Presbyterian Mission Agency Board finance committee concerned about decline in funding

Members of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board’s finance committee continue to be concerned about the likelihood that the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will deplete its unrestricted reserves by 2017 and are searching for ways to respond to that financial possibility.

By the end of this year, projections are that the unrestricted reserve – known as the Presbyterian Mission Program Fund (PMPF) – will fall to less than $1 million over the required minimum. By 2017, assuming no changes in unrestricted giving or in the spending pattern, there would not be enough left in the reserves to balance the budget.

During a conference call May 8, members of the board’s finance and audit committees looked at a 10-year history of PMPF funding, showing generally a downward trend (with a few deviations, reflecting disruptions in the investment market or significant bequests). Among the points they made:

  • The current requirement – that the PMPF reserve be a minimum of 30 percent of the unified portion of the General Assembly Mission Budget – was determined by General Assembly action. Chad Herring, a minister from Kansas City who is chair of the finance committee, said “we have to comply to the directive of the General Assembly in our maintenance and use of the fund.” He also raised the possibility that the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board could ask the assembly to consider whether the reserve requirement, which dates back at least 25 years, is structured in a way that still meets the needs of the denomination today.
  • In recent years, giving to the PC(USA) has shifted dramatically to restricted giving – money that’s designated for particular purposes, such as World Mission or disaster relief. Fundraisers for the Presbyterian Mission Agency are at work trying to raise money for specific ministry areas that are dependent on unrestricted funding, including the United Nations office in New York; the Office of Public Witness in Washington D.C. and the Young Adult Volunteer program. Earline Williams, the PC(USA)’s chief financial officer, spoke of the importance of board members serving as “ambassadors” to make sure Presbyterians understand the funding realities and the need for more giving.
  • Some board members questioned whether the PMPF reserves available to meet budgetary needs are actually lower than they seem, because the reserve amount includes “receivables” – more than $5.2 million that the Ghost Ranch and Stony Point conference centers owe the PC(USA). “These assets are not liquid,” said finance committee vice-chair Tom Fleming, adding: “It’s not a spendable asset.” Others pushed on that point too, including audit committee member Ellen Cason, who said that $5.2 million is a significant part of the $6.8 million the PC(USA) is listing as undesignated PMPF funds.

As the Presbyterian Mission Agency works to shape its new Mission Work Plan for 2017-2020, these financial realities will be part of the equation. Increasingly, individual Presbyterians and congregations give to charitable causes, but not necessarily through the PC(USA), said finance committee member Glen Snider, wondering whether it might be possible to do research on the giving that Presbyterians do outside the denomination. “This may give us a better understanding of the kinds of priorities churches are really setting for themselves, and if our efforts at the national level are really congruent.”

Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said the shift to giving to parachurch organizations and other nonprofits goes back for years – in part a reflection of donors’ desire to give specifically to causes they support, rather than providing unrestricted funds to a denomination. In drafting the next Mission Work Plan, the emphasis will be on “ministries that we can sustain” – meaning that funding will be available to keep the work going – and “ministries we can do best and the church most needs,” Valentine said.

Making Presbyterians aware of the PC(USA)’s financial difficulties, including the possibility that mission co-workers might be pulled from the field in 2016 and that the unrestricted reserves are close to being depleted, “may actually prompt people to start thinking of large bequests,” said finance committee member Jeffrey Joe, if they are aware of the need.

PMPF Projections Revised