Saturday, January 29, 2011

Measuring change

I was reading the notes of the November Executive Committee meeting and came across one of the GA's objectives for the next five years which is to "increase our recorded membership by 20%".

The problem with this is that we don't have recorded membership - we have quota paying numbers but there's a £27 cost to increasing the number of recorded members for each fellowship and congregation. There was a suggestion possibly a year before that the quota fee should be doubled which I thought might have the effect of halving our national membership.

This post is not about the quota payment but about the problems with measuring change. There is an associated issue with measuring things that we, as organisations, have no control over. The General Assembly's own membership is congregations and fellowships rather than individual members (apart from ministers) and therefore has no control over membership numbers - although if it reduced the quota fee it may see a raise in membership numbers - but this would be a recorded increase rather than a real increase. It may be argued that the GA by doing more promotion and marketing helps to increase numbers - it may help to bring people to Unitarianism but I suspect that the impact that the GA has on maintaining people's attendance at their nearest community is small to none.

So how do we set our targets? Indeed should we have targets at all?

I like targets - at a very simple level this can be action plans and budgets for the year ahead. Then it is simple to see if what was set out to be achieved has been achieved. Most of our communities will not get further than this.

For larger organisations there are usually targets which cover

1. Finance, administration & organisational
  • Finance - set income & expenditure targets; decide what to spend any surplus on for example investing in staff training, equipment and/or buildings;
  • Staff & volunteers - ensuring job descriptions are accurate; structures are helpful; staff are adequately trained and work-plans reflect the targets that the organisation wants to achieve; and
  • Organisational development and governance - for example reviewing policies, developing and updating business plans; reviewing efficiency of operations;
2. Core activity

Depends on the object of the organisation - for a local Unitarian community it may be about the variety of worship offered; training opportunities for worship leaders; building improvements; social events; other activities such as walking and craft groups.

3. Communications - both internal and external - who are we trying to communicate with and what it the most effective way? So a target may be about a new campaign aimed at say a local university campus or making links with local websites.

4. Partnerships - exploring the value of partnerships and working on those. No organisation stands alone and a healthy organisation will have links both within the Unitarian community and within the locality. A target may be for example about inter-faith activities or attending voluntary sector meetings.

5. Quality - certainly the public sector is now encouraged to measure the quality of their services and people's satisfaction with that on an annual basis. And I guess that the private sector also does this. How an organisation does this is down to them but it is worth thinking about - negative feedback is often more useful than positive because it usually leads to some change and improvement.

It must be remembered that targets should be for things that an organisation can directly influence; for things which can be fairly accurately measured; and for things that reflect the object of the organisation.


  1. Thanks Louise. Just to let you know that we do drop in to check out the advice you give here, and we find it very helpful. Many thanks for this-should have said so before.
    Ash @ New Meeting

  2. Hi Ash, thanks for the feedback - glad that you find it helpful. If you have any questions or would like a topic covered then do let me know. With love, Louise