When water began leaking onto the last two rows of pews at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Society of Greater Springfield, MA (225 members), about eight years ago, it was seen as a sign: a sign that it was time to develop a plan for longterm maintenance. To fix the immediate problem the congregation got busy and with the help of a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) fundraising consultant organized a capital campaign that raised $200,000 to which it added $150,000 from its endowment fund to replace the roof and make other repairs.
After the roof was replaced the congregation went a step further. It developed a 10-year preventive maintenance plan and then added a preventive maintenance line item to the budget. Each year at the annual meeting the congregation votes on a list of proposed projects for the coming year.
The congregation has also voted to protect its endowment so that it will be available for other major projects, if needed. At one time Springfield drew on its endowment fund for 40 percent of the operating budget. Now it’s 23 percent. “We’ve worked hard over the years to raise our pledges so we could use the endowment for significant items like helping with the roof,” said Roger Kellman, a recent finance chair.
Wayne Clark, Director of the UUA’s Office of Congregational Fundraising Services, sees a lot of congregations struggle with preventive maintenance. He recommends that congregations put an amount into their annual budget for preventive maintenance. And because that’s often the first thing that gets cut if the canvass comes up short, he recommends that a bylaw be created that mandates that the money be set aside.
Another way of addressing the issue is a separate building fund for the specific purpose of maintenance. How much should be set aside? It depends, Clark says, on the size, age, and condition of a congregation’s facility. He also recommends that congregations don’t use their endowment to top off an annual canvass. It’s better to improve canvass procedures. An endowment can be used to help pay for extreme expenses such as a roof.
After experiencing an increase in membership, members of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, PA (254), recognized that failure to address longterm maintenance could limit the congregation’s growth. It formed a committee to collect suggestions for repairs and improvements. The resulting list of 22 items had an estimated cost of $100,000 to $500,000.
The congregation created a Capital Improvements Restricted Fund and is putting $5,000 annually in it. The plan is to not use the fund until it reaches $50,000. When a roof repair became necessary just a year after the fund was established the costs came out of the operating fund.
The UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY (310), relies on a budget line item currently at $12,400 for maintenance and repair of its nearly century-old building. Many of Huntington’s maintenance problems are headed off by its monthly work parties, which not only nip many problems early, but keep attention on maintenance.
No one has ever suggested cutting the maintenance line item, said Mary Jane Wochinger, a work party regular. “If they do, we invite them to our work parties.”
When the UU Church of Las Cruces, NM (135), paid off its mortgage several years ago it kept up its savings habit by putting $150 a month into a building contingency fund. Later it doubled that amount, and now it has $17,330 in the account. “The finance committee just thought that with buildings as old as ours, this is the responsible thing to do,” said Barbara Hall, treasurer. “We know that at some point we’ll have to replace a roof or have other major repairs.”