Quaker A-Z: Digital Diaries and Documents

Pen, Diary and GlassesThis is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

D is for Digital Diaries and Documents

Diaries can be a wonderful organising tool, but they can also lead to confusion if not updated on a regular basis. If lost the information can usually be downloaded again.  many people use a combination of paper and digital calendars these days.

Digital diaries have the ability to synchronise with other people through the cloud keeping them up to date with your plans and whereabouts without continual emails or phone calls. People are able to see if you might be available by looking at your calendar.

This can work well for a meeting house too – where you need to know if there is a space available at a specific time. Either through through sharing ‘live’ individual calendars – as shown by Beverly Quakers or by sharing a pdf calendar that are manually updated – as shown here by Welwyn Garden City.

By sharing this information you can cut down enquiries where there isn’t availability, and can also encourage hirers to consider other times.

Even with digital diary sharing trying to get everyone together for a meeting can be frustrating.

Doodle Polls are a web based system that allows you to create a range of dates and times for a proposed meeting and then allow all attendees to fill in the dates they are available. Why not try it the next time you have to co-ordinate diaries and find a date to meet?

D is for Digital Documents

All documents can be digitized, often if created on a computer it is easy to file a copy into a cloud based storage system such as Dropbox or similar. More information about that in Z is for Zipped.

Another aspect of the digital age is the ability to send contract documents to hirers electronically – saving paper and postage as well as time. I mentioned the importance of having contracts in X marks the spot, the ability to share these easily with other Premises or Finance committee members is also important. A query on a user or amount owing can be answered quickly and easily by a glance at the contract rather than having to be sent to the record keeper and awaiting their reply.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How can you sign digital documents including contracts? Surely you have to print, sign and scan in?”

First I need to tell you that there are two types of computer based signatures – a digital signature is cryptographically secure, and confirms that this document has been read by a specific person who has then used their private signing key to authorize it.

This is usually expensive and only common in legal and commercial systems.

Instead I’m going to explain how to add a digitized signature plus text to a pdf document. Whilst this isn’t as secure as the above digital signature, it is equally secure as receiving a scanned in document with a scribbled signature.

The ability to send, receive, review, sign, return and counter-sign documents all within the computer is one that I use daily. On a Mac this is very straightforward as it is done within Preview – click on the Tools menu and annotate using printed text or a scanned in signature.

Don’t have a scanner? You can take a photo of your signature on a white piece of paper using your phone or a webcam, then extract the signature. Once the signature is digitized it can be saved as a png or pdf file and inserted into any document. Remember to save each document so that the signature can’t be easily extracted and used by someone else.

With a PC, you will need to use one of a variety of programmes. Adobe Reader is very common and is able to do this on your computer. Open a document – if you aren’t prompted to sign the document once opened, click on the ‘sign’ button in the top right hand corner. Follow the on screen instructions to create and add a signature to the document. You can save the signature to use again.

If you don’t have Adobe Reader, HelloSign is a web based programme which is free for individuals. There are also mobile apps such as SignNow or DocuSign Ink.

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Quaker A-Z: C is for Cash or Cheque

2011 07 28 banking chequesThis is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

Many room hirers pay by cash or cheque, especially those groups which are fairly informal, without a group bank account, or who need to have two signatures on any cheque.

However, cash handling is one of the weakest points for any financial system. it is too simple for cash to be lost, misused (using room hire receipts for petty cash is all too common) or appropriated.

Cash is more complicated to deposit than cheques, which can be deposited by post. As the Treasurer’s Handbook points out

“The Meeting’s money should not pass through the treasurer’s personal account, even though there may be times when this could seem more convenient.

The only possible exception is to enable odd amounts of cash to be paid into the Meeting account by means of the treasurer’s personal cheque.”

There can be other, larger sums of money coming into the building, separate from any cash collected for meeting funds or for other collections. If the meeting house hires out rooms and the fees are paid in cash, this can also put the building (and any warden/staff) at risk if knowledge of this cash on the premises becomes known.

There is also the need for someone to collect these room hire cash and cheques, record this alongside a second counter signatory and then take it to the bank. If the Treasurer or Assistant are not able to attend meeting very often, this can mean that the envelope of monies is waiting around for some period of time.

Due to these reasons, many meeting houses are no longer accepting cash from groups, instead asking that the group organise a way to collate the cash and pay by cheque. This was discussed on the wardenship e-list and one warden explained the decision,

“The Treasurer decided that accepting cash was putting extra work upon both the wardens and the treasurers that actually should belong to the group. Instead the group were asked to do their own treasurer’s work and pay by cheque or bank transfer. This has worked for all groups and we now have the majority paid by bank transfer with only a handful of cheques.”

If you decide to continue accepting cash payments do ensure you have procedures in place to track such payments from receipt to deposit, such as numbered receipts which can ensure the cash can be traced not only to the bank account but also to the contract or invoice it was paid against.

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Quaker A-Z: B is for Better Banking

Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank by epSos.de

Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank by epSos.de

This is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

Banking is a complicated subject – often choosing a bank is based upon geographical location rather than ethical or other issues.

How does a Meeting or a Finance Committee make decisions about which bank to use for day to day business, not to mention where to invest any reserves or savings?

Often a decision is made based on out of date information or on a whim from one of the committee members. How can a decision be made without hours of research? Thankfully there has been a huge increase of interest in ethical finance since Young Friends General Meeting brought that issue to wider Quaker notice in 1980.

Many meetings use the Co-Operative bank but surprisingly, that doesn’t rate the highest on ethical and other issues. Move your Money is a not-for-profit organisation working to raise awareness about the broad range of financial institutions available to customers in the UK. They are funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, charitable foundations promoting excluded communities.

Ethical Consumer helped create the scorecard and has other information on ethical finance website too.

Geographical location, the ability for the Treasurer and Finance Committee to access the accounts on-line or any other issue may still affect the final decision but hopefully these tools will help cut down the amount of research time before any decision is made.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness have prepared the following paper about our relationship with the Co-operative Bank in response to questions raised by Friends: Banking with the Co-operative – A dilemma for Friends [PDF: 147kb – new window].

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Quaker A-Z: A is for Accurate Accounts

keep-calm-and-be-accurateThis is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

I like the poster above, it can be taken in so many ways.

At first you might think this is referring to the types of accounts that the treasurers have to keep. This is very important and as all Quaker meetings are charities registered or not it is a legal requirement.

But in this post, I am talking more about ensuring the total cost are running a meeting house or a committee or a project are accurately recorded. So often when I ask for receipts someone will say, “oh don’t worry about it.”

This casual attitude can create a culture where we presume that anyone nominated to do some work should fund it from their own pocket. Even if they do claim it back in the end, it can be presumed that their budget is able to fund this until they can be paid back.

I once pointed out to a committee I was on that they didn’t have a budget for a specific project they asked me to work on. I was told the budget had been removed because the money hadn’t been spent in many years. But of course the work was still happening – it was merely being funded by individuals not the group as a whole.

  • What will happen when those individuals are replaced by someone for whatever reason don’t feel they should be supporting that work from their pocket?
  • Or if someone wants to be part of that work, but doesn’t have economic means to support it themselves?

Presuming the work is still something the group wanted to support, there won’t be any record at how much was spent previously to be used as a guideline and there won’t be any money allocated to it the existing budget.

Another bonus is that if the individuals using their money are taxpayers, they can claim back the money they have spent and then donate it as a gift aid donation.

Legally there must be money exchanging hands, so they do need to claim and then donate, rather than writing off the receipts. As long as you have audit trail then gift aid can be claimed – there is more information at that link.

For all of these reasons I hope you can see why is important to have accurate accounts.

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

An Explanation of the Quaker Alphabet Blog project for 2015

Q is for QuakerI’m joining in with the Quaker A-Z blog event – where all sorts of Quakers from all walks of life are coming together to share ideas.

Linked only by our Quakerism and the format of publishing blog posts from A-Z.

Just like last year’s series, this as a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas and views.

There will be some serious posts while others… Will be more of a bit of fun. To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link in the side bar or here in this post.

Hope you enjoy it!

Political Policies

Elections 2012 at Ricoh ArenaDoubtful Votes from Coventry Council on Flickr

Advice & Query 34

Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.

You may have heard there is a General Election on the near horizon…

There are Quakers standing for election, campaigning for various political parties and on behalf of pressure groups. However, corporately there isn’t one party that Quakers are supporting – as a registered charity that is something we aren’t legally allowed to do.

Is there a plan for your Meeting to organise a hustings to quiz the candidates? Or a public meeting to discuss issues that are relevant to the elections? These are things we are not only allowed to do but encouraged – there is a new website Quaker Vote supported by staff at Friends House to give more information about the election and issues we may as Quakers be interested in.

Such events can be a great use of the skills and interests of the members of the worshipping community and the wider community – as well as the building. They can be a form of outreach and a way of generating interest in Quaker views.

However, there is a difference between what we do as individuals, and what is done with our Meeting Houses or on behalf of our Local Meeting. Most Area Meetings are Registered Charities – and all are part of Britain Yearly Meeting which is also a Registered Charity. This means that there are laws to prevent charities using their assets – such as a building to support a specific political party.

Many meeting houses have a room hire policy that states that they don’t hire rooms to political parties – this is to prevent any one political party becoming seen as ‘Quaker’ as well as preventing people thinking, ‘All Quakers must be xxxx’ as they saw a meeting house associated with one. For example there was an instance where a meeting was unhappy to find  by a reporter for the local newspaper had photographed ‘The local Green Party outside their campaign headquarters’ with the Quaker Meeting House sign clearly visible behind.

Jessica Metheringham is the Parliamentary Engagement Officer working on our behalf at Friends House. Recently she wrote:

Any political activity which a meeting undertakes will fit into the following four categories. It may be than an activity falls across two categories. A political activity could be anything, whether that means making a statement, handing out leaflets, or holding a vigil.

The four categories are:

  1. Completely party-neutral with no mention of any party or anything which could be implied to be any party. This doesn’t mean it’s not political, just not party-political. For example, “we support same-sex marriage”.
  2. Implying that we broadly agree with a party position. Most of what we say about replacing Trident falls into this category.
  3. Explicitly saying or strongly implying that a party agrees with us, or us with them. For example, if we said, “a vote for the Green Party is a vote against fracking”, it would fall into this category.
  4. Giving a party a donation-in-kind, either by hosting an event for less than commercial rates or by displaying their logo in such a way that our leaflets appear to be their leaflets.

Category four is against charity regulations – it’s illegal for charities to give any sort of donation to a political party. Meetings should not give political parties donations. (Most meetings are charities or religious exempt charities.)

Category one is obviously fine. Category two is also fine. Meetings speaking out on issues such as equality are likely to say and do things which fall into these categories.

Category three may also be fine, but I would like meetings to consider exactly what sort of activities they are carrying out, to ensure that they are not donations-in-kind.

I would strongly suggest that, between 30 March and 7 May:

  1. Meetings do not hold joint events with political parties

  2. Meetings do not hire out rooms to political parties at less than normal rates

  3. Meetings do not allow political campaign events (except for hustings) to happen in the meeting house

  4. Meeting do not hold events promoting a parliamentary candidate – even if that person is a member of the meeting

  5. If a meeting is asked to comment on a local Quaker standing for Parliament, they contact Anne or me immediately.

For more information do check out the new colourful website: Quaker Vote.

  • What is happening in your area ?
  • How does your meeting interact with its local MPs and Council?


How to open a door…

2015 02 26 door release sign

Or perhaps how to get someone else to open the door for themselves.

Seen while leaving Westminster Meeting House.

2015 02 26 door release buttonI was impressed not only with the sign but the photograph and arrow.

Yes – if you turn to look where the arrow is pointing you do indeed find the button.

Complete with an additional sign!

Hopefully this ensures that everyone needing to leave can do so without disturbing the Wardens or anyone else.

Always interested to see such examples of good practice.


Managing Meeting Houses – January 2015

2008 07 12 Woodbrooke Labyrinth 1This is the annual weekend aimed at anyone who has a role related to managing a meeting house. Employers, employees, volunteers, caretakers, trustees – plus of course all those who are wearing more than one hat. Thirty participants made this a full weekend.

Quaker Life and Woodbrooke organise this weekend, and each time I attend I learn something new, as well as coming away energised. I highly recommend the course to my clients so was delighted that one attended and told me how inspiring and useful they found it.

During the weekend we had seminars on

  • People Matters – Managing Our Relationships and Communication
  • Nuts and Bolts 1 – Employment
  • Nuts and Bolts 2 – Health & Safety – and more!
  • Know your Gifts
  • Engaging MH as community. What is the new Directory of Services?
  • Panel of Experts and closing worship

There were also chances to have a one-on-one discussion with one of the seminar facilitators. These were snapped up – I’ve used that opportunity before, and it is always useful to be able to go into more detail about an issue or to discuss a specific problem.

Richard Summers as General Secretary of Quaker Life also reminded us that anyone with specific queries on wardenship or employment can contact him on wardenship@quaker.org.uk and he will attempt to help. More  information is on the quaker.org.uk/wardenship page. If he doesn’t know the answer he will seek out the most appropriate person.

But of course the conversations over meals and breaks, discovering that someone else is sharing the same problems – or even come up with solutions that you hadn’t thought of are all an important part of the weekend. Creating connections and building networks, meeting people who you have spoken to on the Wardenship e-list and just being reassured that you aren’t alone in this labyrinth of needs, wants, requirements and legal necessities.

Planning has already started for next year’s event – do consider it you haven’t been already. It is well worth sending both an employer/manager and an employee/volunteer. Dates will be announced in Clerk’s mailings as well as on the e-list.

Quaker A-Z: Z is for Zipped

zip file error message

photo from Clive Darra on Flickr

This is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

Z is for Zipped

No, not coats but files. Large files often need to be shared amongst a committee. With people creating photo and graphic heavy documents, often across a variety of platforms and programmes, there are more opportunities for problems to arise.

Zipping or compressing a file can ensure that even large files can be sent via email or stored on a flash drive. However, this can also give rise to errors. So how can you share information without worrying about losing information or using up someone’s data allowance?

Another alternative is to store the documents on a server and share access to those who need it. This could be accessed via a website or you can use one of the file hosting cloud based storage systems which sync folders to ensure that you always have the most up to date information.

Examples of such systems are Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box. Each has their own benefits and will be compatible with different systems. Mindful Business Services uses Dropbox for most of its clients, but has used Google Drive for a few that already had that system in place.

By creating a central information storage hub you ensure that files are easily shared with new committee members and aren’t lost when someone leaves a committee – a problem I wrote about under Generic Email Addresses.

  • How has your meeting managed to share important information amongst committee members?

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.

Quaker A-Z: Y is for Young and Young at Heart

2013 06 Cotteridge gardenThis is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

Y is for Young and Young-at-Heart

A meeting should reflect the community surrounding it – and it should ideally be an all age community.

A&Q 18 says:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

A&Q 24 says:

Children and young people need love and stability. Are we doing all we can to uphold and sustain parents and others who carry the responsibility for providing this care?

I feel strongly that Meeting Houses and meetings should support the vision of an all age community.

Families with children at different stages will need different support. All of us are ageing – and our needs will change as we do.

So what can a meeting do to include all members no matter their age and ability? How can the meeting ensure these needs are considered, when making decisions about design changes, redecoration or purchases?

As well as ensuring there is a Children and Young People’s committee and that consideration is given to inclusion of families at business meetings and meetings for learning as well as meetings for worship and meals there are practical matters that can be helpful for the young and the young-at-heart.

  • Does your meeting have stools in the toilet areas, plus family friendly toilet seats?
  • Are the toilet or bathrooms useable by someone needing a carer?
  • Is the soap easily accessible to someone with small or who lacks hand strength and mobility?
  • Can doors be opened easily and are the doorways wide enough?
  • Do stairs and passageways have grab rails and banisters at different heights?
  • Are there bibs, child sized cutlery and crockery, sipper cups and booster seats or high chairs available for use during shared meals?
  • Do you have a variety of styles and sizes of chairs throughout the building to suit a range of needs?
  • To ensure parents and carers are able to attend worship and be supported, are members of the Children and Young People’s committee sourced from outside that group?
  • Is the structure of the committees and events flexible enough to change with the demands of its new appointees?

Paul Parker (current Recording Clerk) said in a presentation,

“Currently our Society is organised, or set up for the convenience of the newly retired.”

There was wry laughter after that comment – he was talking about national committee structures, but this can be relevant at local and Area Meeting level too.

When was the last time you heard, “Business meeting will be held after coffee at 12:30 in the meeting room, child care is in xxxx room”. Or asked the members of Children’s Meeting to run a business meeting, or help to decide what to do with the meeting’s resources?

Older members can feel isolated or unsupported too – Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has produced a website Quaker Ageing Resources exploring ageing and generational relationships. Including a set of queries that can be used as part of a discussion or study group.

  • How has your meeting ensured that it becomes and remains an all age worshipping community?

To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.