A Letter from AEU President, Jennifer Scates
December 5, 2010
In July, I wrote ". . . the Board and staff of the AEU look forward to doing everything we can to promote the growth of the Ethical Culture movement by supporting our existing Ethical Societies and fostering new ones." I also wrote ". . . [T]he AEU and its Societies face challenges - not the least of which are the questions, 'where are we going?' and 'how do we get there from here?'"
Working to answer the question of, "where are we going?" our new Vision and Strategic Planning Committee, co-chaired by Laura Stark Steele, Randy Best and Tony Hileman, has started a process of regional "Listening Sessions." AEU Board members will be meeting (in person or virtually) with Societies around the country, asking what Societies believe the AEU needs to be viable and what Societies believe they most need from the AEU. The first of this series of Listening Sessions was held at WES on October 9, 2010 and included members from several Societies. The Sessions generated these focus areas: vision, outreach, growth, strengthening the societies and the movement, organization, and resources. We look forward to more sessions in spring and early summer 2011, and for these sessions to inform the discussions and determinations at our 2011 Assembly. Please look to your neighboring Societies and start planning your Listening Session now.
The AEU Board added - and has worked to answer - a third question: where are we, especially in regard to the financial resources we can marshal to get there from here? Over the past few years, the AEU, in efforts to expand membership, programming, and financial resources, hired executive directors to lead that expansion. These efforts were moderately successful in expanding membership and programming, but not in raising the funding required to cover the cost of the expanded programming, and during this time the AEU has drawn from its endowments to cover the shortages. We no longer have the use of those endowments. The value of the funds has declined over the last ten years due to market volatility, insufficient fund raising, and draws to meet the costs of expanded programming and operating expenses.
In response, the Board determined its priorities: to maintain its operations and services to our Societies with the minimal reductions possible, and to reestablish the financial basis of the AEU by rebuilding our endowments through the support of our Societies and their members. Based on current expectations for income in the next fiscal year, the budget presented at the Assembly had about $50,000 more expenses than income. The Board has developed a balanced working budget. In spite of severe reductions in many areas of expenses, almost all AEU services and products will continue to be developed and delivered - and in so many cases, because the wonderful people who work to develop and deliver those products and services said, "We can do that in-house," or, "We can do that with the reduced budget," or, "We can do this even cheaper," or, "I am now a volunteer, not an employee." I am, we all are, very grateful to these marvelous people, for their commitment, their graciousness, and for their example.
The Board is also working to raise funds: Board members (and a few others) have donated and pledged a total of $25,000 to match that part of any gift to the AEU that exceeds $100, and have been calling friends and friends-to-be asking for financial support for the AEU.
The National Leaders Council added - and has partly answered - a fourth question: "where are we, especially in regard to the human resources we can marshal to get there from here?" Leaders have volunteered to serve on the AEU's Assembly, Board Development, Ethical Action, Mediation, and Membership Committees. The rest of the answer to this fourth question must come from you; please consider sharing your time and talent - along with your treasure - with the AEU.
Jennifer Scates, President
American Ethical Union