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 his 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.

Quaker A-Z: X marks the spot

2014 12 19 tube labyrinth

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

X marks the spot – part one

X marks the spot for signatures. Do you have room hire contracts? Are they for set periods of time or a license for part of the building? Do you have full names and addresses for the people and groups that use your building – especially any that have keys or access codes?

In P is for Premises and Policies and in T is for Terms and Conditions I mentioned the benefit of having time to think through issues and be able to decide on terms, conditions and policies to ensure that levels of service, care and maintenance are standardised, whilst problems can be prevented or considered before they arise.

A well written contract can ensure that problems are dealt with in a measured fashion, and that all hirers are held to the same expectations. The contract can prevent individuals being treated differently – depending on which Quaker they’ve spoken to. Being able to refuse a request or point out a problem with reference to a policy or contract document can make any confrontations easier to handle, and feel less personal to the people involved.

When you produce a contract, it should include the relevant terms and conditions as part of the contract so the hirer can see what they are agreeing to. As I’ve mentioned previously, many samples are available – it isn’t necessary to invent the wheel. Contact me if you would like a sample pack of documents.

X marks the spot – part two

X marks the spots on maps, especially treasure maps. X is often used to mark a specific place.

  • So, could anyone find you on the map?
  • On local tourist or information maps is the Meeting House marked as a place of interest?
  • Are there directions on your website?
  • If you have photos of the building, are they what a visitor would see from the road or the prettier bit around the side?
  • Have you included a map on any marketing or information leaflets that you hand out?

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

Quaker A-Z: W is for Woodbrooke & Websites

2008 07 12 Woodbrooke Labyrinth 1

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

W is for Woodbrooke

I should start this with an acknowledgement that Woodbrooke is one of my favourite places – I have been lucky enough to learn and teach there. Life Artistry, the spiritual scrapbooking course I developed, has been taught there several times.

Woodbrooke is Europe’s only Quaker Study Centre. It is based in the former family home of the local (Quaker) chocolate maker, George Cadbury. Since 1903, Woodbrooke has provided education for those of any faith or none from around the world. It also runs courses at other venues – most recently in partnership with Swarthmore Hall, and for individual meetings when requested.

Among the courses offered are several that can be considered helpful to those responsible for running a Meeting House as well as a meeting. There are courses for Treasurers, Trustees, plus the annual ‘Managing Our Meeting Houses’ course which will run at the end of January.

This year’s Managing Our Meeting Houses weekend is full, but do look at next year. I highly recommend this weekend for both those managing the building, business and practical aspects, plus those overseeing that management – a time for inspiration, information and a sharing of good practises.

Woodbrooke on the Road can also help your local meeting or area meeting to develop a course to meet any needs that you may have.

W is for Websites

Friends House has set up a basic page for each Quaker Meeting in Britain – for example Leigh on Sea. They also have a page of Quaker meeting websites and a page of ideas on creating a website for your meeting.

Other meetings have set up more complicated sites – as part of their local Area Meeting or on their own. Central England Quakers covers a large geographical area while Kingston Quakers include photos of their new building, their terms and conditions and current leaflets.

What might you consider putting on your website? Well – it depends on who you are writing for.

  • Are you writing for your own local worshipping group and don’t want to share that information?
  • Are you writing for people who are looking to find Quakers to attend a Meeting for Worship or to hire a room?
  • Who is going to maintain the site – are you going to look for volunteers or are you going to pay someone? (Yes, MBS does offer this.)

You can also link to other websites – for example Muswell Hill has a page showing who uses the building with links to the hirers’ own websites. Those pages also have a reciprocal link back to Muswell Hill so that visitors can explore that site as well.

Google for business is a free way to ensure that your meeting house shows up on searches across Google. Other sites such as Halls Hire will take your listing and promote it on their own site – you may find a local website run by your council or chamber of commerce.

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

Quaker A-Z: V is for Volunteers and (school) Visits

2009 10 06 Wendrie w Volunteer badge 2 This is part of the Quaker Alphabet Project – click here for more information.

V is for Volunteers

If you read the last post ‘U is for understanding and undervalued‘ you may be wondering how to avoid having your wardens or other volunteers feeling undervalued and misunderstood. Is it just as simple as following the list of advice given last week?

2010 12 09 Volunteers Desk

Volunteers Desk at Quaker Centre Friends House

It is always tricky to balance the skills you need with the skills offered but then that is part of the fun of working with volunteers rather than calling in professionals.

Remembering that you might get a professional volunteering too!

Well, I’ve been both a volunteer and managed volunteers – in small or large groups with a variety of ages, experiences and abilities.

There are some things that can help your project succeed and your volunteers leave feeling satisfied and willing to come back for more.

  • Have you clearly defined the job(s) or tasks that you want done?
  • Have you ensured that appropriate tools and working areas are available and supplied by you?
  • Have you categorised the jobs and tasks to fit a wide range of skill sets and abilities? Pairing not so able or skilled with others more skilled or ensuring there are jobs suitable to all abilities.
  • Has someone done a dry run (even just on paper!) to ensure all obvious snags are reduced and that the tasks can actually be done in the place and time you’ve allotted?
  • Do you ensure all volunteers are welcomed and given an induction suitable to their age and ability?
  • Do you thank all those who came to help – even if they weren’t able to help? I always find that sharing food together is a good way to ensure fellowship and a feeling of being appreciated.
  • If the project is over a longer period of time, do you ensure that everyone is kept up to date with developments and is able to give input?

All Quaker meetings are of course run by volunteers – and one of the joys of giving Quaker service is meeting others who are also giving service. Even when it is frustrating, or hard work there are always benefits – to paraphrase A&Q 23:

In times of difficulty remind yourself of the value of prayer, of perseverance and of a sense of humour.

V is for Visits – school and others

One interesting way of getting people to visit your meeting house is to invite them to visit. A common visit can be from a local school – Quakers can come into the National Curriculum in a range of ways.

Dissenters, slave trade, or individuals such as George Fox and Elizabeth Fry, or even local religious groups is another for younger children.

However, I also had a visit where I was informed they wanted to come as the sixth formers were looking at ‘Religious Architecture and Icons’. When I hesitantly pointed out the building didn’t have much to look at in the way of either icons or obviously religious architecture – I was reassured by the teacher saying that we were being compared to the local Greek orthodox church.

There are resources available from the Children and Young People’s Team at Friends House ‘Schools Journeys’ to help you plan and organise the visit – you could invite all schools to a specific exhibition, or just contact the local schools to inform them that the meeting exists and that there are people willing to come in to do assemblies or to host a field trip.

Along with other recent commemorations of WWI two new packs were produced by QPSW Conscience and Conviction which can be downloaded for free from that link.

Over the years I’ve hosted school visits and always found the groups interesting as well as challenging. I’ve been thanked by the adults attending as well as the students. I hope you are tempted to try out a school visit!

  • Does your meeting have a relationship with any or all of the local schools?
  • Have you any tips for a successful visit?

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