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National WMU cutbacks include unpaid furloughs

Measures won’t have immediate impact in Georgia, says state leader


Joe Westbury/Index

Emily Wright, leaning forward, and Katie Dodson, right, both of Concord Baptist Church in Clermont, listen last summer to a Camp Pinnacle counselor teach about reaching people in India with the gospel while cabin leader Erin McCallum of Tifton watches from behind the two girls. Ministries such as Pinnacle will not be affected by recent economic measures taken by National WMU, said Georgia WMU Executive Director-Treasurer Barbara Curnutt.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — With the United States’ economy projected to worsen in 2009, Woman’s Missionary Union SBC has announced a series of measures to ensure the organization can retain its staff and stay focused on its mission of involving children, youth, and adults in the Great Commission.

During a Dec. 10 meeting at the 120-year-old organization’s Birmingham, Ala., headquarters, WMU Executive Director Wanda S. Lee told employees about the measures, which include budget reductions, streamlining expenses, a hiring freeze on vacant positions, a reduction on employer contributions to employee retirement plans, a freeze on merit pay increases, elimination of incentive bonuses in 2009, and the implementation of four weeks unpaid furlough for each staff member between January and August 2009.

The hiring freeze and reduced retirement contributions will continue until Sept. 30, 2009, according to a Dec. 12 statement.

“Our prayers are with our national organization. We share their concerns because we are family, but these changes will not impact our Georgia ministries in the immediate future,” said Georgia WMU Executive Director-Treasurer Barbara Curnutt. “I affirm National WMU for being proactive in taking these measures that will place them in a fiscally responsible place in the future. These are challenging days for everyone. No one is immune. We are feeling the effects of the economic downturn, but we are not directly impacted by the current realities facing National WMU.”

WMU leadership focused on avoiding layoffs and keeping health insurance affordable for their approximately 100 employees, Lee said.

“Let me reinforce our commitment to you of doing everything possible to preserve all jobs at WMU and maintain affordable health care coverage for every person,” Lee told the employees. “These have been our top priorities during these days of evaluating our financial situation.”

The steps were being taken to position the organization to weather difficult financial times predicted by many economic experts.

“These were very difficult decisions to make and difficult ones for our staff to hear,” Lee said, “but all indications are that the economic picture for our nation will worsen in 2009 before it improves. These measures were necessary for us to rise above a worst-case scenario during what is projected to be the most challenging economic times for our nation since the Great Depression.

“While we certainly hope this is not the case, we believe the actions we have taken will position WMU to continue to fulfill the mission God has given us,” Lee added, “and allow us to care for each person that is a part of the WMU family here in Birmingham.”

Under a revised 2009 budget of $9.6 million, Woman’s Missionary Union will be self-supporting through the sale of magazines and products and from investments, according to the statement. As an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, WMU receives no funds from the SBC’s Cooperative Program allocation budget, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Woman’s Missionary Union also has implemented several new initiatives to engage a growing number of people in missions, including redesigned magazines for children and Hispanic women, new bilingual resources for Korean Baptist churches, online forums to foster community and encourage idea sharing, free downloadable resources to start missions organizations, and Facebook communities for young women.

“God still has a mission for WMU,” Lee told the employee group. “In fact, missions education and involvement is more critical in our churches and communities than ever before. In a time when a growing number of people are hurting in our world, it is imperative that a missional lifestyle be instilled in our children, youth, and adults to help them see the world with God’s eyes and minister effectively.”

In 1995, Woman’s Missionary Union created the WMU Foundation to support the organization’s long-term mission and ministry. Giving to the foundation surpassed $1 million in 2008, according to the statement, but most of those funds are designated for scholarships, state WMU organizations, and specified ministries. Nonetheless, the WMU Foundation was the single largest contributor to WMU in 2008. Unlike most nonprofit organizations that are donation-driven, less than 3 percent of Woman’s Missionary Union’s income comes from charitable giving.