We raise money, we say thank you and we do it all over again; is there another way: Ask Cathedrals

05th February 2018

Cathedral Deans and senior operating and finance staff came together on 30 January to discuss fresh ways to make money and put it into the service of mission.

Property as investment, social enterprise and engaging community projects, dynamic pricing and what visitors want, and how to write successful funding applications, were all part of the day conference which heard from a wide range of speakers from the world of business, tourism, social enterprise and church.

Money for Mission was the first conference organised by the Cathedrals Administration and Finance Association in conjunction with the Association of English Cathedrals that explored sustainable finance models for cathedrals for the future, and came just a week after the Cathedrals Working Group recommendations looking at fresh ways of finance and governance were launched for public consultation.

The former Dean of Salisbury’s, June Osborne’s, words: “We raise money, we say thank you, we spend it, and we do it all over again; is there another way?” were the impetus for the conference, the Dean of Lichfield and AEC Chair, the Very Rev’d Adrian Dorber, told the packed room in his opening speech.

“Our biggest liability lies in the treasures we steward” he said.

“We have many opportunities before us; opportunities have costs, and need to be seized in order we do not lapse into irrelevance.

“We have to think afresh how we enlarge our circle of influence, our circle of friends, bring new wisdom to money, preservation, and how we can put money in the service of mission” he added.

The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt. Rev’d Adrian Newman who chaired the Cathedrals Working Group (CWG), opened the conference by giving an overview of the background to the report and a quick run through its recommendations.

He said: “Cathedrals have come to embody all that the Church of England aspires to; they do God in a way that touches lives of people in contemporary culture.”

He reiterated his view that there was something remarkable to celebrate in the life of cathedrals, and something serious to be addressed, and told the delegates that the CWG had held those two thoughts in counterpoint in proposing changes to governance structures and aspects of cathedral operations.

Making best use of Property:

Greg Hudson, the principal property adviser for the Church Commissioners, told the conference that property was “an opportunity for mission”, with cathedrals holding two thirds of their £660m assets in property.

But he warned they needed better understanding of the role of property as an asset: it was management intensive, much of it was residential, it was highly listed, and it had to be properly managed and properly looked after with carefully planned and costed three to five year programmes of preventative maintenance.

He talked about commercial opportunities and how to make better use of rental agreements and how branding a Cathedral Close brought fresh opportunities.

He spoke about the development of projects through proper management and governance; adequate contingencies, clear performance indicators, key review points, clearly defined instruction protocol, and told the conference they should always review and look for lessons learned on completion.

Engaging our communities:

The Business, Education, Charity and Sport Link (BECSLink) is a social mobility network whose main focus is creating mutually beneficial collaboration opportunities in the business, education, charity, and sport sectors.

Richard Garrett from BECSLink explained: “This is about lifting your gaze. We are all very focussed on what goes on in our own space, but together we can create opportunities to engage with those young people facing social inequality, especially on the education side of the Link.”

He explained how BECSLink could help a cathedral school connect with businesses and organisations with shared ideals and goals, and then assist in forming effective social mobility communities by providing access to unique learning, marketing, and fundraising opportunities, and providing on-going support and guidance.

BECSLink also helps arrange and co-ordinate community outreach programmes that focus on skills shortages, and improve teaching and learning.

Said Richard: “There are young people out there whose circumstances prevent them from reaching their true potential – many of them will never know they had the talent until they are given the chance to find out. We help them find out. You can too.”

BECSLink runs Green Awards; helps young people understand coding; runs community tennis programmes, an exciting science outreach programme with Mad Max, and has links with various sporting heroes, including Aston Villa.

Lichfield Cathedral School is a member of BECSLink and head teacher, Sue Hannan, explained how it impacted.

“This enables us to reach children we would not ordinarily be able to reach. It generates interest in specific areas of the curriculum; it helps identify talented children we can encourage; and there are core schools in more deprived areas we work with, and we keep bringing them back.”

She explained that being part of BECSLink meant they could access different sorts of funding and people they could never access before, give training to primary teachers in primary science, and, thanks to BECSLink, their summer school had provided five days of free education for 80 children.

“We have reached 623 Key Stage 2 children – 50 per cent of whom are from deprived areas. We are doing it again this year.
“This has allowed us the financial elbow room to give opportunities to children who need them,’ she added.

Shaping our visitor offer:

Bernard Donoghue, Chief Executive of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) talked about the importance of first impressions and asked the delegates:

“Is your visitor’s first experience awe and wonder, or is it gift aid and transaction?”

He said there were a number of fresh ways of making the most of cathedrals as visitor attractions, including playing with pricing to spread the visits, and monetising conservation and restoration work.

“Dynamic pricing,’ he said. “Why charge the same rate at 4pm as at 11am; why charge the same rate on weekends as Wednesdays.

“Remember you are a competitor alongside Harry Potter, B & Q, the sofa and the X-Box.

“Are you charging people to clamber on your roof or to see the ceiling restored,” he said.

He gave the example of Greenwich Old Royal Naval College which monetised its conservation work by encouraging visitors to adopt a square foot of the Painted Hall ceiling.

Price, weather and local spend were also important issues when people were choosing a day out.

Bernard said localised philanthropy was quite a new concept, but people wanted to spend their money locally. And this raised questions for cathedrals.

“What are the four things I need to see if I just have 40 minutes on my lunch break” he said.

He also stressed the impact of first impressions, a good visitor experience and saying thank you. Polls show that 54 per cent of visitors who are thanked for their visit are more likely to recommend the experience to a friend.

“Is my first visitor experience awe and wonder, or is it gift aid and transaction. First experience is crucial. Take the gift aid off the cathedral floor and give them awe and wonder first – and make sure you say thank you when they leave,” he said.

“Your stewards and guides need to be equipped to tell the stories of the cathedrals in a passionate and enthusiastic way.

“A good visitor experience includes a person; if you allow your team to show their own passion and enthusiasm, you will get five star reviews. It’s the most successful thing to do.”

“Visitors want to remember, and be invited and excited back,’ he added.

He pointed to the successful social media campaign run by Norwich Cathedral where visitors became part of the community by being invited to tag the cathedral into their posts to share their experiences #mycathedral.

Cathedrals also need to give visitors permission to enter. He said many people felt cathedrals were not for them and sometimes the greatest obstacle might actually be “am I allowed in a place like this?”.

He also pointed to successful partnerships that blur the visitor experience lines like the Forestry Commission and the Gruffalo; Butlins and the Science Museum, York Minster and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show; Lumiere and Durham Cathedral.

“When Blenheim Palace commissioned the Ai Weiwei installations, the average age of its visitors was 25 years younger and they all spent more in retail and catering. The same things happen when attractions have late night openings; younger audience, higher spend and much more likely to become a member at the moment of greatest impression” he said.

“Let’s be provocative; let’s stretch the brand, let’s take risks. These are not alien characteristics for cathedrals.

“This is about financial stability to ensure mission survives and continues; because you are getting it right,’ he added.

Opportunities from social enterprise:

Volition is a national charity that works with local employers to offer the long-term unemployed the skills and confidence they need to gain employment through an innovative volunteering programme.

Volition was launched in Manchester Cathedral in 2012 as a way of attracting more volunteers to represent better the city the Cathedral serves. It works with Jobcentre Plus and strategic partners, and has established long term partnerships with 70 different companies including city centre retailers, Harvey Nichols.

Anthony O’Connor, the director of Volition, talked about how replicable the social enterprise project might be and what missional opportunities it opens for cathedrals.

“It opens us up and has a physical impact on the city. We’re part of the story of the city. People will open the door to you to help. The wider mission of the church is bigger than ever; there is a clear distinction of where we are now” he said.

It is privately funded from a mixture of corporate giving and trusts. The course lasts ten weeks and includes team-work, communication skills, taster days, and health and well-being. It includes a one-day college course, mock interviews and has a job club and job search facility. Manchester asks each volunteer to give half a day a week at the Cathedral.

Said Anthony: “We use our traditional guides as mentors; many of them are older now and have had their children and are used to setting boundaries, making sure homework is sorted, and often these are skills our volunteers need.

“And if at the end of the ten weeks, we have not moved them into work, we stay with them, supporting them” he added.

Other cathedrals already exploring Volition include Chester, Liverpool, Lichfield and Portsmouth.

What do funders think about, and expect from cathedrals?

Georgina Nayler, director, Pilgrim Trust, explained how to make funding applications the best they can be.

Pilgrim Trust was established in 1930 and gives grants ranging from £1,000 – £300,000. 40% of their grants go on social action projects. It is a two-stage application. Pilgrim’s priority areas includes preservation and scholarship, and the trustees are interested in finding new uses for historic buildings.

“We expect our applicants to know what they want to do. How does your project fit into your work and your mission? You have to sell the project to us” she said.

She advised all applicants to first research the Trust and its priorities – see what size grants had been given in the past for similar projects and make sure those who are leading the fund-raising, really know the project and can answer questions.

You need:
Clear budget
Clear fundraising strategy
A fundraising context around the cathedral
Defined priorities – why chose this project.
Future maintenance regime.(Pilgrim Trust is seeing so many buildings applying for major capital repairs… because they have not been properly maintained)
Financial sustainability

For applications for new builds and historic fabric, you need:
Relevant permissions
Experienced conservation architects and professionals
Experienced and solvent contractors
Apprentices’ training
Education and outreach work
Partnerships with local organisations
A detailed business plan – not just the figures – how you work with your volunteers

For collections, you need:
Exceptional historic significance
Advice taken on conservation and interpretation
Public access
Clarity on approach to interpretation
Full monitoring and care- so you know how to improve them for longer term
Accredited Icon members to do the work.

“What is common to all applications is a good relationship with the city, and your local region.
“The application should be clear and concise; long enough to understand, but not too long. Do not assume prior knowledge; make sure you leave the Trust enough time for consideration. Plenty of good quality photographs that give a sense of the whole project and always develop a professional working relationship between the funder and project.”

Cathedrals in the public consciousness:

Journalist and author, Sir Simon Jenkins, said he believed the cathedrals as a group were the finest collection of buildings in England if not Europe.

He pointed out that while church attendance had fallen by a third, cathedrals numbers were up by a third – they were clearly getting through to people in a way parish churches were not. He also pointed out that cathedral cities do well too as opposed to adjacent industrial communities.

What he found was that the buildings were doing well in their own terms. They might not be crowded with people but they were busy places, things were happening, the building was working as a community building in the context of its community. They had an establishment; a staff of people to worry about; life around it, local schools, outreach to older people.

“You get a sense of the buildings, that they are fit for purpose, but that doesn’t totally answer the question of why they are doing so well. Why do people go there?

“There’s something about a large beautiful place filled with music which answers the need of those who want some peace, contemplation and quiet time.

“They would say of the church – it forces itself upon them. In a cathedral, we are capable of communing with beauty without being led to it.

‘I go to a cathedral and the sheer beauty of the place captivates me, and if it’s captivating me, then it’s captivating someone else.

“Whether you are there for worship or contemplation – you don’t get in the way of tourists – the building just works as a community place.

“These buildings unlock something, you are in these beautiful places and things are happening around, you are of the community, but on your own, and, in this curious mix, lies success,’ he added.

Sir Simon said he was widely in favour of charging for tourists. And he believed the modern cathedral had done everything possible it could to reimagine and be radical.
His only suggestion was to be more like continental cathedrals that open up the space where it is used.