The turning over of the calendar reminds me of a question we get frequently from congregation leadership: what is the best fiscal year for a UU congregation? Most of our congregations use either the calendar year or a fiscal year ending June 30. There are a few others; one I encountered recently goes with May 31. The data that we have from recent work with over 50 congregations shows 80% with June 30, 15% December 31, and 5% other.
So what are the pros and cons of each, and what considerations come into play when choosing?
First, let’s look at the calendar year. One advantage is its simplicity; everyone knows it and understands it. You can easily explain to people how your year works. And many people make a significant percentage of their charitable contributions in the fourth quarter of the year, so your pledge drive coincides with when people are giving mode. Also, by aligning with the federal, state, and local tax year, your reports to members and other donors line up nicely. You can provide quarterly, semi-annual, and annual reports that line up with familiar milestones.
So why might we consider anything else? The big disadvantage of the calendar year is that it does not line up nicely with the “church year” or congregation calendar for almost all UU congregations. Having a calendar year-end means starting your budget process and annual pledge drive almost immediately after the church year opens in September – and then you have to do everything in a big rush to be ready for a congregation meeting to approve a budget in December. We advise congregations to allow at least six months to plan and carry out a really good campaign, and that just does not come easily if you have to start in September. To do a Fall campaign well requires starting in the late spring or working over the summer, not the most convenient.
A related issue is that the Fall is busy for faith communities. In addition to the start-up activities that require lots of energy and attention, people quickly become focused on the major holidays in November and December. So your four months available for the campaign really boil down to two, and the people power that can be committed to stewardship is limited even in those two by other demands.
A June 30 fiscal year end allows for a much more effective process for planning and executing the annual campaign – or a combined annual/capital campaign when those come up. You can start planning and recruiting in the mid-Fall, gradually build up momentum into the winter, and be in full gear and ready to go by late February or early March. The campaign can easily be completed in time for a May annual meeting at which a budget can be adopted.
In addition, most church operations are organized around a June 30 year-end, including board and committee terms, religious education registration, personnel schedules, and sign-ups for choir, affinity and covenant groups, etc. And finally, June 30 is also the UUA’s fiscal year, enabling you to align your fair share contribution.
And perhaps most important, the Summer and September are peak times for church shopping, and you want to spend your time and energy welcoming and integrating visitors and new members rather than jumping right in with budgets and stewardship.
So what do we recommend? First, if everything is working smoothly and you see no reason to change, stick with what you’re doing. Changing fiscal years takes time and planning, and has the potential to confuse members; it’s not a simple undertaking. But… if you are on a calendar year or other cycle and finding yourselves facing the scheduling challenges noted above, consider making the switch to a June 30 fiscal year. And if you’re starting from scratch, June 30 is the way to go.