The United Church Foundation – Building the Church Through Innovation

“I’d always planned on going into ministry and I believe this is it,” David Armour, President of the United Church Foundation said. Armour was the Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Olympic Foundation and the President of the United Way of Canada, before coming to work for the United Church.

Although Armour has a Master of Management from McGill, easily qualifying him for a top private sector job, he has always chosen to work in the charitable sector, perhaps because of his Presbyterian heritage. “I started out helping street kids in Hamilton,” he said, “while I was doing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at McMaster. And then I ran a little agency.” And then the organizations he was involved with kept getting bigger – from local to regional to national.

The United Church Foundation was launched in 2002, by the Executive of General Council to manage all the church’s trusts and endowments. According to the 2017 brochure it was “created to support the work of individuals, congregations, and organizations across all courts of the church by raising, investing and granting funds to further God’s mission.”

At the time Armour came on board six and a half years ago, the funds were a small fraction of what they are today. The Foundation had $4 million. Now it has $59.6 million in approximately 500 long term funds which Armour oversees with the help of two staff members – Erik Lo Forte (Development Associate) and Sarah Charter (Senior Manager).

“We’ve built the Foundation carefully and deliberately,” he said. “Most of the funds come in from two types of sources – bequests and family funds, and annual gifts. In 2016 we received 21% in designated long term funds, 42% in designated short term funds, 33% in investment income and long term designated funds and 3.4% in undesignated gifts.” In 2013, General Council transferred its long-term assets, $29.2 million, over to the Foundation.

Additionally, 148 congregations and church affiliated organizations have invested over $52 million through an affinity partnership the Foundation negotiated with an investment management firm called Fiera Capital. “We can help churches, conferences and presbyteries to invest through our partner and get a good return, at a much lower cost. Our average annual return over the past five years was 9.3%,” Armour said.

“All our grants go toward supporting the work of the church. Our goal is to be strategic—to test and try new things – to be innovative – to find new ways of being church.” The Foundation has several types of grants available to churches, church organizations and Ministry Personnel – funds for seniors, students, new ministries etc. In 2016, out of $7.3 million in donations and investment income, there was a total granting of $1.13 million, distributed for scholarships and programs such as an App-based adult literacy program in Winnipeg, Coffee House Two 52 – an outreach to non-churched youth in Newfoundland, the Cool Clothes for Cool Kids boutique for families who can’t afford to buy clothes for their children, in Thunder Bay.

“We also try to help struggling churches to find innovative approaches to stay afloat. We will help them to engage before they run out of members and it’s too late. If a church does have to close down, we can create a fund, within the Foundation, to focus on a specific work. When a seniors’ home in Montreal, run by Presbytery, was forced to closed its doors, over $5 million was placed in a fund to be directed towards seniors’ ministries in that region.”

“When Lynedoch United closed in South Western Ontario, the $175,000 from the sale of the property went into three funds that continue to do God’s work.” Donors can set particular geographical boundaries and other criteria to determine who might be eligible to receive grants from a particular fund. “The important question is, what do the people in those congregations feel called to do?” he said. “They can reach out through a particular funding model.”

“We give the donors a list of funds and ask them which ones they might like to support. Or they have the option of setting up one of their own,” he said. “More and more people are giving to the Foundation and telling us to use the funds as we wish.”

In Hamilton Conference, Stewardship & Gifts Officer, Rev. Dave Jagger, is available to give presentations to groups wishing to learn more about the Foundation’s programs. He can be contacted at djagger@united-church.ca.

Interested parties can also contact Erik at ELoForte@united-church.ca. Part of Erik’s job is to walk individuals through the application process for grants and to give out information about the Foundation’s offerings.

“Erik and Sarah work full-time to coach congregations. Give us a call and see if we can be helpful,” Armour said. “We’re happy to provide information. We want to spend all the money we can and to do good work.”

To read the Foundation’s 2016 annual report go to http://unitedchurchFoundation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016-Foundation-Annual-Report.pdf