Many of us are eagerly awaiting the day when we can be together in person. But it won’t be like “flipping a switch.” In the months ahead, some activities will be easier and safer to do in person than others and, for a variety of reasons, you’ll be continuing some online options even after onsite gatherings are possible.
As congregations plan for the post-pandemic era, we offer some guidance for budgeting and staffing.
Program and Event Options
Before plunging into specifics, you'll want to consider key questions about mission, decision-making, orientation to technology, and more. See Multi-Platform: Choose Your Own Adventure.
Once you are ready to begin making specific program-related decisions, keep in mind that your choices are more than simply "online or in-person." Your budget and staffing will reflect the particulars, such as outdoor programming needs and/or simultaneous online and in-person worship support teams (e.g., greeters/hosts).
An environment of uncertainty makes it challenging to plan. In putting together your budget, you will need to make reasonable assumptions and estimate costs. Keep in mind your mission and how to center the needs of the most vulnerable members of your community.
Two strategies that congregations have used over the past year:
- Budget for less than a year at a time. (For example, budget for July through December in the spring, January through June in the fall).
- For the time being, create two, or even three, versions of the budget.
In looking at the income side of your budget:
- What assumptions can help you estimate pledge income?
- Are you in conversation with pre-pandemic renters? Do they plan to return? Based on your safety policies and theirs, when do you estimate a return? Are new possibilities for rental income emerging?
- What other sources of income do you rely upon? How can you estimate them? Are there new sources to explore?
As you begin to budget for a time when regathering is possible, you probably have some relatively fixed expenses that you can plan for well. Perhaps you've even identified some savings. The tricky part, of course, is budgeting for new and variable expenses – in particular, items tied to your programmatic decisions.
What new items might you need to budget for? Here are a few categories and examples to consider:
- Technology: additional video equipment, livestreaming subscriptions
- Structural improvements: ventilation upgrades, plexiglass partitions
- Outdoor infrastructure: chairs and tables, canopy tent, sound system
- Safety and hygiene: signage, sanitizing supplies, enough RE supplies for separate workstations (to allow for increased spacing between children, whether outdoors or indoors with good ventilation)
- Personnel: The work of staff (and volunteers) changed significantly during the pandemic. As congregations begin to reopen for in-person activities while maintaining an online presence, needs and responsibilities will have to be rethought yet again. (Even many non-staff expense items, such as those above, will require staff time to research and put into use.) Let us now turn more specifically to staffing.
We all know about "other duties as assigned." Yes, we expect staff to be adaptable, especially in an emergency situation. Given the high value we put on growth and learning in Unitarian Universalism, it is no surprise that many congregational staff are not only willing but eager to develop their skills and contribute to their congregations in new ways over time.
But when responsibilities are added, the staff member and their supervisor should have a conversation about workload, priorities, and training needs. Is this a temporary assignment or likely to be long-term? Does the staff member have the tools to do what is being asked of them? What other tasks can be dropped to free up time? Are the new responsibilities generally in line with their regular work scope and purpose – or is this adding a whole new dimension to their role?
Operating in this era of change and uncertainty makes strong supervisory relationships and authentic team conversations more important than ever. See Congregational Staff Teams for curated resources on collaborative leadership, supervision, and more.
In evaluating staff time and job scopes, be sure to take into account the following:
- Research and decision-making: As you plan for new ways of doing things, account for the time needed by staff to research options, to make decisions, and to implement new approaches.
- Training and cross-training: Are staff being asked to take on new responsibilities? Be sure to budget appropriately for training (time and funding), as well as the time needed for staff to get up to speed. Build in backup plans, so that more than one person knows how to do "the thing."
- Reduced bandwidth: We've been saying it since the pandemic began and it's worth saying again now. As we move into another new normal, everything will feel harder and take longer than usual.
- Time off: For emotional and/or technical reasons, the beginning of the multi-platform era may be a difficult time for ministers and staff to pull away. Regular days off, as well as vacation time, are essential to staff well-being.
Sometimes it's not just a matter of making sure a staff member has enough paid hours (and training). What if they are being asked to work "above their pay grade" on a sustained basis? We encourage you to come up with a reasonable and equitable process for reviewing both hours and pay rates, perhaps in concert with annual performance reviews.
Your current staff may be able to shift gears or expand hours to meet new needs, but that's not always realistic. If you have a short-term technical need, contracting out may be a good option. (Learn about the legal distinction between employees and independent contractors.)
If you are thinking about creating a new staff position or making significant changes to a current staff position, keep in mind that we expect to be in a fluid situation for some time. Look at staffing strategies that allow for change as needs evolve. These might include temporary positions, intentional cross-training, and Sharing Staff. Check out our Hiring Staff resources, including a position description template and Staffing for Diversity. But please know that most of our resources were not developed with short-term variability and longer-term flexibility as primary considerations.
These are complicated times, adaptive times. We are all in learning mode. Valuing Your Staff During the COVID-19 Pandemic speaks to expanding your congregation's capacity, self-care for staff, and living our values – all as important as ever.