Monday, March 2, 2020

A Primer on UMC Assets: Board and Agency Income

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries. Dr. Scott is neither a lawyer nor an accountant, and thus the following should not be interpreted as legal advice.

Part of the discussions around the future of The United Methodist Church has been a possible division of denominational assets. When people talk about denominational assets, they are discussing those assets held by denomination-wide boards and agencies (hereafter agencies). This includes not only the thirteen official boards and agencies but also entities like the Connectional Table, the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Cooperation, and the Africa University endowment, which are also legal persons with assets and denomination-wide responsibilities.

Again, The United Methodist Church as a whole is not a legal entity capable of owning assets itself. Agencies, however, are legal persons, incorporated as 501(c)3 organizations under various US state laws, and thus they can hold assets in trust for the denomination.

This post and the following one will attempt to add some clarity to what agency assets are, where they came from, and the legal restrictions that may apply to them. First, this post will talk about where agency assets come from and the associated restrictions. A subsequent post will talk about the categories of assets and the restrictions on them.

One source of revenue for agencies is direct giving – donations made by individuals, foundations, and other entities to those agencies. Usually donations come in the form of financial gifts, but donors also may give gifts-in-kind, another way of saying that they may give tangible assets such as land, buildings, equipment, medicine, foodstuffs, etc. Sometimes these donations are made to the general expenses of an agency (or “area of greatest need”), but often they are given to support particular programs or for particular purposes, such as building up an endowment. Agencies must use donations as directed; they cannot use a donation designated for one purpose for another purpose.

Another source of revenue is investment income. Some of the donations given to agencies are invested rather than spent, and those investments generate income through interest or dividends. That investment income is treated as revenue. Income from an endowment can generally be used as the agency sees fit, whereas income from donor-designated investments must be used for the purpose designated for that investment.

A third source of revenue is business income generated by sales, fees for service, or other contract work. This source of revenue is really quite broad, because it applies to everything from the fees that GCFA charges other agencies for tech support to the income the Publishing House receives from selling books to the money that Wespath makes by managing the denomination’s investments. Business revenue is also generally available to be used as an agency sees fit (once the costs of operating that business are covered). Since the agency earns it, the agency can decide how to use it.

Agencies can also earn money through grants from foundations and governments. Grant money is almost always tied to programs, and the income received from grants must be spent on the operation of those programs. However, many grants allow a small percentage of the grant funds to be spent on overhead, so grant money can be used to offset the general costs of an agency such as office space, utilities, and senior leadership.

Most agencies, but not all, receive some money from general apportionments, the subscription fee that local churches in the US pay to receive the bundle of denominational services provided by the UMC. (For more on apportionments, see “A Primer on United Methodist Apportionments.”) While people often think of agencies as apportionment-funded, that is not true in all cases, and even for those agencies that do get apportionments, the magnitude of apportionment funding compared to other sources of funding varies. Some agencies rely almost entirely on apportionments, some have a mix of income streams, and some are not funded by apportionments at all.

Notably, the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH), Wespath, and United Methodist Women are not and never have been supported by apportionment giving. UMPH and Wespath are self-funding through revenues generated, and United Methodist Women is self-funding primarily through the generous donations of faithful women.

The General Council on Finance and Administration and the General Commission on Archives and History are funded out of the General Administration Fund. The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund pays for the work of the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Cooperation (OCUIC). The World Service Fund supports the work of Global Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry, Church and Society, Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Men, the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), and the Connectional Table, along with other expenses. For those agencies that are apportionment-funded, the amount of apportionment funding is projected to drop steeply in upcoming years.

Some agencies also administer other apportionment funds. For instance, GBHEM administers the Methodist Educational Fund and Black Colleges Fund. Moreover, GCFA administers all apportionment funds before they are disbursed. Such funds, however, must be used for whatever purposes are attached to that fund, perhaps minus a small administrative fee. Thus, GBHEM cannot decide to use Black Colleges Fund money to support higher education in the Philippines; it must be used to support UMC-affiliated historically black colleges and universities in the US. In this way, agencies serve as “pass-throughs” for these other funds. They administer them, but the funds are in a separate pot from the rest of their revenue streams.

Whatever source the money (or gifts-in-kind) comes from, once an agency receives it, it becomes an asset. For financial assets, agencies may then spend them, save them, or convert them into tangible assets (by buying new desks or computers for its employees or purchasing books for the GCAH library, for instance).

What an agency does with the assets depends a lot on where that asset came from and why it was given, as noted above. Again, grant monies must be spent on the project described in the grants, donations to an endowment must be added to the endowment, and donations for a particular program must be used for that program. To do otherwise would be to break trust with the person giving the asset and expose the agency to lawsuits.

Moreover, the use of an agency’s income and assets is governed by the complex set of foundational documents and decision-makers that include, on one hand, the General Conference and Book of Discipline, but also include, on the other, the agency’s own articles of incorporation, by-laws, board of directors, and staff leadership. (For more, see “A Primer on Board and Agency Organization”). General Conference, thus, does not have completely free reign in telling an agency what do to with its assets.

Information about agency income and expenses can be readily found online from GCFA in the form of audited financial statements for apportionment-funded agencies. Additional financial information about the income, assets, and expenditures can be found in agency reports or auditing statements and sometimes in IRS 990 forms filed by the agencies.

Next week, I will take a different perspective on agency resources and look at asset groups instead of income streams.

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