November 5, 2020

‘God Provides Everything We Have’

Kimberly Luste Maran, North America Division News

As the North American Division executive committee watched on Zoom, Randy Robinson, NAD treasurer, introduced the 2020 treasury report on November 2 by recognizing General Conference treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán. Robinson asked Prestol-Puesán to share a few words.

Prestol-Puesán gave his affirmation to the NAD treasurer for a report that is “comprehensive, well put together, and — in the middle of a difficult time — optimistic.”

He thanked Robinson, adding, “Thank you, officers of the North American Division, for keeping a steady hand, and moving things along in a wise and careful manner.”

Financial Backdrop

Before diving into his report, Robinson provided a framework for the financial state of the division against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and political issues. “We started out 2020 very strong financially, with double-digit tithe increases through January and February,” he started. “But then in March the COVID-19 crisis arrived. Businesses began to close. There was significant and sudden unemployment, as well as extreme marketplace volatility. There was some social isolation and an unprecedented rise in virtual communication. Similarly, churches and schools were closing, and tithes and offerings began to decline.”

“There was a lot of speculation amongst the financial leadership in the church,” Robinson said. “We were talking about the potential of very significant decreases because our churches were closing; we wondered how we were all going to survive. Most of us sent our employees home to comply with social distancing mandates that were provided by our local governments.”

But, said Robinson, the church in North America responded well. “By God’s grace, I stand on this side of the process in amazement, and I want to preach a sermon or something because of the awesome response by our God and our people,” he said. Robinson first talked about the division’s response of implementing virtual functionality with the pandemic shutdown. He highlighted the “tremendous” institutional innovation, citing It Is Written, Vacation Bible School, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and other ministries, services, and institutions for being able to pivot and take advantage of the situation, providing programs, content, and resources virtually. “God really blessed. We basically [became] the North American digital division.”

The use of online giving also soared. “Before COVID-19, the percentage of total tithe received through Adventist Giving was about 22 percent,” said Robinson. “Now it is almost 60 percent. That’s a tremendous increase in the use of online giving, and my thanks go to that team for putting it together and keeping it running.”

Robinson also thanked “our members, who really found a way to continue their tithe and offering giving to the church in North America. What a blessing!”

Robinson shared that during the spring, the NAD treasury team, along with union treasurers, developed “a $10 million stimulus package from the North American Division that was virtually matched dollar for dollar by our unions to provide approximately $20 million to our local fields.” Said Robinson, “I feel blessed that we were able to come together to provide those dollars, [which were] mostly for our local conferences. Employees at almost all levels were retained. And ministry continued.”

“We had to do business from home, and the ministry continued,” he shared. “We adjusted our budgets and discovered, in hindsight, where we were really concerned about how far things might decline, that God had been (and still is) amazingly wonderful in His providence through the membership of the North American Division. I’m grateful to our members who have continued to support us!”

Financial Highlights

Robinson shared highlights from the 2019 audited financial statement, including operating and plant fund trends, recommended working capital, and tithe. He also shared the 2021 proposed budget. Robinson reported that although the operating fund total net assets dipped in 2017 after the NAD purchased its headquarters building, it trended up in 2018. Then from that point, NAD total net assets have steadily increased again. Combined operating and plant total net assets have steadily increased during the past several years.

Working capital, explained Robinson, climbed from 78 percent of the recommendation in 2017 to 85 percent in 2018, ending with 92 percent in 2019. According to Robinson, a recommended working capital of 100 percent is optimal, as defined in NAD working policy.

He shared that the NAD had 234 days of cash available at the end of 2019. It was 194 at the end of 2017 and 209 at the end of 2018. “Recommended working capital is a North American Division policy that suggests a certain level of liquid assets that should be available to do business. I use an additional financial metric of ‘days of cash available’ to help define our financial health. That number should be between 180 and 210 days of cash as I calculate it. We are at 234 per our 2019 audit,” he repeated. “However,” he continued, “the calculation I use to compute days of cash available is a little more conservative than the calculation used in the audit. I remove certain obligations from the total cash figure before I do the final calculation. That reduces the number of days from what the audit calculation computes. Using my calculation, the figure through September 2020 that we have is 168 days of cash.”

Gross tithe in 2019, Robinson reported, was almost US$1.1 billion. Tithe annually from 2016 to 2019 reached US$1 billion and was on trend to do the same in 2020 until COVID-19 hit. Because of the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, there was speculation that tithe might be down 15 or even 20 percent. But, said Robinson, up through September of this year, “we find ourselves only down by less than 1 percent [0.74 percent], year over year. Four of our nine unions actually have gains year over year, and the North Pacific Union Conference is up 4.23 percent through September. Our members have continued their faithful giving of tithes and offerings in North America! Praise God!”

Robinson also presented the Year-to-Date (YTD) 2020 actual financial performance compared to budget. He shared how the 2021 budget proposes less spending than the 2020 budget and is based on 96 percent of the actual 2019 tithe. In addition, 2020 division spending shrank, due mostly to the halt in travel and a decrease in project spending. “The 2021 budget includes an approximately 40 percent reduction in travel from 2020 levels, and approximately a 10 percent reduction in overall project spending. And there is still a hiring freeze in place.”

Survey Report

Robinson also reported on a request from the executive committee to collect information from conferences and unions on the application of cost of living increases. In response to that request, Robinson shared a summary of the report, choosing the key responses to the specific request. There were 57 respondents, 48 out of 49 conferences and missions, and all nine unions responded to eight questions. Robinson shared four questions and poll results. Questions included, “Are you behind on the cost of living increases voted annually?” “Have you have you initiated staff reductions to accommodate those costs of living increases?” “Do you feel the annual June U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a fair benchmark?” and “Should the NAD continue some level of cost of living increases into the future?” Robinson shared the results to the questions: 19 responded “yes,” while 38 responded “no” to the first question; 10 responded “yes,” 47 responded “no” to the second question; 42 responded “yes,” 15 responded “no” to the third question;  and 54 responded “yes,” three responded “no” to the fourth question.

Additional Reports

Tim Aka, General Conference associate treasurer, presented the investment report. He shared the economic landscape the church finds itself in and how that is influencing the financial markets in the United States and around the world. He shared that NAD investments are down a little over 2 percent YTD 2020, mostly due to COVID-19-created market volatility.

Mark Remboldt, North Pacific Union Conference CFO/treasurer and NAD audit committee chair, informed the executive committee that the General Conference Auditing Service audit report for 2019 was reviewed and accepted by the audit committee in October.

Robyn Kajiura, General Conference Auditing Service associate director (North America area), reported on overall audit performance in the NAD. She explained that of 316 clients in 2019, 40 percent of which are education-related institutions, 74 percent of the audits were completed. Of the completed audits, 89 percent received “standard” or “clean” opinions. She also reported that "clean" policy compliance reports have improved in the past several years.

Edwin Romero, Adventist Retirement administrator/CEO and NAD associate treasurer, provided a presentation during the treasury report, saying that the eight plans that the NAD Retirement department administers all received “clean opinions” from the external auditor. He also described the funding streams for each of the different plans, both in and out. Romero reported that the NAD Defined Benefit Plan, using certain assumptions, has the possibility of being fully funded in about 15 years. “This is very optimistic, and while we don’t know what the market is going to show, we do know that we have a powerful God, and we're simply just placing this plan in His hands, hoping that He will see it through.”

Romero thanked the retirement team and the executive committee. “We would like to express appreciation to you for the trust that you have placed in us as we manage $2.7 billion in assets for the church in North America,” he said.

In Gratitude

The executive committee voted to receive each of the reports presented. At the conclusion of his report, Robinson thanked the treasury team for their hard work throughout the year and at YEM.

He finished with a heartfelt comment. “I would be negligent if I did not recognize the God who provides everything that we have. He says in Philippians 4:19 that He will, He shall supply all our needs. There is no equivocation there: He shall. And He did, and He is supplying all our needs. Not some, not a little, not partial — He will supply all our needs according to His riches and His glory. I’m grateful to our Father in heaven for all that He has provided.”

The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.