An Open Letter to the Metropolitan Council
Dear Council Members:
On November 1, 2006 there appeared on OCA.org
a letter of Metropolitan Herman for the OCA Charity Appeal. There was a link to "learn more about the appeal" which showed the financial details of the 2005 Charity Appeal. While the OCA is to be commended for finally (though belatedly) showing some transparency regarding its finances, the numbers given for the 2005 Charity Appeal should raise serious concerns for the Metropolitan Council.
The OCA web page says the OCA took in $78,873
for the 2005 Charity appeal.
• It says at no time since November of 2005 have funds been "used for purposes other than that for which they were designated." This is good news, and we can hope it is true.
• It listed $18,989 in appeal expenses.
This is a hefty 24% - a cost which far exceeds acceptable limits for charities.
• It says only $13,284 was actually distributed.
A mere 16%!
• It also notes: "Most of the money received for the 2005 Charity Appeal has not been distributed."
One has to wonder why? If they collected the money for such pressing needs as were claimed in the appeal materials, why didn't they give them to these needy?
It would seem there really weren't any such pressing needs to which the OCA was committed - or the OCA ignored the needs. (Or, perhaps, like the servant who received only the one talent, those overseeing the charity collection knew the membership of the OCA would now be very demanding and so they buried the talent?)
Read what the webpage claims:
"Individuals in need of financial assistance to offset medical expenses, loss of medical benefits, ongoing unemployment, and numerous other crises great and small have been touched, not only by the tangible assistance your donations provide, but by the simple fact that someone remembered them - and cared enough to reach out with the love of Christ in their time of need."
Someone remembered that there were people out there that needed help, so they collected money. They just forgot to send it to the needy.
This year's materials make an equal appeal to distressing and immediate needs. The webpage states:
"With an increase in the number of requests that are received by the Orthodox Church in America every week, reaching the goals mandated by the All-American Councils makes your participation through a free-will offering crucial."
Why should this be believed? Money given last year has, for the most part, not been given to any pressing need, but sits in OCA bank accounts. ( On the other hand, this seems to be an improvement over what happened to funds in past years.) If we aren't sure what to do with the money, or how to distribute it in a way that would meet membership approval, let us not collect it in the first place.
The web page then says Syosset hopes to re-establish a Charity Committee to manage the funds. Will the restoration of this Committee then increase administrative expenses for its meetings? Will then even a bigger chunk of the raised monies go to "appeal expenses" rather than to the needy? I am not against people planning what to do with charity funds, but it appears there was no agreed upon plan for the disbursement of funds collected in 2005 or 2006, despite the claims of the appeal materials. So is the appeal for "pressing and immediate needs" just not true? Or is the fact that the money was not delivered to such "pressing needs" more indicative of administrative failure? Or is no one even thinking about this? Is the OCA is so addicted to fund raising that such collections go on automatically with no thought?
It says the goal set (By whom? There is no committee) for 2006 is $100,000. Are they kidding? Syosset only distributed 16% of what they collected in 2005. They spent more in administrative costs (24%) than in charity giving – and that is without the cost of a Committee to meet to discuss the disbursement of fund. I will be suprised if they are going to get half of what they received last year. And if this is true, this charity appeal is a waste of money. What makes it most disturbing is that if the "administrative costs" are the same this year, as last year, those costs will be closer to 75% of what they take in this year.
I respectfully make the following recommendations to the Metropolitan Council which is supposed to oversee all OCA fundraising and spending:
1) Suspend all special collections for 2007 and for the future until such a time that integrity and administrative order is restored in the OCA. Until the Chancery is functioning normatively (as established by the Metropolitan Council and in the context of the reorganization it is supposed to be undergoing), do not make any more special appeals. These only serve to embarrass the OCA and expose its ongoing dysfunction.
No more fund raising until Best Practices are firmly in effect, until real budget priorities are established by the Metropolitan Council, until audits can confirm how money is being spent, until the real needs of the our small Church are established by legitimate authority. If one looks at the current structure of the OCA and the various people it currently employees one would have to conclude that the main business of the OCA is fundraising and finances. If we want people to believe things have changed, let's make sure they have really changed.
Special appeals can be restored in the future if it is determined they are needed and can be done with integrity and transparency. Until then, tell our membership to give their money to the IOCC, the OCMC and directly to the seminary of their choice.
2) In fact, outside of the assessment, the OCA should get out of the fundraising business. If the OCA has real and true financial commitments to charity (widows, those without medical benefits, etc.), seminaries and mission, make these commitments part of the 2007 Budget, rather than relying on yearly special collections. Have the OCA designate 5% (or 10%) of its annual budget for mission, charity and seminary education. This will entail making real and massive changes in the OCA budget and seriously cutting other expenses and positions. But it will also show an absolute commitment to change. The 2007 Budget which the MC adopts should include these categories as line items. Show the membership that there are real and new priorities.
This will entail a total rethinking of the budget. Let us not assume that what we have done in the past is 'sacred' and that we have to continue those same projects and policies.Let us put everything on the chopping block of budget cuts and reorganization.
A reordering of priorities and reorganization of the priorities and projects of the chancery should be determined by the Metropolitan Council - not by the chancery staff who have the natural tendency to defend their positions and pet projects.
Such changes would be a statement to the entire OCA that we are committed to change and not to business as usual. They require total rethinking of priorities by the Metropolitan Council, a total restructuring of the chancery staff and expenses, and a total commitment to a new OCA. It would mean not accepting anything that we are currently doing as untouchable, but reordering our priorities based upon the expressed concerns and needs of the membership and parishes of the OCA.
Finally, these changes would help us begin asking the more important questions such as: What support do our parishes and priests need from the Chancery? What should the Chancery be doing to support the active ministry of our parishes? Such changes would give us an opportunity to build the OCA from the 'bottom up' rather than being seen as a expense imposed upon the membership. I believe the OCA membership would respond to these clear needs if the needs of the parishes and members were determined before any other expenses.
We should be setting the 2007 budget so that we live within our means. This would result in a budget based upon the projected assessment of the OCA. This would be a great corrective to the way we have been doing budgets. If we first live within our means, and then parishes begin asking for more from the central administration, then the Chancery can legitimately say, "We need more financial support to do what you need from us." This is creating the central administration from the grass roots and ground level up, rather than having Syosset tell parishes how much the Chancery hopes to spend.
In turn this would also help the OCA get out of the schizophrenic dilemma Syosset is currently trapped in - trying to convince everyone that the scandal is but a small distraction while the Church is going about her business as usual ("See - the special collections are going on just as they always have because nothing has happened that necessitates real change") while simultaneously insisting that things really have changed and it is not 'business as usual' in Syosset.
Fr. Ted Bobosh