ACAT Conference 2019

ACAT logo
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.

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?

Setting Up Your Organisation’s Email Part II

Knowledge Sharing by Ewa Rozkosz

Okay, in Part I we covered the concepts behind email, now it’s time for the…

Actions

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:
  1. It only costs a few pounds per year.
  2. Your email addresses are those of your organisation and not your service provider (yourorganisation.org.uk rather than yourorganisation.google.co.uk for example).
  3. If you choose to move your service provider you won’t have to change all your email addresses, avoiding the disruption that would entail.
  4. 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.

 

ACAT Annual Conference 2016

Responsibility, Impact & Stewardship

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.

Money Management

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.

There was advice on employment, financial matters, information about Churches impacting on the community and the setting up of the Churches’ Mutual Credit Union, low cost property loans for churches, information on applying for grants – from a list available on parishresources.org.uk or through your local authority community fund, plus stewardship and the raising of funds.

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.

Pension advice for small charities

2015 05 01 Clerks Reference booksPension Advice

There was a time when the only reference books found in a meeting house were similar to those seen at the Clerks’ table at Yearly Meeting. Over the years, as many Area Meetings have registered as charities, this has changed and now legal advice is as necessary as spiritual. While pensions are mentioned in the bible, it doesn’t qualify as helpful advice.

At the Managing Meeting Houses course last month there were several anxious questions about pensions.

  1. Do they apply to all employees?
  2. Do we have to set one up for our volunteer wardens?
  3. What about ‘flexible’ employees with limited contracts – often known as zero-hour contracts?

Obviously, I’d recommend seeking professional advice if you have any concerns. The guidance given here is a summary of what I’ve found useful, and supplied to my clients on request.

  1. Yes – every employer with at least one eligible member of staff must enrol them onto a workplace pension scheme, and then contribute towards it.
  2. Volunteer wardens aren’t employees and so don’t qualify for auto enrolment. You aren’t able (as a meeting) to contribute into a pension for them as this is seen as payment in kind. That creates problems for their employment status. From the very helpful gov.uk website: Workers employed and paid by the charity for the work they do are eligible for pensions if they:
    • earn more than the current minimum wage
    • are aged between 22 and the state pension age
    • work in the UK

    ‘Workers’ include contractors and agency staff, as well as people working under an apprenticeship. Volunteers and unpaid staff are not eligible.

  3. Contractors who are on zero hour contracts and work in other places may not qualify for pensions. You may need to take legal advice regarding the contracts you use and your employment and recruitment policies.

The Charity Finance Group (CFG) has produced a useful guide to pensions – downloadable from that link. The publication hopes to provide some guidance for the 22,000+ charities, each with less than 25 members of staff, who are due to be auto-enrolling their staff between 1st January 2016 and 1st April 2017.

The guide is easy to read with advice on how to prepare, implement, and build the necessary processes. It urges you to plan early and budget for additional costs created by auto-enrolment.

Quaker A-Z: I is for Inventories, Insurances and Inclusiveness

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

I is for Inventories, Insurances and Inclusiveness

Inventories and Insurances

Inventories and Insurances seem to go together – Inclusiveness perhaps less so.

Insurances are of course another of those matters where I will advise that professional guidance should be sought.

Contents

If the Meeting House contains valuable antiques (furniture, books, etc.) make an inventory with photographs to help the police if they go missing; things like TV sets, videos etc. can usefully be marked indelibly with the postcode. Some insurance companies offer lower premiums if specific security precautions are taken: ask for their advice. Know where all your keys are; the police like to have a list of keyholders. Identify any problems of security which may occur when the Meeting House is actually open.
Handbook for the Care of Meeting Houses 1996

Most people when thinking of an inventory will think of a list of the contents in the Meeting House with a monetary value attached. That list of contents often has no use except as mentioned in the quote above in case of problems. That sort of inventory is very useful and should be created and maintained by Premises committees.
However, inventories also give everyone a chance to consider what is currently in the Meeting House and to decide if it meets their requirements. “Is it useful or thought to be beautiful” to paraphrase William Morris.
Clutter isn’t a good thing no matter where it is. It is easy for it to build up in cupboards and rooms and not been seen by the regular users. Digging through the cupboards and creating space may enable the meeting to give away excess to bless someone or somewhere else or inspire an activity to use some of these materials up.
This is also a chance to work out which items/records are not needed any more, should be archived somewhere else or to realise which have been moved somewhere else and either be retrieved or that location noted. For example the discovery that one meeting’s financial records were held in an office where an ex-treasurer’s father-in-law used to work before he retired…
As a warden I more than once decided that I was indirectly decluttering other people’s houses by creating space in the Meeting House. As once shelves were cleared people felt able to bring in more records or files.
Do remember that some files and records should be stored securely without easy public access.

Inclusiveness

Inclusiveness is another complicated subject – it is important to ensure we remember that each person will have their own requirements and wants when it comes to being included. These wants and needs will change as they go through life, but thankfully so many features put in for one person or group can be used or enhance the usage of the building and grounds by others.

For more spiritual resources I do recommend Qf&P Chapter 10 “Belonging to a Quaker Meeting” especially 10.20 where George Gorman muses about how religion is about relationships between people…

But in this post I’m going to talk about ways to ensure that all members of the Meeting feel valued and included.

Some building changes will be more expensive and time consuming…

You Tube video of sesame steps

But thankfully ensuring the meeting and its building are inclusive to all members doesn’t mean just wheelchair ramps. I mentioned these sorts of things in E is for Equality with concern about the Equality Act for 2010.

To quote the beginning of Advices & Queries 18

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome?

and to paraphrase the meaning of Qf&P 10.10 where Peggy McGeoghegan says “If we take seriously the nurture of our children in the worshipping group, we must start by re-appraising the whole life of the group.”

  • Could someone who is smaller or less able than others open the gate to come into the garden or enter the building?
  • Once inside could they (where it is safe) reach the interior door handles and locks?
  • Do you have appropriate cups, crockery for children and are various dietary requirements considered during your refreshments?
  • Do you have left handed scissors and kitchen tools?
  • Is there a large text version of Qf&P or other leaflets available? Or magnifying sheets?
  • During notices do you ensure that Quaker jargon is clarified?

This can mean ensuring that coat hooks are low enough for children to reach, that foot stools for sinks and hassocks for chairs are available for anyone who needs them; that handles and soap dispensers are easily used by those lacking mobility and of course that signage is good.

Balby Meeting have produced an introductory leaflet which explains in simple language about the meeting, photos and names of its members – including guide dog Cassie. The leaflet also has brief descriptions of what might happen when you visit.

  • Does your meeting consider all members when reappraising both the building and the life of the meeting?
  • What has your meeting done that worked well?

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