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Researching donor restrictions is the key to leveraging restricted funds

Coordinating Table authorizes PC(USA) staff to do some sleuthing

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE ­— After skipping a meeting in April, the Coordinating Table came together with a purpose Thursday, agreeing by consensus to a plan for staff to begin identifying the restrictions on some of the 2,000 restricted funds set up as bequests over many decades and continuing the discussions required for presenting a unified budget, perhaps as soon as the 226th General Assembly in 2024.

Established by the Moving Forward Implementation Special Committee, the Coordinating Table includes members of that committee, elected officials from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation Board, as well as agency and entity heads Kathy Lueckert, the A Corp president; the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the PMA; and the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). Also attending Coordinating Table meetings are assorted staff from OGA, PMA and the Administrative Services Group, which Lueckert directs.

Toward the end of the two-hour online meeting, Nelson, Moffett and Lueckert agreed to assign staff to begin researching which restricted funds might be “shared” beyond where the funds are currently assigned. The idea is to select a few of the 2,000 funds — the spreadsheet describing the funds is 93 pages long, said Lueckert, who’s read the entire document — that might be best suited for reallocation. After that, the legal work required can be extensive, said Chris Mason, an attorney and co-chair of the A Corp Board.

“Given all the things staff is doing, I don’t think you can ask staff to undertake something drastically different given the amount of time left” before next year’s General Assembly as well as the fact that the world is not yet out of the pandemic, Mason said. He said he’s seen signs of progress from people working together among two agencies, PMA and OGA, and the one entity, ASG.

“When you’re teaching people to dance, you’ve got to stop yelling ‘1-2-3-4’ at them at some point and just let them dance,” Mason said. “It feels like they’re dancing and maybe they don’t need us to yell the steps at them right now.”

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II is Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

“We are getting through a very tough time in this denomination right now,” Nelson said. “We are restructuring without a restructuring banner hanging over us. What is the institution going to look like? How do we invent and renovate ministry?” While money is “one issue to resolve,” Nelson said, “there have been levels of cooperation that weren’t here when I got here. It’s not utopia, but we have made commitments to work our way through where we are now.”

The denomination is “not where we used to be,” Nelson said, “but there is the trust that we are going to make it happen.”

The work staff will be called to do “is not a nontrivial task,” Lueckert said. “The responsibility for doing this work is on the staff in addition to other things we have on our plate, such as renovating a building [preparing the Presbyterian Center to host the 225th General Assembly next year], getting ready for an assembly and reconsidering what an agency looks like [the current work of the PMA and the PMA Board].

Kathy Lueckert is president of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation.

 

Lueckert said she’s read the descriptions of the 2,000 funds. “Some are so tightly restricted they aren’t even on the table,” she said. “Others are candidates for further research. I was certainly disturbed by some, the ones with racist implications.” It could prove valuable, she said, to learn what options are available for redirecting those funds especially.

The Rev. Eliana Maxim, a COGA member, called it “incredibly disappointing to know the denomination carries overtly racist bequests and funds, and we haven’t addressed them so far … It makes other overtures and things we say publicly ring a little hollow for me.” Whether restricted funds are re-allocated to the PMA or the OGA, “I don’t care,” Maxim said, “as long as it’s extending the kingdom of God.”

“We have plenty of money in this denomination. We just need to figure out how to deploy it,” said the Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, chair-elect of the PMA Board. “We are highly privileged. We can figure this out and move forward.”

The legal process for redirecting restricted funds for a cause that has come and gone — such as a hospital that closed years ago, for example — falls under the cy pres doctrine, Mason said, which means “as near as possible.” The court rewrites the charitable gift or trust so that it is no longer impossible or impracticable to carry out.

“It takes time, it’s expensive — and there are lawyers involved,” Mason said.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Asked what the next step should be, Moffett had a direct answer.

“Appoint some people from OGA, PMA and ASG and get started,” she said. Lueckert and Nelson agreed on that course of action, with initial recommendations for further study ready before Dec. 31.

“One thing I hope that comes out of this,” once the process is complete, Nelson said, “is that we would recognize what we just got through doing, cleaning up the restricted funds. That’s a significant amount of integrity with regards to money. We still have some repentance to do in this denomination, and I hope you don’t minimize that.”

While the Coordinating Table did not reach consensus on pursuing the goal of developing a unified budget, Lueckert said it’s her understanding that ASG, OGA and PMA will “continue with a unified budget presentation” for the 2023-24 budget cycle, “look for areas of collaboration and cooperation … but not endeavor to do a whole new unified budget” for the current cycle, 2023-24, which the General Assembly votes on next year.

“I think we’re on our way. One step at a time,” Moffett said. “We have a lot of work we are doing, and I know we want to do it well … Our actions today indicate we have each other’s backs and we are working together. That is quite frankly what you call us to do.”

“Just let us dance, please,” Moffett said.


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