#AdventWord 2019: 5 Raise

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Perhaps not surprisingly the first topic that today’s #AdventWord Raise inspired was money. Raising money is a continual topic when running a meeting or a building – charitable or not.

At one point the building would have been supported and even built or repaired by the worshipping community. However, for most buildings I’ve visited the building now is maintained by professionals and supported more by other activities – hiring the building out to groups, or through longer-term leases.

One topic I’m often asked to comment on is the level of room hire charges. This is a continual debate and one that doesn’t have any easy answer. Often people will say that they’re happy to be at the cozy and cheap end of the market, while others aspire to be in align with a local office or conference centres. I go into this in more detail in the marketing course, you can read one article about this here: Marketing the next steps.

Another continual topic is how to raise interest in the worshipping community for the various behind the scenes jobs that are essential. Finding ways to ensure that reports and conversations explain what is happening throughout the year. Then for projects that people understand the plans and fully support the people doing the work.

If you are trying to ensure people feel part of the process and are willing to increase their funding there are some simple steps that can have fairly impressive results.

  1. Tell people about the need, people give more for specific topics so perhaps draw out a list of things that might be of interest and work through them. This month talking about raising money to support the local LINK group, next month bursaries for sending people to courses and conferences, then on to the library, hospitality, etc. Having different people speaking to support is always best as there is a personal connection. People often do this for ‘special collections’ for outside organisations but it works to educate the community about its different aspects.
  2. Ask – give specific targets, create an annual appeal letter and suggest that people review their giving as often a standing order is set up and then forgotten about. If someone isn’t giving by standing order make it easy to complete the form – including gift aid if applicable and offer help if needed.
  3. Share the knowledge and responsibility, consider a finance team rather than just a treasurer. Break the role down into tasks and see if simplifying systems can remove some of the tasks. For example, no longer having a cash collection removes the need for banking, counting, etc.
  4. Keep reports simple and use illustrations where possible – there are examples in the Quaker A-Z: W Where does the money go? post from a local meeting treasurer who checks the reports against her primary school children. If a target isn’t made tell people – but also celebrate when targets are reached.

How do you raise interest in finance and building management within your community?

#AdventWord 2019: 4 Humble

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String connection workshop activity at Managing our meeting houses conference at Woodbrooke

The Lord has told you, ·human [O man], what is good; he has told you what ·he wants [the Lord requires] from you: to do what is ·right to other people [just], love ·being kind to others [mercy; lovingkindness], and ·live humbly, obeying [walk humbly with] your God.

Micah 6:8 Expanded Bible

Like so many behind the scenes supporting jobs, building management is often seen as a humble purpose, busy with blocked toilets, leaking roofs and cluttered chaos. Yet, it is how this job is done that is the important thing.

From the Micah quote above – ‘to do what is right to other people’, often translated as to act justly. Which can be your own attitude, or how you treat suppliers, contractors, volunteers and others working alongside you to get the work done.

However, this can include much more, such as transparent policies, paying a living wage, being a Fair Trade church.

The second phrase ‘being kind to others’ is also translated as ‘loving to show mercy’. So often being willing to forgive and move forward toward reconciliation can be seen as a weakness, yet being willing to accept others frailties can build a stronger team and community. Of course, there are times when being loving towards someone means making hard decisions, but that can also be done in a transparent and truthful way.

Finally, the third phrase ‘live humbly’ with the idea of walking alongside God brings us to a more spiritual aspect. So often meetings get caught up in agendas and projects, plowing through items to ensure it is all dealt with efficiently. Yet, it is important to leave time for discernment, to work out what is not necessarily easiest or most efficient but what those ‘promptings of love and truth in your hearts’ are leading us towards.

How can we ensure that all aspects of our building and business reflect these three phrases or instructions?

#AdventWord 2019: 3 Time

2014 07 31 sculpture in the city Time here becomes space

Today’s #AdventWord Time made me think of plans, calendars and schedules. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I have multiple to do lists, calendars for each ‘hat’ or role/client, not to mention lists of lists. They’re all reviewed regularly, in theory so nothing falls through – although of course it does. As I trust the calendar – it can mean that things go wrong when the calendar is wrong…. but that’s all part of life!

I see the schedules, checklists and calendar as creating space, I don’t spend time wondering what I’m doing today as it’s already planned. I trust that the past-me who sat and planned out the week, knew what they were doing, and that there is margin included for all the extras that appear in my day.

When I do mentoring I tell my clients to be nice to the future-you who will be grateful for the work you are doing now. Preparation and thinking now will mean less work later, thinking through and creating policies and procedures at a time where there isn’t a crisis is so much nicer than doing in the middle of one after all.

When I do clerk support – I supply a calendar spreadsheet (download it from here), which builds up to be a record of what needs doing when, and when it was done. Most maintenance jobs – whether physical or administrative repeat on a schedule and once that’s recognised you can put it onto the calendar and it will remind you, so you don’t need to remember. Although you do need to look at the calendar of course!

Atul Gwande’s book the Checklist Manifesto showed that a checklist makes even the most efficient and accurate person or team that bit more efficient and accurate. Important if you are a surgeon or pilot, but also important whatever you are doing.

#AdventWord 2019: 2 Visit

Bromley Quaker Meeting House

One of the things I love about working for MBS is the chance to visit so many meeting houses and churches. Each looks different, each reflects the time and place that it was designed, built, or renovated. There is a collection of images on Flickr created by a Quaker photographer John Hall – well worth looking to see if you recognise any of the buildings, or just enjoy a virtual visit around the country – and abroad.

The English Heritage Quaker Meeting House project was done during 2015 & 2016 with the report being presented at Bath Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering (YMG) as a special interest group. The room was a reasonable size but the group overflowed, not only standing room but also into the corridor as people gathered to hear about how special our buildings are – I loved hearing non-Quakers tell us what a wonderful resource and heritage that Quakers across Britain had preserved.

During the survey a total of 345 meeting houses were visited across Great Britain: 324 in England, 12 in Wales, 7 in Scotland and 2 in the Channel Islands. You can read more about it and download the reports for each building, as well as the national overview report on their website: http://heritage.quaker.org.uk/ Central England Quakers used that information to produce their own booklet, showing a Quaker time line against the founding of each of their meetings.

Reading through the national overview report, and listening to the presentation what struck me was the love that people have for these buildings and gardens and how interesting each one was. Although in Norfolk and Waverley – the survey shone a light on the buildings (ten, of which six are listed) noting that all buildings were loved but often by just one or two people locally, and where the Premises person was often was 90+ years old and still climbing ladders.

Visiting other meeting houses, and churches can create connections, share good practice and give inspiration on how to deal with problems in your own building. It can be a joy as well as a recommended practice in Qf&P 12.12.

#AdventWord 2019: 1 Unexpected

For the sixth year in a row, #AdventWord will gather prayers via a global, online Advent calendar. Virginia Theological Seminary is offering meditations and images during this holy season beginning Sunday, 1 December. Images and meditations can be experienced via the #AdventWord website, direct daily emails, as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and ASL videos via YouTube. This year, meditations will also be available in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

I saw this series of prompts on social media and thought it would be interesting to work through them from an MBS perspective. Thinking through the spiritual aspects of running a building and charity business while starting the end of year round up of accounts, reports and contracts.

Perhaps Unexpected angle – but then preparing for the unexpected is essential when dealing with buildings, volunteers and the general public.

National Guttering Day 2019

Did you know there was such a thing?

SPAG (a Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) founded this national day in 2002 to encourage people to look at their roofs and gutters as we go into winter. You can read about it on the SPAG blog where they have a useful ‘top ten tips’ for this year’s maintenance week.

Water is a menace to all buildings, old and new, and a small unnoticed leak can have serious consequences. When I lived in Muswell Hill meeting house it was flooded three times. On one occasion from both the guttering and the sewer at the same time – as both were overloaded from the amount of water coming down. London wasn’t designed to deal with to such heavy downpours! Unlike this Florida roof which clearly was designed for a lot of rain arriving in a short period of time.

Florida roof guttering

Building tours are highly recommended, and are useful for a wide variety of reasons. Take photos of the building from various angles, filing them in a central storage place (on line or printed into a folder) and if repeated on a regular basis this will build up to be a useful resource for yourself and future Premises committees, as well as historians.

I’ve given details about building tours previously, and recommend an annual building inspection as they’re useful at any time of year. However, they’re also a good thing to do for new committee members or trustees who may not have looked at the building in this way. A thing to remember if you have new cohorts starting in January.

  • Have you checked your gutters recently?

Quaker Social Action report on Funeral Poverty

Photo by Rhodi Lopez on Unsplash

Quaker Social Action have been investigating funeral directors since 2007 and yesterday launched their report into this matter, ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ supported by a grant from Quakers & Business.

Research started in 2007, with their award winning project Down to Earth starting in 2010. Fair Funerals was launched in 2014 and ran to 2018 and to date 1,768 funeral director branches are signed up to a price transparency pledge. Down to Earth provides advocacy work and has supported over 4000 bereaved people since it started – last year over 700.

The funeral business is unregulated, and the Competition and Markets Authority are especially concerned at the lack of clear pricing statements, and comprehensive information, making it hard for vulnerable people to compare what is offered. The cost of a simple funeral is now nearly £4,000; 12% of people faced with a funeral struggle to pay for it, and they take on an average debt of nearly £2000

Four staff members provide mainly phone and on-line support. They also have helped get clear and affordable pricing of funerals, are working in partnership with politicians on a cross-party basis, other charities and Royal London Insurance to get policy change. This includes plans to regulate the funeral industry, whose charges have risen far ahead of inflation; helping to get an increase in the Funeral Expenses Payment – fixed for 15 years at £700 but rising to £1000 in March and then being tied to inflation; supporting the introduction of a Children’s Funeral Fund; and highlighting the need for standards for public health funerals.

This project has saved people an average of £1,800 against initial funeral quotations where consulted before the funeral and nearly 1,600 where the consultation has followed the funeral.

There is grant funding for the project, but a shortfall of £500 per day needs to be found.

Each year the Big Give Christmas Challenge runs from 3-10 December. Money donated on-line is doubled – and this year QSA is one of the charities to benefit from this.

Read more about it here: https://fairfuneralscampaign.org.uk/co…/what-funeral-poverty

Donations can be made to www.quakersocialaction.org.uk/biggive2019. But don’t give yet! Remember between December 3rd & 10th any donation will be matched.

You can download a copy of the report ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ from the QSA website: https://quakersocialaction.org.uk/taking-social-action/news/qsa-launches-funeral-poverty-report-london-event

The Big Give Christmas Challenge Logo

ACAT Conference 2019

Faith, Finance and the Future: Enabling Your Mission

This year’s ACAT (Association of Church Accountants and Treasurers) was held at Methodist Central Halls on October 19th. While Westminster was quiet when I arrived at 9:30 it was obviously preparing for the hordes of people expected later on.

I always enjoy these conferences, they are a good reminder of the spiritual aspects to my job. This year was no exception with presentations from the Charity Commission, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) and Christian Aid and others.

Church as an Employer

There was a hands on aspect to this presentation from law firm Anthony Collins which caused a great deal of discussion at my table – and across the room. The challenges of employing people who are also part of the worshipping community, or explaining the worshipping community to those employed goes across all denominations and faiths I’m sure.

How to deal with people who are no longer performing as we’d like as trustees while supporting them as members of the same community is one I’ve come across so many times.

Digital Learning

I found fascinating a glimpse at the new educational platform that the Diocese of Leeds has developed. The Reverend Dr Hayley Matthews is the Digital Learning Platform‘s director and showed how it can create connections across the diocese, empowering people to learn more about their faith, complete necessary courses such as safeguarding, discuss issues and learn about events. It has been designed from the ground up by the Diocese’s digital team and is designed to encourage those using it to take responsibility for discipleship life, enabling and empowering everyone to learn and live faithfully.

Christian Aid: Improving digital giving and the online experience

Christian Aid is perhaps best known for the neighbourhood envelope collections done during Christian Aid week. Falling numbers of donations has caused them to rethink their donation strategy, to reduce the number of programs involved and redesign their website to encourage donations.

Chris Morris whizzed through some ideas that he recommended we try to improve the digital experience of anyone visiting our websites. He also pointed out that for tiny churches that a Facebook page is a good place to start.

Some of the notes I made included such snippets as ‘there is a 70/80% more engagement with a video than a static picture’, but that even a static picture is better than just text.

As a charity you should have a clear way for people to donate, don’t be embarrassed to ask for money, as a charity you need money. Which reminded me of reviewing a new website for a friend running a charity. After reading through the blog posts and watching a couple of project videos I was enthused and excited to support – but there wasn’t any way to give money!

Charity Commission

Jeff Prescott has eleven years as a Senior Accountant at the Charity Commission and assured us that whatever mistakes we make – he has seen others make the same! Rather scarily he told us that even professionals make mistakes when submitting Annual Returns and that about 65% of tiny charities do so when submitting.

While reminding us that we need to get things right, he was challenged from the floor about the difficulties of the on line platform. It was pointed out that if even professionals are making so many mistakes perhaps it wasn’t just us but the tools supplied! Jeff agreed with the complexities and assured us that there was a working group looking at ways to simplify this and that it would include the ability to go back and correct entries rather than needing to start over.

He also briefly went into quite technical information about the new SORP which consolidates the existing SORP with updates bulletins 1 & 2 which were released this year, and the results of the consultation which ended earlier this year.

Connecting the Dots between your Faith and your Finance

Janie Oliver is the new director of ECCR, appointed in April and comes from a banking and audit background. Janie’s talk was about her growing awareness of the need to look at all spending and money, quoting Matthew 6:19-21 and that in her studying she’s been startled to discover that Jesus mentions money in eleven of his thirty-eight parables.

Janie challenges us to look at all of the money we hold, save, spend not only as an organisation but with the worshipping community as a whole. Janie pointed out out that a standard church might have 50 households in association with it. If each household earns a £20,000 average income then that church has a combined annual spending power of £1,000,000! The idea to take back to our churches, was to think about what would happen if 10% of all Christians, or those of faith, changed to ethical banking and investments.

ACAT news

ACAT board and employees then talked about the new website, and the redevelopment of the newsletter.

ACAT has always been a training and advice organisation. With their on site training being a core component (I’ve got a place on a course booked for later this month). A small amount of on line training has been created and has had good feedback. They now want to expand their training to help all treasurers/trustees to ‘up their game’. ACAT is also looking into advocacy and campaigning on select issues and will be asking members to give feedback.

It was a long and full day. I have a pile of notes to work through, and I’m sure there will be more blog posts to come from those.

Charity Fraud Awareness Week 21st – 25th October 2019

Money spelled out with scrabble tiles on a bed of notes
Money on a bed of Money by 401K-2012-Money

Fraud is not something that people involved with churches or charities want to think about. After all the people on your committee or board; in your organisation are ‘nice’. They must be – because they’re helping the charity do the work it needs to do.

But even nice people can commit fraud. The number I’ve heard quoted is that 90 – 95% of people would give in to temptation under certain circumstances.

Advices & Queries 37: Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do? Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organisations? Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility? Taking oaths implies a double standard of truth; in choosing to affirm instead, be aware of the claim to integrity that you are making.

On the Quaker.org.uk treasurers page, as well as the information about resources and training available there is a pdf of a report. ‘A vulnerable victim? An account of the theft of an area meeting’s money by their treasurer, including lessons learned (PDF).’ One that I think all treasurers and trustees should read and then evaluate their own organisational practices and procedures. I blogged about it during the Quaker financial A-Z under V.

The Fraud Advisory Panel run a Charity Fraud Awareness Week every year. With resources and case studies available to enable you to help ensure that your organisation doesn’t suffer fraud. Helping you to ensure that your organisation support a culture of openness and transparency.

Why not grab a drink and spend some time browsing through what is on offer?

Sharing generic email accounts

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Generic Email

I recommend generic email addresses to all clients, recommending them for a range of reasons:

  • Correspondence is held in a role specific email box. When a new person starts they can catch up, or search for previous conversations.
  • The generic email box means that when a person leaves the role, or doesn’t want to be working on that role, someone else can be monitoring.
  • For Data Protection a subject access request means that the organisation needs to find all emails and documents.
  • For Charity Governance those involved should be able to show clear communication and records.
  • All of the above is easier if the emails are all in house – and not scattered over a range of personal accounts.

Sharing Email Accounts

However this becomes more complicated if more than one person will be accessing and dealing with messages. If the role is shared then some additional guidelines may be needed.

  • Will one person be primarily dealing with correspondence? If so a regular update to the other members of the team might be useful.
  • Will the email box only be checked occasionally, then an automatic reply saying so can be useful in managing expectations.
  • If more than one person is handling correspondence then there need to be ways to ensure email doesn’t slip through the net, and all team members have the information they need.
  • Adding extra email folders for specific people to look at, or communicating outside of the email are useful.

As for all team projects communication and clear expectations and guidelines help to minimise confusion.

What ways have you found to ensure that everyone is aware of what is happening in the email account without duplication of effort?