Weaving the Web – Crowdfunding our Dreams

The squares that Kathy Swartz is stitching into a quilt are painted with people holding hands, trees that bend gently to shelter us, words like “loving community” and “peace.” We put the words and pictures there in February as we envisioned the future we hope to create together. A quilt is like a crowd fund: many small contributions add up to something grand, just as the contributions of people past and present have made UUCPA and all that we do here.

Long before there were GoFundMe or Kickstarter or Unitarian Universalism’s own Faithify, there was a crowdfunding program called Chalice Lighters. A few times a year, a call would go out for small donations to make a grant to one of the area congregations. They could raise several thousand dollars for a project this way, and every Chalice Lighter had a stake in helping Unitarian Universalism thrive beyond the congregation they attended. And when the time came to raise a little capital for their own congregation, these folks knew they could count on that web of interconnection to support them too.

We at UUCPA are responsible financial stewards in many ways. We give our fair share to the Unitarian Universalist Association and region, we support the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and we give part of our offering to a justice partner each month. It’s exciting to see the things that we make possible through these steady contributions. But we are less generous close to home.

Here in Palo Alto, we struggle each year to raise the funds for our operating budget. This year, we aimed for $550,000, and will likely fall $50,000 short of that goal. The reason we are able to fund our bare-bones budget is only because we have lost half a staff position to attrition. We had hopes to use the money saved for a Membership & Engagement Coordinator whose 15 hours a week would boost the work of our Membership and Growth Committee, but instead we will have less staff support than before. We don’t need millions to fund our dreams, just a bit more than we have dug down to give so far.

And within the span of our district (northern California, northern Nevada and Hawaii), several Chalice Lighter requests go out each year. A few years ago, we looked into applying for a Chalice Lighter grant, but we have so few members who are Chalice Lighters that we were advised that we would be at a serious disadvantage. The program relies not on a quid pro quo but on mutual generosity and goodwill: I show up for your barn raising and I know you’ll show up for mine. If we demonstrate that we of UUCPA will come through, $20 at a time, to give a boost to projects like an outdoor patio cover and lights for UUs in Sacramento (home to our former intern, Lucy Bunch), or a new sound system for the congregation in Reno, then when we put an application in, Unitarian Universalists all over the district will be here for us. And when we visit these places, we will see what we have built . . .

I hope you will experience the thrill of being a Chalice Lighter–it’s easy as pie to sign up at www.pcduua.org/programs/chalice-lighters/ . And I hope you will reflect once more on the dreams you have for this community and make them come true by giving to this congregation in equal measure to the dreams of inspiration, friendship, challenge, beauty, and support you have for this beloved community. You can change your commitment, or make one for the first time, by sending an email to pledge@uucpa.org stating the amount you intend to give.