How One Congregation Met Its Staff Equity Goal

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When the UUA released new Congregational Salary Program recommendations in late 2022, leaders at the Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalists (CVUU) church in Cedar Falls, Iowa, were concerned.

A relatively small congregation (120 members at the time), the CVUU employed a fulltime minister and three part-time staff – an administrator, music director, and director of children’s religious education. The congregation supported the UUA goals of increasing equity and transparency, but significantly increasing all four employee salaries and compensation up to the new UUA guidelines seemed like a big lift, and perhaps an unreachable challenge in the short term.

CVUU Finance Director Mike Knapp was in contact with other UU finance leaders around the U.S., and he quickly realized the CVUU was not alone in experiencing some hesitation toward the new pay guidelines. “Most congregations supported the new guidelines overall, but figured it would take two to three years to get them fully implemented.” Knapp recalls, “I knew our congregation valued equity, but I didn’t know how soon we’d be able to reach the new pay scale goals.”

The CVUU is financially stable, and in recent years has prioritized supporting their staff. During the Covid-19 pandemic the Board voted to extend full health care benefits and paid time off to eligible part-time employees, and at the end of the pandemic they gave all staff two additional weeks of paid vacation to express appreciation for the extra time and work they put in during those difficult times.

Conversations began between their Finance and Shared Ministry Councils, and the Personnel Committee. With encouragement from Pastor Emma Peterson, CVUU leadership decided to take on a huge challenge: the Stewardship Team would try to raise enough money during the annual pledge drive to move staff up to the new compensation guidelines within six months. Heather Flory, chairperson of the Shared Ministry Council and Stewardship Team member, remembers “We realized it was a big ask, but we appreciate our staff so much that we decided to go ‘all in’. It was a little risky, because we didn’t want to set ourselves up for failure, but we also felt if we came up a bit short, that would still be better than not trying.”

An Ambitious Stewardship Goal

The CVUU utilizes a rotating Stewardship Team of four members to lead their annual pledge drive, which raises money for their budget. After crunching the numbers, it became clear in order to reach the pay equity goals, pledges would need to increase 21% from FY 2023 to FY 2024. Karen Impola, a member of the Stewardship Team, realized “going through the motions was not going to get the job done. If we were going to ask for extraordinary pledges, the Stewardship Team would have to put out extra effort too.”

So, in addition to mailing out their typical pledge drive info packet, the Team led a series of small-group lunches and dinners, each with 8-10 CVUU members. As they broke bread together, each participant shared their spiritual journey and why the CVUU community was an important part of their life. As a secondary aspect of each session, the upcoming stewardship campaign ‘ask’ was outlined, making clear that this year’s stewardship campaign was all about pay equity for staff. All the small group meals were very well attended.

The Stewardship Team also gathered testimonials from CVUU members about each staff member and the minister, inserted those into video format, and showed a video featuring one staff person each Sunday during stewardship pledge month. The message was delivered across many platforms, and was crystal clear: this stewardship campaign was all about pay equity.

Results of the Pledge Campaign

The pledges came in at a record pace, and weekly progress was duly noted on a large, 3-dimensional graphic on the sanctuary wall. In the end, total pledges increased 19.3%, all part-time staff received pay increases of 18-24%, and all employees were moved onto the new UUA wage/salary continuum.

“I’m so proud of how members of the CVUU tackled this big challenge,” offers Pastor Emma. “Our staff members feel valued, and the entire congregation made a big statement about their values. The entire effort gave our Beloved Community great momentum as we headed into the new year.”

Since the pledge drive ended, the CVUU has welcomed 25 new members over the past 10 months.

Submitted by Dennis Harbaugh, President, Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalists

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