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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Photo taken by Dana Rancette, used with permission
Fire is a serious risk. However, even if the equipment can be tempting to small people, I don’t recommend telling them taping the control panel shut, or posting signs telling people not to touch the fire alarm.
I suspect those intent on fiddling will ignore the sign. While you definitely don’t want to confuse someone in an emergency situation where they *should* sound the alarm.
Instead have regular fire alarm drills. Give training to your volunteers or employees. Suggest training for anyone else who use your building. You might be able to combine groups and provide training to everyone.
These combined with clear signage, plus the use of appropriate equipment coverings to prevent accidental usage or damage will mean fewer false alarms and give everyone involved more confidence that they know what they are doing if an emergency occurs.
Okay, in Part I we covered the concepts behind email, now it’s time for the…
Create an account for the organisation
This ensures that all the data that belongs to your organisation is under your control.
With the majority of communication taking place via email, the temptation will be to use the email addresses that the individuals involved already have.
Don’t do it!
It may be easier now, but when the role is handed over to someone else the data will almost certainly be lost. In addition, if the data is attached to an individual’s private account it legally belongs to them, not the organisation.
And if the relationship between the organisation and individual in question breaks down, you may as well kiss your data goodbye. Getting it back will almost certainly be very painful, and take more time, money, and lawyers than you have access to.
Services such as Google allow small organisations and charities to do this for free, (Google for Non-Profits) so make use of them. We do not advocate for Google, and other services exist. The choice of which suits you best will be dependent on your organisation & circumstances, but theirs is a good offering.
One reason for this is because they have a suite of integrated services included with the email, notably Google Drive, which lets you store all your data in an easier to use format than just having it in emails. This is something you should consider, and that I will be detailing in a later post.
Whether you use Google or not, sticking to a big-name provider reduces the risk of your service being lost without notice.
The administrator user name and password for the account should be available only to recognised office holders. An admin account lets you make whatever changes you want, so if someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing uses it they could do a lot of damage.
User names and passwords should be stored in such a way that they can be accessed by other office holders should the nominated person suddenly become unavailable. Shared cloud based password systems are useful for this and other reasons. A personal emergency should never leave your organisation unable to access its own account!
Name the account unambiguously. At this point you should seriously consider registering a domain name for your organisation, for the following reasons:
It only costs a few pounds per year.
Your email addresses are those of your organisation and not your service provider (yourorganisation.org.uk rather than yourorganisation.google.co.uk for example).
If you choose to move your service provider you won’t have to change all your email addresses, avoiding the disruption that would entail.
If you don’t do it people will assume that you’re too cheap, technically inept, or simply couldn’t be bothered, and that’s not a good look.
You can do this within Google as part of the sign-up process or with a separate domain registrar. Your preferred domain may already be taken so be prepared to try a few variations until you get one that’s available. Your will probably want a .org.uk domain as this signifies that you are a non-commercial organisation in the United Kingdom.
Create mailboxes for roles not individuals
For each role, create a mailbox and give the user name and password to the individual performing that role. For example, ‘Treasurer@domainname’ rather than ‘Bob_Example@domainname’. This means that when Bob moves on, you don’t have to create a whole new account or have their replacement constantly explain that they aren’t Bob.
Ensure that all electronic communication for a role is performed with that mailbox. Do not use personal accounts, and do not cross-contaminate roles (e.g., dealing with Clerk matters in the Treasurer account). This is especially important if you have someone with access to multiple accounts.
The first action performed by anyone taking over a mailbox should be to change the password, to ensure that only they can access it.
When setting up a mailbox for the first time, if individuals already have correspondence in their personal mailboxes (and you’re still on good terms) get them to forward the relevant email to the new mailbox.
If it becomes necessary to have an individual’s access removed from a mailbox, the account administrator can force a password reset. This should be done as soon as an individual ceases performing a role, as a routine matter of security.
On a regular basis (semi-annually or annually) who has access to each mailbox should be reviewed to ensure that it’s correct and up to date.
Calendars are useful – except when the synchronization fails,
although I like the idea of the day above.
Meeting Houses are often run by volunteers. But even if you are a paid member of staff – usually you are fitting managing the maintenance of the building around other more immediate aspects of the work, and it can be hard to ensure nothing slips through the organisational net.
Using a calendar as a planning tool
One way to avoid this happening, is to use a calendar for your reminders.
Create a list of regular to-dos, enter them onto your calendar and (if digital) have a reminder emailed to you. Not only for the task ‘clear gutters’, but for the preparation – ‘get quote’, ‘tell Premises clearing gutters is due’, ‘book window cleaner for gutters’.
If you use a paper calendar you can do a similar thing. But will need to remember to look at the calendar to be reminded, and store the ‘next xxx date’ on a piece of paper added into the back.
You can add in one off tasks as well of course, but the repeating function means you don’t have to wonder when the next PA Testing or roof inspection is due. A quick search and the calendar will tell you, even if that is a couple of years in the future.
If you use the calendar attached to the generic email, (and hopefully shared booking calendar), that forward planning isn’t lost when the role passes to the next holder.
Share your calendars, so other people can see those reminders as well. This sharing enables you to spread out tasks and responsibilities. Or at least the awareness that these tasks are being dealt with by you.
Creating a Record
When work is done, add a note on the date to create a record.
Search within the calendar for ‘inspection’ or ‘building tour’ and print off the results. This gives an easy report for records – especially useful for Annual or Quinquennial reports.
Once a year’s worth of reminders/work has been completed, why not print off a copy to go in the front of the Minutes book as a visual reminder of the work that will be coming up?
What methods do you use to spread out the work, and ensure regular maintenance jobs aren’t forgotten?
This year’s ACAT conference was held Saturday October 15th at Woburn House Conference Centre, London.
Money & Monks, Markets & Monasteries
Our opening address was Br Dr Anthony Purvis, Prior of St Michael’s Priory, Willen, Milton Keynes talking about the relationship between Thomas Merton and Dom James Fox the Abbot of the Abbey of Gethsemani. Stressed at some times as they had very different priorities, while also sharing many similarities – as they joined the same order and lived together for many years.
“What does it mean to live in a world based on money, when you have taken a vow of poverty?”
We were assured that to live in a religious house is not to run away from the world’s problems, but instead to face them in a smaller community. A priory is a place with budget deficits, financial difficulties, problems with contract law etc. It can be hard to deal with such things in association with people only wanting to concentrate on theology.
We must learn to live together or we fail each other. We learn from those we don’t leave.
Thomas Merton is often seen as a prophetic voice speaking from the wilderness loved the simplicity of the life he signed up for – sleeping ten to a dorm on straw mattresses, hand cultivating the land, eating very frugally. But he also made a great deal of money for the community – by writing a best seller.
Any money that came in was carefully managed by James Fox (a graduate of the Harvard Business School) to improve the fabric of the building, to mechanise the farming and increase production and to create mail order businesses – diversifying and increasing income streams. Good business sense that enable the religious work to continue and grow – by the time of Thomas Merton’s death new buildings were needed to hold all the incoming monks.
Two very different viewpoints and priorities, but the two were also brothers in spirit. When James Fox became the Abbot he insisted that Thomas Merton heard his confessions and when dying, asked to be buried next to Thomas Merton.
This was an inspiring set of thoughts and several on our table said we were going to do more reading – It reminded me of the Parker J Palmer passage in Qf&P 10.19
In a true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives!
Parker J Palmer, 1977
Workshops, Advice & AGM
This year’s conference format included a brisk AGM, plus several workshops – separated into large or small church streams.
From the chat around our table and others both streams were well done, with interesting presenters, thoughtful answers and useful tips.
I’ve come away with several pages of notes, some items to do research on and a pack of material to sort through over the next few days. A truly worthwhile day – recommended to any other Treasurer or Trustee concerned with financial management.
9:30am to 10:00am Registration and Networking.
10:00am Meeting for Worship (for ten minutes).
The heartfelt purpose is for those attending the conference to leave with their own personal intent to embody equality in their organisations at a deeper, more profound human level. The participants will leave feeling and knowing the difference these ideas will make for their staff, their customers and for the wider community.
The day will be grounded in Quaker Advice and Queries 22: “Respect the wide diversity among us in our lives and relationships. Refrain from making prejudiced judgements about the life journeys of others. Do you foster the spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness which our discipleship asks of us? Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God”
There will be speakers and creative activities during the day; and the flow of our four speakers for the day is:-
Sexual Orientation Equality
Satish Kumar, internationally renowned speaker on ecological and spiritual issues will be speaking on Embodying Religious Equality in Business.
Michael Lassman, who has over 30 years’ experience following an equality and diversity agenda, speaking on Embodying Gender Equality in Business. Michael set up Equality Edge at the end of 2006 as a vehicle to deliver innovative workshops, one-to-one or small group coaching and public speaking services. He is speaking at the 2016 Global Equality and Diversity Conference.