“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa
Gather is today’s #AdventWord – my first thought was of gathering in resources including money. I joke that my hobby is getting non-Quaker money into Quaker pockets – pointing out that there are more non-Quakers than Quakers by far. This makes some people uncomfortable, yet the work that it is supporting is Quaker work – if we are offering a fair service in exchange there isn’t a problem, and in my experience people are glad to use Quaker buildings knowing our reputation.
Recently I wrote an end-of-year feedback questionnaire for a client and included in the list of various ‘reasons you like using our building’ the answer, ‘knowing it supports Quaker work’. There was a clear majority of responses who chose this as an option.
On another occasion I had an enquiry from someone who wanted to hire a room in a local meeting house because they’d attended a conference at Friends House Euston and been so impressed with the various posters explaining Quaker values and work. They wanted to use their local meeting house to support that work as well.
Over the last thirty years I have an innumerable conversations with people using a Quaker building and expressing admiration for our fairness, transparency and willingness to share our buildings. I’ve also had some that feel that our testimony to equality shouldn’t include people they don’t like, or should include special treatment for them. All of which have given me the chance to consider and practice my own testimonies, while gathering in resources to support central or local Quaker work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Pay Compare is an independent, not-for-profit organisation funded entirely by donations, founded by Stuart Hill, a member of Quakers in Business, who works for Pay Compare on a voluntary basis.
This is what Stuart says about it:
‘We invite business leaders and owners to lead the way towards a fairer, better economy by publishing their organisation’s pay ratios at the website www.paycompare.org.uk for everyone to see and compare. In doing so you receive the Pay Compare Mark which can be proudly displayed to show your commitment to pay transparency – a consideration promoted in Q&B’s Good Business Ethics at Work book. Be in the vanguard of organisations who are empowering citizens and investors in this way, including Triodos, TSB, Charity and Unity Trust Banks, numerous social enterprises and charities, and a growing number of local councils and private companies. Those not active in business can take action as Ratio Requesters by simply visiting www.paycompare.org.uk to tweet, email or write to any employer to ask them to publish their pay ratios at Pay Compare. Together, we can help pay ratio reporting become common practice in the UK so that we can all favour those who pay fair.’
Does your business, employer or supplier publish its pay ratios?
Find out, and if not suggest they do!
Pay Compare is a company limited by guarantee and registered in England as No. 8974596
This was my first visit to the ACAT annual conference and AGM, but it won’t be my last. Although it felt slightly odd to be in Bloomsbury and not in Friends House, the Institute of Education was a comfortable venue for the day.
As you might expect from an association with Church or religious connections the day balanced stewardship with time for worship and fellowship. With a buffet lunch, and breakfast, to ensure we had enough caffeine and sugar to make it through to the end of the very full day.
Business wise there was a brief AGM (15 minutes), with a request for anyone tempted by the idea of becoming a trustee contacting the board as they were always looking for new members.
The remainder were talks or introductory samples of the fuller training sessions ACAT offer around the country.
I particularly enjoyed the ‘Balancing Stewardship with mission – Issues for Treasurers and Trustees’ talk given by Canon Dr Christina Baxter CBE where she explored aspects of G-D an Mission, reminding us that mission is now what you live/breathe, living out our beliefs and living so others can hear/see G-D in those actions.
If we allow ourselves to become such living missionaries, people coming to our buildings, events, services should find a taste of heaven. That is people living out their lives faithfully – listening to that divine spark within. “Mission is in the church as fire is in glowing embers” Martin Luther.
One concept I will be thinking more about was, “What we give to the Lord belongs to the Lord – but we don’t give to the Lord was also provided by G-D and however it is used should also glorify G-D”. Money however it is spent is a spiritual issue and part of the role of the Treasurer is to help members of the community to explore how to use those resources to meet their spiritual goals and needs.
With a final quote (with attribution at the moment): “There are lots of parables about growth in the NT (with seeds being sown and growing), a budget which is not a growth budget is not a kingdom budget.”
Plus hearing from Dr James Corah about how CCLA Investments work with Church leaders and other groups to put forward the issues that are important to their customers and change large secular companies policies. Enabling small groups to join together to tackle large issues.
For example before the 2012 Olympics they approached hotel chains regarding human trafficking, with fact and figures from previous Olympics. Originally they had no interest, but then Whitbread asked more questions, realised it did impact their business and put out training for every hotel and staff member.
With regard to the living wage it was through discussions with Glaxo’s CEO Andrew Witty that overturned the original, ‘that’s too expensive’ knee jerk reaction and instead had Glaxo matching the living wage. Resulting in 600 contractors receiving a living wage and Glaxo sponsoring the living wage.
Other talks covered – What is ACAT doing to support its members, Employing People, Keeping on the right side of the Charity Commission and then we split into small or large church groups to work through some issues relating to size. Enjoyable examples of Gift Aid problems and misconceptions.
The day finished at just after 4pm. I took time out before heading to the tube to tidy up my notes and soak up some of the inspiration there within. There is a list of things to research and learn more about too.
I can see why two of my table mates assured us that they came every year. Definitely looking forward to the next event.
One of the difficulties I have found in both being a warden, and in dealing with finances is that most people aren’t interested.
They nod politely when you mention money, glance at the account reports briefly when presented (if they’ve attended Business Meeting) and it is usually the same small group of people who actually ask any questions.
During the Treasurer’s Course at Woodbrooke earlier this year Alison Gray, one of the facilitators, shared the reports given to her local meeting.
Alison explained that as she is a primary school teacher she’s used to explaining complex matters in a simple fashion. “I ask my children if they can understand these reports, if they can then I know I can take them to Meeting.”
More traditional spreadsheets and account reports are available, but these give a simple easily understandable overview.
Glancing at these will give you a deeper understanding of the answer to that perennial question, “Where does the money go?” as well as its partner, “Where does the money come from?” In this meeting, as in so many, room hire brings in more than Quaker contributions and collections.
Have you tried such illustrative reports?
Do you have any other suggestions or examples for ways to encourage interest in the financial aspects of the meeting?
To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.
After a case of fraud in North Somerset and Wiltshire Monthly Meeting, members of that Monthly Meeting and Quaker Stewardship Committee produced a report titled: A vulnerable victim (you can download a copy at that link). The Judge at the Crown Court hearing referred to the Religious Society of Friends as “a vulnerable victim” and the report continues this theme:
This report was commissioned following a joint meeting of members of North Somerset and Wiltshire Monthly Meeting and members of the Quaker Stewardship Committee. The report outlines events leading to the theft of £148,151 by a Friend who had been serving as Treasurer of the Monthly Meeting and the steps taken by Friends following its discovery in June 2004. The prime purpose of the report is to provide the Monthly Meeting with an independently written record of events and to draw the wider lessons that will be of value both for itself and to the wider Religious Society of Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting; it does not set out to identify responsibility for events or to apportion blame. The history of events shows Friends trying to find the best way forward for the perpetrator and for the Monthly Meeting; balancing necessary legal processes with seeking to find ways to apply principles of Restorative Justice. The report also describes how Friends set about finding ways that enable them to fulfil the responsibilities of Trustees to protect the property of the Monthly Meeting and ensure that it is used properly.
This report is not only a useful summary of the events and procedures (and lack thereof) in this specific instance, it is also a useful reminder to all people charged with handling monies that it is in their own best interests to ensure good financial handling and reporting procedures are available.
A Friend in NSWMM has written: Speaking as a past treasurer [in a different MM] the question of trust versus bureaucracy should not be an issue, rather, sound financial systems should protect the treasurer against any allegations – true or false. I would require this if I was ever to be treasurer again.
An article by Alan Sealy in the Friend also endorsed the view that this report should be mandatory reading and commented on the thoroughness of the report – which drew upon Business Meeting minutes and reports that had been kept.
If you haven’t read this report – or haven’t read it in some time I do recommend it. Especially the ‘What can be learned?‘ section which points out possible solutions to the difficulties and problems discussed in the report – but common throughout the voluntary management sector.
To browse through all of the posts click on the Quaker A-Z link here or in the side bar.