How to set up a ‘friends of’ group
A Friends’ Scheme can engage the wider community who may wish to support the life of the Church building.
Based on finance returns data from our parishes, the average annual spend on building work and church repairs for parishes in the Diocese of Norwich was £6,640 in 2020. . Looking only at parishes where some work was undertaken, this rose to £14,307.
In order to ease the burden, many parishes have explored the idea of setting up a Friends’ Scheme, mainly as a way to engage the wider community who may wish to support the life of the church building, especially those who do not regularly worship there.
There are two ways a PCC can set up a friends’ scheme and both come with their own strengths and weaknesses, which were explored in more detail at a webinar held in August 2021.
These options are:
A scheme set up under the PCC’s authority
In effect, this is a sub-committee of the PCC and as such, any financial information must be incorporated into the PCC’s accounts. The PCC treasurer should be one of the signatories as they have a responsibility to ensure that they have control over funds held by the PCC.
It is the simplest scheme to establish and operate due to the existing charity structure being in place and as such is the recommended option for most parishes. The committee organises the events and its own membership list and reports to the PCC.
An independent organisation with its own charitable status and its own constitution
This is more complicated than being a scheme under the authority of the PCC as it would lose some of the benefits of being part of the PCC. It would also need to be registered as a separate charity with the Charity Commission and there is also a lack of control over funds. There should be provision for ex-officio members to ensure some element of PCC representation.
The Parochial Church Council (PCC) would make a formal decision to establish a Friends’ Scheme. They will do this after making sure that they will be able to attract new people to it who have a real contribution to offer. It mustn’t be the same people who are already responsible for most of the life of the Church – though some may wish to join.
Aims & Objectives
These need to be made very clear at the outset and enshrined in the founding documents, either under terms of reference if remaining under PCC control or a constitution if this is to be set up as a separate charity.
Whatever founding document is used, it must be clear that the Church exists for the practice and advancement of the Christian religion. There are some different options for setting up the Friends’ Scheme, but whichever scheme is chosen, the care, maintenance, repair and insurance of the church remains the responsibility of the PCC and all work done to the church is still subject to faculty jurisdiction.
The task of Friends is not to provide funds for general housekeeping as these remain the responsibility of the worshipping community. Members of the worshipping community may wish to join the Friends but their primary contribution to the work of the church should be through regular giving to general funds to contribute to the day to day costs of the parish.
A wider role beyond funding should also be considered for a Friends’ Scheme, particularly where the church is a heritage site. This should include promoting knowledge and understanding of the church and its role in the Christian faith and the development of the community around it. Friends might become involved in guiding
and interpretive work for visitors, and in publicity in attracting tourists to visit the church.
If you are considering setting up a Friends’ Scheme, then this webinar covers the key areas of consideration: www.DofN.org/friends
The diocese is now providing a really useful resource for parishes called The Parish Giving Scheme. This resource can be used to encourage members of your ‘Friends of’ group or local community to set up a direct debit to support your church. The scheme then deals with all of the Gift Aid Claim and also encourages your supporters to review their gift to you after a year.
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