Recently, we mailed out an emergency appeal for $37,500 to keep the Belize Friends School open through the end of the school year. We are grateful to Friends who are responding with their donations and their prayers. We also understand that the appeal letter itself raised questions and concerns about how the Belize Friends School came to be in this situation. We deeply regret not offering at the time a more detailed explanation for the present cash-flow shortage at the School. We hope to address many of those questions in this communication.
For context, Friends United Meeting is and has been experiencing a new financial norm as Yearly Meetings restructure and many Monthly Meetings and Churches grow smaller. During the past five years, giving to FUM from member Yearly Meetings has dropped by 38%. To address this new reality, the FUM Board has established a Long-Range Financial Planning Group to work on a long-term financial strategy and plan for FUM’s ministries and general operations.
In regards to Belize Friends School, every year the FUM General Board approves a ministry plan that states a specific goal for money we need to raise to operate the school. In fiscal year ‘20, which runs from July 2019 to June 2020, the Board approved raising $65,000 to operate the School and Center. This is 76% of the total cost of operation of both entities, and the remaining needed funds come from Belizean sources. We are working toward separating accounts for our four entities in Belize, but some of the expenses of each ministry are joint. For instance, Belize Friends Ministries includes two field staff positions (Nikki and Oscar), three employees of the School (principal and teachers), two employees of the Center (cleaning and security), and one person employed by FUM Inc (bookkeeping). The school cannot operate effectively without all six of them, so we include them all in our calculations on the financial need of the School.
While the Board sets this fundraising goal, historically we’ve fallen short of that goal and drawn on other available funds in order to cover operating costs, including the proceeds from the sale of the old school building in Belize. In June of 2019, the General Board reiterated its long-standing policy that FUM cannot send funds to a ministry project unless we have the funds on hand for that project, or a plan to raise funds. Since the money from the sale of the old school has been used, the members of the Long Range Financial Planning Task Force and the Belize Liaison Working Group launched the emergency campaign to raise the money needed to keep the school operating. The Belize staff is meanwhile working on a sustainability plan, including writing grants and developing other sources of funding. Grants are already the source of funding for the Center's work in combating human trafficking and hosting trainings for the Alternatives to Violence Program.
It will take time to develop these income streams for Belize Friends Ministries. In fact, when we developed the plan for expanded ministries in Belize, in 2015, we foresaw that it would be a number of years before the ministries could be self-sustaining. Some of them could not be brought to fruition without a director in place—especially the plan for applying for grant monies from the Belizean government as well as grants specifically targeted for NGOs in the Caribbean. With Nikki Holland in place, we can finally begin to pursue grants as a source of income. In the meantime, we continue to rely on the generosity of Friends.
FUM employs an outside audit firm to conduct a consolidated audit of all FUM’s entities on an annual basis. Currently, the audits for FY2016, FY2017, and FY2018 are near completion. Our previous auditors did not include FUM’s Belize ministry in their work. Our current auditors, Brady and Ware, have included our Belize ministries in their consolidated audit. Since they cannot conduct an audit in Belize, we have employed an accounting firm in Belize City, HLB Belize, to conduct the Belize audit. While the audit is not yet complete, our Belizean auditors assure us that they find no signs of fraud or missing funds. The audits do reveal ongoing cashflow issues, and our auditors, here and in Belize, are insisting on stronger financial controls, which FUM is putting into place. This includes the complete financial separation and reporting of all FUM’s entities in Belize—the school, the church, the community center, and FUM Inc. In August, Nikki Holland assumed responsibility as the Director of FUM-Belize. Nikki is working hard to implement oversight of our several ministries, financial oversight of the entire field, and better communication between Belize and Richmond. The importance of having one director in the field with an overview of the entire ministry cannot be overstated.
For that reason, we made a significant push this summer to raise funds necessary to send Nikki Holland to Belize as Director. Yet we have a growing concern that our model of fundraising—in which we appeal for very specific things (like field staff ministry accounts or the building renovation)—inadvertently redirect donor attention away from the ongoing need for sustainable operating funds for the ministries.
One final note: the emergency appeal asks for $37,500 US dollars to continue the work of the School. That amount of money will support the School through the end of the academic year, in May. We do intend to keep the School open as long as we have funds to do so. Based on responses to the appeal so far, we have sufficient funding to remain open in January and through nearly half of February. We hope that by May, with Nikki in place long enough to tap into other sources of funding, with sustained commitment from the Belize Friends School Board and staff to increase enrollment, and with a continued financial commitment from Friends of $5,500 each month, we may come through this emergency and be on better ground for the next fiscal year.
Our heart and our prayer are to see all the aspects of Belize Friends Ministries deeply rooted and growing strong, and we know that this same heart and prayer are reflected in each member of our beloved community who treasures our work in Belize. Again, we regret not giving this more thorough explanation of the financial need in Belize at the beginning of the emergency fundraising campaign. We hope that this letter has alleviated your concerns, and we welcome further questions and conversation. You may contact Kelly Kellum [kellyk(at)fum.org] or Eden Grace [edeng(at)fum.org], or your Yearly Meeting representatives on the FUM Board (if you don’t know who your representative is, you can find out here). In addition, Kelly will be happy to come speak to any group to make a presentation or answer questions and concerns.