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Church Investment Aim: Putting UU Values to Work

During the past 10 years the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universaslist (UU) Church, Camp Springs, MD (107 members), has invested $25,000 in donations and loans in the UU Affordable Housing Corporation, based in Washington, DC.  The money has come from the church's endowment fund and from individual members.

The housing corporation uses the funds from Davies and many other UU congregations to make below-market rate loans to nonprofit developers of affordable housing. In all, close to $2 million has come from congregations.

The housing corporation is one example of ways UU congregations can put endowment funds to work in socially responsible ways, says Jerry Gabert, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Treasurer. He encourages congregations to look in their own communities for ways to put their UU principles into practice. Chambers of commerce and city halls are good places to begin looking for those opportunities.

The UUA will match member contributions up to $10,000 for purposes of community investment. The investments must be in community loan funds that are members of the National Association of Community Loan Funds. Most opportunities like this will be in affordable housing, Gabert said. "This can double the potential impact that a congregation can have," he says. 

The Rev. Ralph Mero, UUA Director of Church Staff Finances, encourages congregations and individuals to invest in a socially responsible manner. Many congregations invest their endowment funds with the UUA, knowing that the association is in the forefront of religious organizations that follow socially responsible principles in fund management.

In addition to shunning corporations that produce products such as tobacco and weaponry and engage in unfair labor practices and environmental degradation, the UUA Investment Committee, which includes Gabert and several UUs who are professional money managers, seeks out companies that strive to be socially responsible in both corporate and public policy.

Mero says his office receives frequent inquiries about socially responsible funds that might be good choices for IRAs and other personal investments. He refers callers to the SocialFunds website, which lists some funds that have outperformed general unscreened funds.

Rex Neihof, a member of Davies Memorial Church and a member of the board of the housing corporation, said the congregation first got involved because another member was an officer of the corporation. Then, when members of the church began doing volunteer work for the corporation, that spurred more interest, he said. "They could see what was needed and what was possible. It brought home to people what could be done."

The UU Church of Arlington, VA (870 members), has invested $11,000 in the housing corporation. "It gives us a sense we're providing help in a fairly significant way," says member Gene Mulligan.


About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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