Starting out fine… & finishing well

Trending Topics Flickr, used under CC

I’m a firm believer in planning and starting out new projects or years with the end in mind. At this time of year, people are usually thinking more about last December than next. Finishing off the previous year’s accounts and reports – and yet, realising what was stressful and ensuring that you don’t repeat any problems is a good use of that review.

On the MBS resources tab are two spreadsheets – one for AM clerks and one for Premises committees, both have the same remit. By calendarising regular tasks and agenda items you ensure they don’t fall by the wayside but also to free up some memory – you no longer need to worry or think about these as you know they are safely recorded. It is a simple form of corporate memory, and a useful piece of evidence of good governance and maintenance if things go wrong.

This is also the time of year that new members of committees arrive, is there an onboarding pack or do you just presume they will learn everything through osmosis? You don’t want to overload them – handing over the Operations Manual may be a bit much, but a summary document, or a copy of that agenda calendar mentioned above, to give them an idea of what they’ll be tackling over the next year can be useful.

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, is management jargon first created in the 1970s that refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors in order to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Wikipedia

It’s also worth the committee taking some time to consider where they’d like to be January 2021. Are there projects you want to be ready to start? Or ones you hope to finish? Deciding to create some of the corporate memory documentation, doing a data audit, a building tour, sending members to a conference or on a training course are all things that might be on your list.

Looking back at 2019 (or earlier) what do you know you don’t want to do? Where did things go wrong, or what mistakes were avoided? Have you written down any lessons learned? Amended or created policies to help prevent a repeat where necessary?

A good place to start is to read through last year’s agendas and minutes, useful for creating an annual report if you haven’t already. Grabbing a drink and making notes as you go along – perhaps as part of the introduction to any new members can help reveal patterns and gaps.

  • Do you have a plan for this year?
  • What would ‘successful’ look like?
  • What simple thing can you decide to do (or not do!) this month that helps set you up for a successful year ahead?

#AdventWord 2019: 19 Bless

2019-10-06 14.09.10

By occupation he was a barber, and on moving into this district in 1937 from Swindon, he first took a shop in Wallington, and later one in a poor part of Croydon. Not all who went there did so for a shave or a haircut, but to enjoy its friendly atmosphere, and to talk to Percy. ‘I am sure,’ said a friend of his, ‘that as Percy rubbed oil into a customer’s hair, he blessed him.’ This would have been natural, since he desired all his actions to be sacramental.

part of Qf&P 23.59

Looking at your place of work – whether it is an office or a building that is open to the general public – how can you use the building to offer a blessing to those who come to it and help them to find what they seek?

Make the building and surrounds welcoming to people as they enter, giving them a clean and attractive space to work or to hire. Decide on a level of maintenance that is sustainable and affordable. Ask for feedback from hirers and users about the building. Ask yourself does it feel peaceful? Meeting Houses I’ve visited are often referred to as an oasis amid busy surroundings.

Have you ensured the building is as accessible as reasonably possible? Are your policies and procedures simple and transparent, so that you can be certain that everyone is treated equally?

When things go wrong and those policies and procedures have failed or need adjusting, do you have ways of dealing with the fall out in an equitable and calm fashion? Like all policies and procedures, a grievance policy is much better created when things are going well than from the middle of chaos.

These may seem like odd blessings – but the future managers, trustees, employees, and volunteers will thankful for those steps taken to make life easier in their now. Being able to work through problems, feeling supported and without the ‘blame culture’ so often found in other organisations is indeed a blessing.

Guaranteeing a fair and unbiased mediation where needed, to help restore and reconcile relationships, supporting firm boundaries where necessary are all part of making the building a healthy place to work. Finding ways to live out your values and demonstrate them to those you interact with can be tricky but is an important part of living a sacramental life, blessing those around you.

#AdventWord 2019: 16 Learn

Colourful pencilsharpenings and post-its

Much of the work of meetings for church affairs and committees will be undertaken by Friends especially appointed by the meeting or committee responsible for the work, most often on the recommendation of a nominations committee. The process of appointment starts when the meeting identifies the need for a task to be performed. It is good practice for a meeting to have a clear view of the tasks that need to be accomplished on its behalf and to fix the length of service required so that both the meeting and the Friend appointed understand the commitment.

Many of our gifts are latent. A particular appointment may enable one Friend to exercise unsuspected abilities. Other Friends may find themselves overburdened by being appointed to service beyond their capacity and experience. It requires great discernment to know the right moment to ask a particular Friend to undertake or lay down a particular task.

<snip>

Quaker Faith & Practice 3.23 paragraphs 1 & 2

Today’s #AdventWord Learn made me muse about where and how I’ve collected the knowledge I have over the last twenty odd years of being involved with running meetings and meeting houses.

Ensuring that all those working within a meeting or other charity, either volunteers or employed have a chance to learn and grow in their roles is important. It also enriches the entire community and gives a chance for those latent gifts to be discovered and developed.

Clear understanding of the work that needs to be done, well written and comprehensive role or job descriptions are invaluable and the promise that support and further training is available ensures that people can offer service without concern.

Woodbrooke offers training for many Quaker roles, as well as spiritual development. Other professional training may be helpful or necessary. A wider pool of people can be found by looking locally for others groups to combine with.

In addition to more formal or required training, the opportunity to get together with others in similar roles is helpful. I’ve written about this in more detail in this post: K is for Knowledge & Knowhow. The importance of ensuring that people are supported while doing roles/jobs is written about here: Z is for Zen. Finally – the one bit of training that all meeting houses need to look into is around catering and kitchens, Quaker meetings are considered food businesses – I’ve written more about it here: K is for Kitchens.

#AdventWord 2019: 15 Turn

a photo of a tube labyrinth
Part of a series of art throughout London Underground

Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.

Advices & Queries 28

Turn – to change direction, or to hand over power or responsibility. Of course you can combine the two, deciding you need to change direction and to do so you need to hand over responsibilities or power. Alternatively you can discover that you now have new responsibilities and have to change direction to suit. I’m often called in when a charity has run into a problem and needs someone to untangle the systems or paperwork ready to hand on to the next volunteer.

Handing on of power regularly is of course the reason for the triennial appointment system, knowing that you are the clerk/treasurer/elder/overseer now but in a few years you’ll be something else. It also means that those coming into the system can see the testimony to equality being lived out, or where there are difficulties in handing on power – either because someone doesn’t want to relinquish or accept what is offered.

  • How do you ensure that all of your systems and procedures support the smooth handing on of power and responsibilities?

#AdventWord 2019: 13 Water

2014 09 25 waterfall

Today’s #AdventWord water has such symbolism and power. Over 70% of earth’s surface is covered in water, and all living organisms need water to live.

Water can be seen both positively or negatively: washing clean or depositing detritus as it slows; creating landscapes or weathering/destroying as it moves; supporting you as you float or dragging you down in a fast moving current. Whilst I usually love fountains, I was less pleased to see fountaining toilets in the basement of Muswell Hill after a heavy rain.

Buildings and their surrounding landscape can help reduce their water usage through, either by retrofitting aerators to taps, installing water butts outside etc. or during design and building/remodeling.

Careful paving choices, considering the surrounding area along with the creations of ponds or dry gardens depending on the environment also help.

Opened in 2014 Kingston Quaker Centre was built with sustainability in mind. It harvests rainwater from the roof – where water is directed to harvesting tanks which feed some of the toilet cisterns and is used in the garden, as well as dropping directly into planted areas. There is a monitor in the Library which shows statistics for energy usage and water saved by rainwater harvesting as well as the current status of the heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

Muswell Hill linked not only waterbutts to downpipes but also diverted one into a pond to ensure it remained topped up.

Taking care of water usage is just one part of the overall sustainability plan, but it is an important part. What are you doing in your local community to help take care of your water?

#AdventWord 2019: 11 Confess

Confess by Dagny Mol on Flickr

Confess makes me think of admitting that you’ve done something wrong, or perhaps something you’re uncertain about.

I liked this idea of public confession – but mainly because it means that people are examining their lives. Of course the other part is that by reading what others have confessed someone may realise it isn’t just them, which can be good to discover.

The end of the year is a good time for such examinations. Taking the time to have a look through what has happened this year, what goals and aspirations you started with back in January and where you are now.

You can’t confess if you never look back or acknowledge where you may have made mistakes. It makes you vulnerable, open to being hurt or rejected – but these are good things. Quaker Faith & Practice Advice & Queries 17 reminds us that we should “Think it possible that you may be mistaken”. Brene Brown researches shame and advocates being vulnerable as a way to remain healthy.

#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.

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?

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.