Letter from AEU President, Jennifer Scates
July 12th, 2011
Welcome to our new AEU year!
Our last year was a year of realization and retrenchment. We started last year with a seriously austere budget and without an executive director, and we are starting this year with an austere budget (notice I left out the word “seriously”) and without an executive director, but that doesn’t mean nothing has happened in between. I believe the most important thing the AEU has done in the past year is to work successfully towards financial stability and long-term viability. The AEU, beginning in about 2006, worked with ambitious budgets — “this is the money we’d like to make and how we’d like to spend it, but we won’t spend it unless we make it.” The mantra was “a budget is the financial expression of the strategic plan.” It worked for a few years, as long as we only spent what we made, but then it really didn’t work for a couple of years, as we made less but did not spend less.
Now, in the last year and probably for a couple more years, we are retrenching and rebuilding. We have retrenched by developing — and sticking with — budgets that are realistic: they are based on how much money we very reasonably expect we will have, and what is the absolute best use of that money. We are rebuilding our financial resources and finding new resources — an amazing number of which are within our own Movement.
I believe that the most important thing I can write in this letter to you all is this: thank you. As W. A. Ward said, ‘Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” and I am happy to have this chance to name some of the things and people I am grateful for:
- The bequest the AEU received last year, which allowed us to pay off a line of credit (special thanks to Arnold & Temma Fishman, who guaranteed the line of credit), and to pay down on unbalanced accounts and continue payments to those accounts.
- Last year’s Board members, who pledged and paid $25,000 in matching funds when we solicited donations to the AEU.
- Chuck & Pat Debrovner and Barbara & Roger Michaels for their financial support of the AEU Archives Project. And L Miller, who brought us Ms. Rihoko Ueno and Mr. Adam Foldes, MML who are happily working on the Archives.
- L Miller, Tom Weishaar, and Marvin Friedlander, for coordinating the effort to obtain a federal tax group exemption for Societies that do not have their own 501(c)(3) status, and our Chicago Society, for over-contributing to the cost of the group exemption.
- Our Ethical Action Committee, which took on the production of our Ethical Action Report.
- The National Leaders Council for their tremendous contribution to this year’s Assembly programming, for their Leaders’ Services Catalogue, and for their involvement in, and concern about, designing leadership roles in the AEU and in Ethical Culture.
- Everyone who has been — and will be — involved in the Strategic Planning Outreach meetings, and its discussions, adaptations and implementations.
- The Secular Coalition of America and The Military Atheists and Freethinkers, with whom we are partnering to move towards a Humanist military chaplaincy.
- Michele Sharon, who served as our Dialogue editor until just recently; Richard Reichart, who serves as our copy editor; and Emily Newman, our new editor.
- Joan Klips, who has been developing a new Ethical Culture Community Songbook. Special thanks to our St. Louis Society for its financial support of this project.
- Trish Cowan, our new YES conference coordinator; and L Miller, for making scholarships for the YES conference to continue at Frost Valley in New York.
- The Future of Ethical Societies — I have never been able to say enough about the FES members’ commitment to the Ethical Culture Movement.
- All of our Board members, past and present. Especially our new Board members — Carol Bartell and Karen Elliott, and our departing Board members — Ivo Antoniazzi and Bob Gordon. I will miss Ivo’s quiet, thoughtful deliberateness and I will miss Bob’s very perceptive incisiveness (and horrible jokes).
- Our Committee, Team, and Task Force Chairs and members — their contributions of time and talent keep the Movement alive and growing.
- Rose Walker, for everything.
- Each and every one of you.
Even as I thank all of the above, I remember what John Kennedy said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” As we move through the coming year, I promise that this Board will do its best to help the AEU to increase its utility and relevance by becoming more thoroughly representative of its Societies, enhancing its ability to identify and provide supporting services and communications networks to the Societies; and developing or redefining institutional processes to ensure efficiency, accountability, and transparency. I ask you to remember that we cannot do this without you.
And these are a few of the things I hope to see, and intend to continue to work with you all for the next year:
- The Presidents’ Council continuing in its dynamic, idiosyncratic, and productive way to be a primary source for knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work — including policies, procedures, priorities, projects, programs, and special problems.
- Nationwide Ethical Action projects with participation and involvement across Society lines — to build more successful, growing Societies, a stronger Movement, and a higher-profile presence. I know that many of our Societies frequently “share the plate” — they share a Sunday’s collection with a charity or project. What if, once every few months, we all chose the same type of project with whom to share a Sunday collection? All of our Societies could share an August Sunday collection with a local project that provides clothing and supplies to school children or an October Sunday collection with a local food bank. What could we do if we all worked together?
- All committees functional: fully staffed by a chair, a vice-chair (chair-in-training), and at least two members; working to meet their charge and to refine that charge as circumstances change; reporting to the board and to the membership at least every two months.
- A tradition of volunteer service with the AEU as well as its Societies. When we think about claiming we have “no time” for volunteering, I ask each of us to remember that we all have the same amount of time in a day, a week, a year and that we all make time for what we value most.