A Hundred Grand Doesn't Buy Inspiration

The bottom line: the UUA Board, led by Gini Courter, and the Administration, led by Rev. Peter Morales, have reached a point of such impasse over reporting and accountability that they have seen fit to budget $100,000 for a consultant to work out their relationship.

I say that there has been a catastrophic failure of the collective leadership of the UUA, and we the rank and file, lay and ordained, ought to be thoroughly and righteously angry about it.  In high dudgeon, in fact.

Moderator Courter has moved the UUA Board to Policy Governance.  Policy Governance asserts that the organization is led by the Board which established goals for the organization (called "Ends") and establishes "Policies" which establish the boundaries of permissible actions to achieve those ends.  The staff or administration then goes forth to do the work of the organization within the policies that have been made.  An end may be to be financially self-supporting; the policy is the staff can't rob banks to get income to cover expenses.

The administration is supposed to provide the board with "monitoring reports" in which it reports how it defines the end in practical terms, establishes measurable goals to reach that end, and reports as to whether it is in compliance with the end.  The Board can dispute whether the definition and the goals are reasonable.

It's much more complicated than that.  But our UUA Board and UUA Administration have not been able to make this work.  To the point, that a $100,000 consultant to mediate this is considered a wise investment.

You might remember that at the last election for UU President, Moderator Courter endorsed Rev. Laurel Hallman, whose experience at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas included working with policy governance.  Rev. Morales expressed much more informal commitment to policy governance.

Rev. Morales won the election.  And the Board and the Administration have been unable to agree on the reporting needed.

Is this a relationship problem?  I doubt it.  If there is anything that you can count on is that the leaders of the UUA possess exquisite interpersonal and relational skills.  It is the one trait required of leaders throughout the denomination.  After all, these same people managed to work through all the complications of Justice GA in Phoenix, when so many assumed it would be a hot mess in the desert.

I think that the problem is that the UUA has tended to view governance and organization as the effective substitutes for shared mission and vision.  Indeed, we talk about congregational polity as though it were a theology.

I don't resent the $100,000 to spent on a consultant.  It's not the money.  It's just that it continues the pattern of looking toward governance as the solution to our problems.

What if we went another way:  What if we gathered the wisest, most dedicated and inspirational leaders of Unitarian Universalism and asked them to articulate our mission and vision and to work with our leaders to build personal commitment for that.  Instead of turning toward expertise, we turn to inspiration as the way forward.


  1. from the beginning the Carver model was never appropriate for the UUA - our President/CEO is elected NOT hired - the board has been trying to treat him as if he were their creature - undoubtedly that would work if he could be fired whenever he didn't meet the board's demands -

    it may be that Laurel Hallman knew more about the model - and we do know the moderator wanted her - but that's not what the vote was - I don't think UUs elect presidents for their theories of governance

    I agree - no amount of dabbling in governance with any of the thousands of "experts" ready to consult on the subject will replace a shared vision and an articulated theology

  2. Clyde Grubbs11:47 AM

    The vision must be held by the whole Association.

    The vision should generate concrete plans with goals, goals that are measurable.

    The capacity to be concrete, to measure those concrete programs, to evaluate the impact of those programs is necessary for the vision to be more than a wish.

    Governance is the process of moving from ad hoc to strategic, from "feedback" to evalutation.

    Vision is not an alternative to governance, governance is the way vision is given hands.

  3. The Carver model was designed for for-profit corporations. It is often inappropriate for many non-profit organizations. Having served on a school board, I know a number of school boards that have gotten into trouble by adopting the Carver model. Among other things, it is harder to quanitify the goals of a non-profit organization than it is to measure profits.

    In addition, for many non-profit organizations, the means of getting to an end are at least as important as the end, and simply setting parameters is not quite the right way to approach the issue.

    Boards should avoid micro-management, but you don't have to adopt the Carver model to avoid micro-management. The Carver model also submerges conflicts over important issues under weird side-issues about process.

    The $100K seems questionable to me. I would like to see an explanation of how this will solve the problem.

    I suspect the problem is that President Morales and the Board have somewhat different goals for the UUA, not a "failure of governance" that can be solved by a consultant.

    Does anyone know enough about what is going on to explain what is REALLY going on? What is the real disagreement behind this supposed disagreement about whether the reports properly quantify the goals? I find it difficult to believe that this is the real issue.

  4. Clyde Grubbs6:43 PM

    The problem isn't policy governance, and it is not true that policy governance was "developed for profit making corporations."

    Our problem is reports that do not account for the efficacy of programs. If they are worthwhile programs (which I beleive they are) they should be a way of measuring their impact.

    The Board is not mistreating the President.

  5. Mr. Grubbs:

    I've read the Carver model. I've been to briefings on the Carver model, including one delivered by John Carver. I've observed school boards trying to use the Carver model.

    It is true that John Carver believes that his model applies to non-profit organizations and that many non-profit organizations have attempted to apply the model. So in that sense, you are right that the model is, in Carver's opinion, designed to work for non-profit organizations.

    I continue to think that this model's focus on quantifiable ends and limitations on means is a mistaken application of governance that might be appropriate for for-profit corporations to the non-profit world. I do not think the Carver model is well-designed for many non-profit organizations.

  6. Mr. Grubbs:

    And I would also add that as an economist, I'm all in favor of quantifying what can be quantified, and have spent much of my career thinking about how to measure the causal impact of public policies..

    One thing that the Carver model fails to deal with is the enormous difficulty in many non-profit service organizations in actually measuring the causal impact of policies and practices and programs on what really matters. This creates real problems for the model.

  7. "It's hard" is not a satisfactory excuse for not attempting to measure the failure or success of one's work. The problem that I have seen around churches and non-profits is that they often just want to "do something" that is familiar and comfortable. They often don't seem that engaged or concerned about thoughtful and intentional discernment about what they should or could be doing and how they might quantify it. jmo

  8. Anonymous1:35 PM

    The money is a symptom, not the disease, but it is one we need to really have looked at. Governance isn't religion, and polity (as I have said so many times) is not theology. I don't mind the UUA establishing more of a leadership role, but that role needs to be rooted in healing and encouraging people, not in being a political movement.

    We had growth because there was a time when people were looking for something, and our message told them that we could help them find it. We failed them, and now they are leaving us. There are congregations that are doing well, but they are exceptions. We are loosing the smaller congregations, in part, due to lack of leadership and hollow theology.

    We need more than "ends" and "means". If we believe in ongoing revelation and deny that there is a set end to the world, then we need to do away with the idea that our goals have "ends". We need to see our mission as continuous and we need to make it central to everything we do.

    I am disappointed in the UUA, to the point that I have given up "Unitarian Universalist" as a label with any meaning. We are so afraid to exclude anyone from our potential pool of dues-paying membership, that we only offer weak and shallow platitudes. Our "Principles" read like a UN resolution, and our sources are pick-and-choose rather than an integrated system of understanding.

    $100,000 would be a very small price to pay for real change, but I have no reason to believe that moving more efficiently in the wrong direction could possibly be a good use of our resources.

  9. Citing materialsojourn's comment: "We had growth because there was a time when people were looking for something, and our message told them that we could help them find it. We failed them, and now they are leaving us. There are congregations that are doing well, but they are exceptions. We are loosing the smaller congregations, in part, due to lack of leadership and hollow theology.", I would like to use this negatively phrased assessment as the starting point to propose the adoption of a significantly new paradigm for reviewing the current UUA governance and policy position, particularly as they address the need to grow membership. Finding sufficient affirmation of this need from the most popular UUWorld article/essay of 2013, i.e., Doug Muder's "Is Religion Broken?", I urge those interested to read his blog before reading the rest of my proposal.
    I believe his blog represents a clear and substantial instance of a very significant shift in the evolving overall mindset about "religion". We have failed the younger generations insofar as we have not altered the design of our "policies" to self align to this shift, i.e., it isn't due to lack of leadership and hollow theology, it's due to our leadership (who do have a very high level of leadership energy and ability) staying with a theology that is rapidly shifting to an ideology that is no longer subscribed to by a large segment of the people. As our lives in general have changed so incredibly in the last hundred years, let alone the last two hundred years and beyond, this segment is casting aside the old paradigms of spirituality (read religious community is no longer needed for community/survival) in favor of new ones, ones that are yet to be clearly articulated - we're in between.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

the difference between "principles' and "virtues"

Starting a Discussion about Multi-partner relationships

Reflection on Merger (Dialectical Theology Part 8 of many)

What's In Our DNA (Dialectical Theology, part 7 of many)

Denise Levertov's Poem about Thomas