A Statement from Gini Courter

The Moderator sent this message to the Ministers' online Chat.  I received her permission to reprint it here.

The article in this week's UU World online resembled a dramatic reading based (in part) on the UUA Board meeting more than an account of the meeting itself. 
Here is a short response from me on the Board's decision to invest $100,000 with a management consultant next fiscal year to build capacity. (Most of the reports referenced below can be found in the January and April board packets on uua.org.)  

In January 2013 the UUA Administration provided the Board with an ends monitoring report that catalogued a lack of success in key areas. (Where we have 
data, the data points toward no growth or decline as opposed to growth.) This 
report was the best ends report the Administration has written thus far because 
it provided enough information about what the Administration is trying to 
accomplish to generate questions and conversation with the Board. We reflected 
that our numbers are declining in the pews and RE classrooms, but the UUA's 
programmatic choices and the budget seem largely unchanged from year to year. 
Following lengthy discussion the Board requested a remediation report grounded 
in a strategic plan and addressing the major areas of concern that the 
Administration had identified. A remediation report would provide detailed 
answers to a question like: What programmatic or operational adjustments will 
the President make to achieve the hoped for outcomes/ends?  

The Board also approves the budget for the coming year in April, so trustees 
expected to receive three related reports from the Administration for the April 
meeting: a strategic plan, a remediation report indicating what would be done 
differently to try to achieve better outcomes against the strategic plan, and a 
budget that reflected both the strategic plan and the changes presented in the 
remediation report. This is not what the Board actually received.  

The UU World article notes that the Board and Administration disagreed over 
monitoring reports; monitoring reports and operational definitions were 
discussed but these were not the major concerns for the trustees. The Board was 
focused on the continuing lack of a detailed strategic plan and the budget to 
operationalize that plan. We spend millions of dollars annually in a budget that 
is only loosely linked to a strategic plan or ends, therefore no one can 
determine if the programs funded are the best way or even a good way to advance 
Unitarian Universalism. Some trustees indicated that they would not be able to 
approve the proposed budget.   

During the discussion of reports at the April meeting, President Morales and 
members of the executive team said that they cannot provide the reports that the 
Board needs. While the Administration has stated this before, their statement 
appears to have been heard differently at this meeting. The Board responded by 
authorizing the use of $100,000 from reserves for a management consultant to 
support the Administration in creating a strategic plan, aligning programmatic 
efforts to the plan, evaluating the outcomes of those programs, and reporting, 
and to work with the Board to assure accountability going forward. The 
Administration approved this direction. The Board and Administration will work 
together to identify an appropriate consultant to begin work this summer.     

The UUA's annual operating budget is roughly $20,000,000. The Board feels that 
the transtion after GA provides the appropriate time to invest $100,000 -- about 
one half of one percent of one year's budget -- to help the Administration and 
Board establish systems and practices that demonstrate accountability and assure 
that the funds contributed by our congregations and donors will be put to the 
best possible use to fulfill the purposes of Unitarian Universalism. 

In faith, 

Gini Courter


  1. Joel Slater2:41 PM

    To me is seems like spending money to higher a consultant on how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. In my opinion I think our Faith (and by that it would include atheists and agnostics) is becoming overly politicized, and that is not why most people join a Church. I believe concerns of a political nature, social justice, are important-but they should relate to our religion's core beliefs and not just seem as ad hoc add ons. I this we keep deluding ourselves that the medium is the message and believe the fix lies in better ways to deliver the message. I think we need to put more thought into the message, and less faith in some magical technological fix.

  2. These last two posts have been exceptionally useful and revealing.

  3. As editor of UU World, I have no idea what the moderator means when she writes, "The article in this week's UU World online resembled a dramatic reading based (in part) on the UUA Board meeting more than an account of the meeting itself."

    Our coverage was based entirely on in-person reporting from the board meetings and documents the board was discussing.

    No one from the board has contacted the magazine to raise concerns about the accuracy of our story. We strive to give our readers clear, accurate, and timely news about the Association—and when we get something wrong, we strive to correct it.

    A final point: The magazine's coverage of the board is not reviewed by or shown in advance to the UUA administration. We aim for objective, independent coverage that serves the UUA's members, and are as careful as possible not to take sides in institutional politics.

  4. Having read the responses of President Morales and Moderator Courter, I find myself puzzled. They each make statements that the other contradicts. 

    For example, Moderator Courter says, "The Board was focused on the continuing lack of a detailed strategic plan and the budget to operationalize that plan." However, President Morales says, "Members of the board have said that the board did not receive a strategic plan with the budget. This is simply not the case."

    Another example seems to be the intent and purpose of the consultant the Moderator Courter says WILL be retained and President Morales says MIGHT be retained. 

    She says, "The Board and Administration will work together to identify an appropriate consultant to begin work this summer." However, he says "I saw, and continue to see, the $100,000 as a fund to draw upon if the new board and moderator, in dialog with me and our senior leadership, believe that level of consulting is necessary."

    It is almost as if they were at different meetings. 

  5. Clyde Grubbs9:03 PM

    CS Giles,

    They were at the same meeting. Different point of view.

    Gini's statement represents the consensus of the elected volunteer Board that is exercising its fiduciary responsibllity by asking for evidence that UUA programs are effective.

    Peter statement about the future Moderator siting down and working things out is wishful thinking. It seems to imply that Gini is the designated patient and all will be swell when the new Moderator comes.

  6. Clyde Grubbs9:21 PM

    Chris Walton,

    In the Daily Kos a blogger named Wolverton wrote "How much the news media's chronic quest for drama adds to the public's misinformation? How many headlines talk about the myths concerning this or that? Reporters love to stir the crap pot. I get it, fluffy good news doesn't sell or get clicks. Is it any wonder the average person is largely clueless about the Affordable Care Act?"

    Wolverton is not the first to note that media can make themselves the message, and shape perceptions.

    Those of us who have taken the Standing on the Side of Love media training may remember being trained to shape our remarks in terms of a story involving conflict and controversy so the reporter and then the editor would see "the news" in our remarks.

    Michelle Deakin finds much drama in our meetings.and while she may "strive" for "objectivity" she missed the point of contention in her creative non fiction this time. The Moderators dig was not eccentic.

  7. Clyde, you owe Michelle and your fellow UUs much more respect than your comment betrays. UU World is not engaged in gotcha journalism. What an appalling thing to say about a professional journalist and devoted UU.

  8. Jim Mason, Kirkland WA2:18 AM

    It's pretty clear to me that policy governance doesn't work very well when an organization is not exactly thriving, or is not doing as well as most of its stockholders would hope. The UU World article seemed pretty fair to me: good and honest people will always characterize an event differently after the event is over and the emotions have died down. This is a situation that demands spending money on an outside consultant. Good decision, everyone.

  9. Clyde Grubbs10:03 AM


    I respect Michelle's skill as a journalist. She makes the four days of Board meeting sound lively and fast moving. I am saying, that journalists are trained to create a story, and what comes out to the reader who wasn't in the room is controversy and conflict. The huge progress that has been made in governance is not developed. Gini's remark about dejuvu became an out of context headline.

    For many of us working for a solution, this was a breakthrough meeting. What the story conveyed to many readers was CONFLiCT at CRISIS point, showing that the Association is ungovernable. Perhaps they read that into the story, but there was nothing in the story to contradict that construction.

    Based on the story clergy (trained in exegesis) on the UUMA Chat List concluded that the consultant was a conflict management expert. They offered thier own services.

    The story failed to inform readers that the skills of this consultant were program evaluation, systems analyst skills. The story did not convey that capacity to evaluate is a systemic weakness that the BoT has been trying to address for years. Thus Deakins story created a narrative, and that narrative was misleading and did not serve understanding. I do not think that this was her intention.

    Her dedication which I can attest too, and the UU World's "objectivity" does not address my concern. Journalistic narrative form presents a conflict structure and that does not imply a "got cha" motivation.

  10. I served a mid-sized church which badly needed a governance overhaul. They spent money on a consultant to help them with their process and that was necessary. It wasn't a consultant on conflict although with any such change of an entrenched system conflicts will occur. It is hard to make major changes without them. I think policy governance is far superior to what we have had to live with in the 33 years I have been in ministry. I hope this works. Completely reorganizing the UUA every time we get a new president and the habit of shortchanging service to congregational health so that they can spend time and money the issue of the month or year or travel or such. UUA service has been haphazard and unpredictable over the years. This doesn't have, I think, to do with bad people at the UUA --- although one sometimes thinks they could have a lot more church experience --- but too little accountability to congregations. Its a systems problem --- I hope. It also may lie in our leadership model for presidents which tends to go for pulpit speeches over organizational skills

  11. Anonymous8:04 PM

    I serve on the Board of one of our larger, more successful churches in the Western Region. We are one of the congregations that has experienced continued and solid growth over the last several years. We have studied it, looked at why we have grown through many different lenses and several different angles. And the reason for this growth eludes us.

    What we have determined is that no spread sheet or matrix of facts can help us determine what the "special sauce" is that makes us vibrant. It is not because of "a minister" because we've had several during our growing years. It probably has more to do with our facilities, location, history and an exceptional string of congregational leaders than it has to do with anything more "factual". Yes, we have good RE, decent programming and heartfelt services. But more than anything else I believe that our congregation and the people who come to know it, believe in Unitarian Universalism as it is practiced and realized through our specific congregation. It is our own version made possible by our own unique collection of members. What works in one congregation may not be transferable to another. Our tradition is too fluid for the UUA to try to capture much more than that. Asking the administration for unsupportable metrics is just bad for business.

    And what I also know is that part of our success has been to let the leadership lead. The Board President works closely with the Senior Minister to implement their (Senior Ministor's) particular vision of what they believe our congregation needs to be successful. And we as a Board do our best to support the vision because that is what we hired the Senior Minister for in the first place. We hired them for their training, past successes, talents and leadership and voice. Now certainly, we do not practice a completely laissez faire attitude. We have and will continue to use our collective wisdom to moderate issues should they arise. But trust in them we must until our collective wisdom says otherwise.

    The GA elected the President to lead. To take chances, to try. Now let him.


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