and missions
  2. by dramatically increasing the amount we take from yearly meeting trust funds each year; over time, this would drain the principal from the trust funds
  3. by undertaking long-term major fundraising for Quaker Lake to increase its trust funds; by my calculation, Quaker Lake would need a total endowment, including existing funds, of roughly 4 million dollars to fully replace the yearly meeting subsidy (assuming a 4% average annual income)

According to an outside attorney who has been hired as a consultant to assist with the legal and financial aspects of the breakup, Quaker Lake Camp may need to become an independent 501(c)3 organization, which would own or lease the camp property.

The advertising for the 2017 summer camping program at Quaker Lake takes no notice of the division. Seems as though kids aren’t interested in the squabbles of the older generation – and I sincerely hope that the camp will continue to be a fun and exciting place for young people no matter where they’re from!

On a more encouraging note, the North Carolina president of United Society of Friends Women International said that Quaker women plan to continue to work and worship together without regard for the division. This follows similar decisions in some of the other divided yearly meetings. Maybe Quaker women have more love, or more sense, than the rest of us!

Friends Disaster Service, another popular and much appreciated ministry, also plans to continue welcoming volunteers without regard to the division. Everyone celebrated a major bequest of $162,000 to FDS last weekend from a Friend who left most of his estate to the work of rebuilding homes after disasters.

The bottom line: division is already a devastating loss to many yearly meeting programs and ministries.

We do care about our children, and the camping program remains popular. Funding will be a big challenge in the long term.

Ministries and fellowships which are independent from the yearly meeting are continuing to do their own thing and are not allowing the division to affect them.

The next few months and years will continue to show whether division was a good idea – or not.

Are Quakers wise givers?

This post is inspired by the article, “Doing Good Well” by Charles Schade, which appears in the February issue of Friends Journal. I think that many Friends organizations are long overdue for the kind of evaluation which he shares. It’s also very helpful that he presented the various organizations side-by-side so that readers could compare them (similar to my own post, What Does Your Yearly Meeting Web Site Say About You? ).

Quaker organizations don’t do transparency as well as we think – when I visited web sites like charitynavigator.org and greatnonprofits.org, not even the AFSC had a rating.

I have served for quite a few years in three different yearly meetings on committees which were responsible for setting the budgets for giving to large Quaker organizations. Charles Schades’s guidelines would have been very valuable to us. Many yearly meetings practice what I call “budgeting by inertia” – they simply give the same amount, unchanged year after year (sometimes decade after decade!) without question or discussion.

When I served as clerk, I tried to get Friends to think a little more about their giving to Quaker organizations. Here are some of the questions I ask:

  1. Has the group asked us for financial support? Have they asked for a specific amount? Have we given to this group previously?
  2. If we’ve given to them before, did they send us a receipt, thank-you or acknowledgment?

  3. Did they send us a copy of their budget or a financial report?

  4. Are we making a meaningful contribution? Does our gift make a difference? Or is ours just a token gift?

  5. Do we help publicize their work in our meeting? Are we educating ourselves about the work of this group, or about the conditions they are trying to help?

  6. What percentage of their budget is being spent on fundraising?

  7. Is the group effective? Has their work made any difference, either in the lives of individuals served or in the problems the group is trying to address?

  8. Are the goals or mission of the group in harmony with those of our meeting? Do any Friends have serious reservations about the goals, mission or activities of the group? If so, are we willing to labor with them?

  9. Have we had any personal contact with the group? Has anyone from our meeting visited there recently? Are they willing to send someone to visit with us?

  10. If our support for the group is ongoing, has our giving to them kept pace with inflation? Have we given the same amount for many years? What rationale is there for the amount we give?

Charles Schade’s article is addressed more towards the clarity and transparency of the receiving organization, while my questions are aimed more at the process and self-evaluation of the donor organization. In my experience, Quaker meetings tend not to be thoughtful donors (which means we aren’t very good stewards).

I hope Charles Schade’s article read and discussed widely, both by local and yearly meetings and (hopefully) by the organizations which ask us for support.

Let’s talk about money

Quakers in Indiana would almost rather talk about sex. Money is such a non-subject for discussion, but it’s been building up almost as much tension over the last 10 or 20 years as the battles over sexuality which are the “official” reason for our division.

For the last hundred years we have been locked in to a system of assessments based on the number of members in each local meeting. As assessments have relentlessly gone up, this has led many meetings to reduce the number of members, or even discourage people from joining, because each new member also meant adding another $150 to the yearly meeting assessment.

This is the first time in a generation when we have really been free to start over and think fresh. We are free to imagine a new organization, a whole new way of being Friends. We have no budget, which means we are free to think about what we really want to do.

There was general agreement that we don’t want or need to re-create the old structure, staff, and programs of Indiana Yearly Meeting. For years we heard Quakers complain, “What has the yearly meeting done for us?” Now we need to turn that around and plan a new organization which will do what we want. We need to live within our means, but also spend mo more than we are ready and willing to.

Not all yearly meetings are funded by a per capita assessment based on the number of members, though that is the most common practice. Some ask for a percentage of the local meeting’s budget, while other yearly meetings ask meetings to pledge whatever they can.

I’d like to suggest that instead of continuing with a tax based on the number of members, that we use an average of membership and worship attendance. This would help to remove the disincentive for meetings to add members, and include the folks who come to worship but haven’t joined yet. (To see what these numbers might be like, see “What Numbers Are We Talking About?”, posted last November.)

I’m not suggesting that Friends go all the way to zero. Most of our meetings have a long-standing interest in missions, and Quaker missions depend on steady funding, no matter what conniptions Indiana Quakers are going through.

The Indiana Yearly Meeting budget for the last few years has been built on an assessment of $75 for yearly meeting expenses and $75 for missions. As meetings move out of Indiana Yearly Meeting, they’re asking what they should be doing during this time of transition. Some meetings are probably calling it a “tax holiday” and enjoying a little relief in their local finances. Other meetings are including the old assessment in their 2013 budget and setting the funds aside, assuming they will contribute a similar amount to whatever new group they join.

As the New Association of Friends (that’s at least our interim name) start thinking about who we are and what we want to do, we could simply continue the old pattern of $75 for organizational costs and $75 for missions. But here are some other possibilities:

  • $50 for organizational costs
  • $50 for missions
  • $50 for development – intervisitation, scholarships to attend workshops and conferences, visiting speakers, advertising, programs for youth and young adults

Or:

  • $50 for missions
  • $50 for local programs
  • $50 to build up some new long-term funds

Or:

  • $50 for missions
  • $25 for Quaker organizations
  • $75 for organizational costs

Or:

  • $50 for missions
  • $25 for youth and young adult programs
  • $25 for outreach and advertising
  • $50 for part-time staff

Whatever we decide, let’s have some lively discussion from our meetings about what things we really want to do and want to support. Let’s see what we’re willing to contribute, and plan what we positive things we can do with the funds we have. Let’s think about growing, not declining. Let’s not be tied down by the past, but freed for our future.

What numbers are we talking about?

As Indiana Yearly Meeting moves toward a formal division, our focus needs to be on the new group which is emerging, not on apportioning blame for the problems of the past.

Just how big is this new group, and what kind of things can we do together? From informal conversations and postings, it looks as if there will initially about be 10 or a dozen meetings in the new group.

Please note that joining or not joining the group is a decision of monthly meetings for business. The discussion here, or elsewhere on the net, does not take the place of the decisions which are made by individual monthly meetings. Please do not be offended if your meeting’s name appears here (or does not appear).

Meeting Members Worship
attendance

Average
(Members + Attendance)/2

Dublin 10 22 16
First Friends Richmond 118 91 104
Friends of the Light 48 30 39
Muncie Memorial 103 67 85
New Castle First Friends 101 82 91
Raysville 28 20 24
Salem 14 24 19
West Elkton 22 18 20
West Richmond 91 65 78
Williamsburg 23 15 19
TOTAL 558 434 517

It looks as if the new group might start out with roughly 558 members. That’s a lot of good Quakers! All of us live and worship within 60-90 minutes of each other – a compact group.

Perhaps more important, our meetings have a very high ratio of membership to actual attendance at worship. If you compare our membership with our average attendance at worship, it varies from one meeting to another but it’s pretty strong – in some cases, there are actually more people worshiping on Sunday than there are members of the meeting!

Nationwide, most Protestant churches figure they’re doing pretty well if 1/3 of their members turn up on an average Sunday. Overall, it averages out to 77% – more than twice the national average. In my thinking, that kind of loyalty and interest far outweighs our numbers.

And as we look toward the future, let’s be looking for ways we can grow. Perhaps the conflicts and tensions which have been grinding away at Indiana Friends’ energy and enthusiasm for years can be laid aside, and we can find new avenues for growth.

What about retired Friends?

Dividing the yearly meeting may seem like a neat and tidy solution to our conflict — but as we’re already finding out, it isn’t. Problems and challenges keep cropping up, and here’s another one.

Pastors and ministers serving in Indiana Yearly Meeting are eligible for two special sources of financial assistance when they retire – the Friends Ministers Fund at Friends Fellowship Community, and the Disbursing Fund of Indiana Yearly Meeting.

What will happen to them if Indiana Yearly Meeting divides? Will both yearly meetings respect the service of their pastors and recorded ministers? Or will the spirit of division lead to recriminations against those who have served our meetings faithfully?

Here are descriptions of the policies for the funds. From the FFC web site:

“The Friends Ministers Fund, created in 1995, provides financial assistance to Friends ministers, missionaries, and their spouses who have faithfully served Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting for a minimum of 10 years as a recorded minister and whose resources may be insufficient both for entry fees and monthly care fees. Availability of assistance from this fund does vary, since it is dependent on the number of individuals receiving assistance at any one time.”

From the IYM Pastor’s Handbook:

“1. To be a recipient, the applicant must be a member of the Society of Friends and shall have served as a minister, missionary, full-time Christian worker, or spouse of same, in Indiana Yearly Meeting, and must be at least 65 years of age or in poor health as certified by a medical doctor, or are in need.

2. At the time of application, applicant must have given no less than 10 years of service to Indiana Yearly Meeting in capacities stated above.”

Before any plan for division is approved, Friends should agree how to handle this issue fairly. Many ministers in Indiana Yearly Meeting have not taken sides in this conflict. Others have labored to prevent division from taking place. Years from now, it may be difficult to judge what part individuals have taken, and it would be unfair to penalize our retired ministers for the actions of Friends who have sought to divide the yearly meeting.

A formula for handling this issue should be created before any final plan for division is approved. It should be communicated in writing to the management of Friends Fellowship Community, and the guidelines for the Disbursing Board should be updated to reflect it.

Here are some suggestions for such a formula:

  • all ministers and their spouses will be eligible for assistance from the Friends Ministers Fund and the Disbursing Board who have served a full 10 years in Indiana Yearly Meeting before the time of the division, regardless of which yearly meeting their monthly meeting chooses to join
  • ministers and their spouses who have served for less than 10 years in Indiana Yearly Meeting at the time of division will also be eligible for such assistance, without prejudice as to which yearly meeting they serve in, providing that they complete at least 10 years of combined service in the original Indiana Yearly Meeting and either of its successors
  • both yearly meetings will be encouraged to continue to contribute to the Friends Ministers Fund
  • IYM should take appropriate legal counsel to make sure that the wording of any changes protects the interests of all of our ministers, whatever monthly meeting they have served in, and in whatever yearly meeting they complete their service

We need someone neutral

In nearly all of my posts on this blog, I have tried to make a case for Indiana Yearly Meeting not to divide – and I haven’t given up yet!

However, the level of anger, dissatisfaction and dissent on both sides keeps rising. The latest plan for division proposed by the Reconciliation Task Force (a name which surely is no longer appropriate!) is so unfair that even some Friends on the “IYM B” side are questioning it.

Indiana Yearly Meeting has, according to most reports, roughly $5 million in assets. Under the proposed plan of division, only about $300,000 (designated by some unexplained formula as “liquid assets”) would be divided between the two new yearly meetings, based on the number of members in each group at the time of division. So, for example, if 20% of the members are in IYM-A and 80% in IYM-B, IYM-A would be given $60,000, and IYM-B would get $240,000 – and all of the rest would remain with IYM-B.

Many of the other assets of Indiana Yearly Meeting are tied up in some way – as endowments for specific purposes, scholarship funds, in real estate, receivable debts, and so on. However, in any kind of a divorce, this division of assets would not be approved by a fair-minded judge.

To prevent the kind of generations-long bitterness that this plan will generate, I recommend that Friends agree to get an outside mediator or arbitrator – an experienced, neutral person who can be impartial in setting up a legally binding agreement.

An arbitrator must be acceptable to both sides, and in my opinion should not be a Midwest Quaker or have any stake in the outcome of this decision. While arbitration fees may seem high, it’s a price well worth paying to avoid the kind of hateful bickering and charges of bias and unfairness which are what we’ve got now.

Some worth checking:

  • American Arbitration Association – best-known group in the field – http://www.adr.org
  • National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals – maintains a directory of qualified mediators -www.nadn.org. One of their members in our area is Michael Bishop – attorney/mediator based in Indianapolis (317) 573-8888
  • Alban Institute – highly respected non-denominational organization -www. alban.org
  • Peacemaker Ministries – http://www.peacemaker.net

Other Friends may suggest other mediators and arbitrators who they are familiar with, but the basic idea is simple: we have demonstrated that we can’t solve this problem on our own, using our own members as resources. We need outside help, either to resolve this dispute and stay together, or to find a fair formula for division.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

When you come down to it, the controversy which has split Indiana Yearly Meeting is all about membership. Who can be accepted as a member – and who will be excluded?

The current conflict in Indiana Yearly Meeting rose because some monthly meetings have assumed that homosexuals are barred from membership, while other monthly meetings have expressed their willingness to welcome and accept openly gay and lesbian people as members.

The meetings which oppose homosexuality feel strongly that being a gay or lesbian person is sinful, and they do not want to be associated in any way with sin. In effect, they want to exercise veto power over the membership decisions of all monthly meetings. If they don’t get their way, they want to divide the yearly meeting so that they will not have to associate with monthly meetings which welcome and accept homosexuals.

The Quaker “rule book”, Faith and Practice, says, rather dryly:

“Friends accept into adult membership those whose faith in God and in Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord is manifest in their lives and who are in unity with the teachings of Christian truth as held by the Religious Society of Friends.” (Indiana Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, 2011 edition, p. 51)

The decision about who to welcome and accept as members always rests with the local monthly meeting – not with the yearly meeting or with anyone else. Some meetings organize classes for new or prospective members, while other meetings offer reading material or have no formal training or exploration of beliefs.

Faith and Practice recommends that Friends  meet with applicants for membership. However, the guidelines are very vague:

“The point of the conference is not to conduct a pointed examination. It is to share views and to ascertain whether the applicant seeks a fuller understanding of the basic principles of Christian living, finds satisfaction in the faith and meetings for worship of Friends, and desires to join with Friends in corporate and continuing search for Truth.” (Faith and Practice, 2011 edition, p. 79)

Reality check:  when assessments were fairly cheap, there was a lot of prestige attached to having a many members in your meeting. In recent years, though, many meetings have been cutting their membership rolls, in order to reduce the amount they have to pay to the yearly meeting.  In 2011, the assessment by Indiana Yearly Meeting is $150 per adult member — meetings have a very strong financial disincentive against adding new members!

In addition, studies for more than 40 years have shown that formal church membership is not a high priority for many people – they come to worship, participate in activities, and give generously, but “being a member” just isn’t as important as it was to earlier generations.

So, in some ways, this whole conflict seems pretty silly. Membership decisions are local, and Faith and Practice is nearly silent on the issue of homosexuality. Formal membership in general is declining in popularity. And splitting the yearly meeting will only lead to a further decrease in membership on all sides.

And yet, the issue still generates a lot of heat among Friends. The right to be inclusive, or the right not to associate with people with whom we disagree at a deep spiritual level, seems to be very fundamental – so fundamental that Friends are willing to break a fellowship which has existed for over 200 years.

Other Friends around the country (and even around the world!) are watching Indiana Friends closely. How the question of membership plays out, and the spirit in which we proceed, will have a tremendous effect on our future.


Disclaimer

All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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