Taking the Long Look
By Linda Unger*
October 12, 2011, New York—In a “historic” board of directors meeting, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) yesterday adopted measures to bolster the organization and also released significant funding to propel disaster recovery efforts in the United States, Japan, and Haiti.
During their semi-annual meeting, UMCOR’s board of directors approved nearly $4 million in grants, with most of those funds going to Japan—$1.7 million—and the United States—$1.56 million—following major disasters in each place earlier this year.
The rest of the funds, $475,000, support two Haiti recovery projects, one in the under-served, earthquake-rattled village of Mizak, and the other among Haitian evacuees who sought refuge in the United States following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
UMCOR head, the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey called the approved amounts “historic,” and affirmed that UMCOR is “only able to make these grants because people have been so generous. This is a celebration of the generosity of The United Methodist Church to allow us to do this on their behalf,” she said.
But the grants were not the only thing about the UMCOR board meeting that made it singular. Directors also approved important initiatives related to strategic planning, immigration ministry, grants processing, and church relations.
Eye on the Future
“Even while we’ve been looking at the day-to-day disasters in Japan and Tuscaloosa (Alabama), at the same time, we also have been taking that long look into the future and defining what it is we have to do in order to accomplish what the church expects of us,” Harvey said in remarks before the meeting.
In her report to the board of directors, she added, “Much of what will be discussed today has been in process for a while. The timing for moving forward was simply not right, but today you have the opportunity to make historic decisions that will impact the organization and those it serves.”
A key decision taken by the board was to ratify the articulation, thus far, of UMCOR’s strategic plan, which has been in accelerated development since the board last met, in April. The directors approved the plan’s vision, mission, and values statements and the key performance areas it identifies.
The strategic planning process, Harvey said, is producing “historic shifts, as we look not just at what we do but who we are” as an organization. “Accountability, assessment, alignment, integration, and scale are words used often in our process over the last six months,” she told the directors.
Among the initiatives the strategic plan calls for is the review of the UMCOR structure, beginning with its nongovernmental, or NGO, unit. UMCOR NGO encompasses the organization’s nine field offices and manages annually about $70 million in humanitarian relief and development grants.
The UMCOR board approved the release of funds for the development, with third-party technical assistance, of a plan to better align the work of the NGO unit with the whole of UMCOR operations. This will “enhance our ability to respond to those in greatest need in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Harvey explained.
To further promote organizational alignment, a new automated grant-making process, which was unveiled during the meeting, will be put in place.
The new system will “streamline and align” the grant procedure across UMCOR units and make decisions on grants by executives, cabinet members, and the board’s grant committee more agile and accessible.
A grant manager position will be created to coordinate the grant process, review grant proposals, and work with grantees “from request to evaluation and final reporting,” Harvey said. The position is expected to be filled by the end of 2011, and the new system will be up and running early in 2012.
A major milestone in the life of the Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) program, which UMCOR has administered since 1999, was reached when UMCOR’s board of directors approved a slate of inaugural board members of the new National JFON, which soon will be separately incorporated.
JFON Program Manager Alice Mar called the program’s coming independence “exciting,” while also acknowledging the unknowns associated with that step. “This development is sure to provide new opportunities for growth and expansion of our existing programs to serve immigrants,” she said.
Currently, JFON runs 31 immigration clinics in 12 states and Washington, DC. Over the course of the six months since the UMCOR board last met, JFON served more than 1,500 new clients—an increase of 53 new clients per month over the previous reporting period—and more than 3,400 follow-up clients.
JFON’s clinics are based in 16 United Methodist Annual Conferences.
National JFON will retain a strong relationship with UMCOR via its own board of directors. That new board will hold its first meeting before the end of 2011 and soon afterward will complete work on its bylaws and terms for its directors and officers. This will prepare National JFON to begin work in January 2012.
UMCOR’s board of directors welcomed the executive decision to add a Church Relations staff position, also in 2012, to facilitate communications and connections between UMCOR and local congregations.
“This person will work with churches to fulfill the thousands of requests we receive on a weekly basis,” Harvey said. He or she will also serve a critical role in donor relations, particularly in thanking United Methodists and other UMCOR supporters for their generous gifts to UMCOR’s emergency and ongoing programs.
“The church relations piece is foundational to our work,” Harvey said in separate remarks. “I believe it will become even more important going forward.”
The UMCOR Deputy General Secretary informed the board of additional measures to streamline UMCOR operations. These include the closing of UMCOR’s US Disaster Response regional office in Mobile, Alabama, and the elimination of a staff position.
Also, she said, “We are in conversation with the [United Methodist] Board of Pensions about integrating and collaborating on the work of our parish nurses.” Harvey and UMCOR Health executive Patricia Magyar will meet with the Board of Pensions in Chicago next week to discuss next steps.
Conversations are also ongoing between UMCOR and Church World Service to advance their collegial work in support of refugee resettlement, Harvey said, adding, “[W]e want to work together to do better and more efficient and effective work.”
In thanking the board of directors for their support, Harvey said, “I am convinced that the work of UMCOR is unique, effective, efficient, and makes a difference in the lives of people around the world.”
Paraphrasing the UMCOR strategic plan’s vision and mission statements, she underscored, “UMCOR, indeed, does strengthen and transform communities, alleviate human suffering, and advance hope and healing on behalf of the people called Methodists.”
*Linda Unger is UMCOR’s senior writer and staff editor.