I want to talk with you briefly about money

Keith Hebden, Director of the the Urban Theology Union, leader on Leicester Citizens Sponsoring Committee. These are the notes that Keith shared at a recent Leicester Citizens Sponsoring Committee meeting.

I want to talk with you briefly about money.

Not always an easy subject. Having done my fair share of wedding preparation with couples I know that most people would rather talk about almost the most intimate of issues before they would ever dream of talking about money. But who has it and how it is used matters.

When I first met the man who was to become my Father-in-law it was at a concert in which his daughter was playing oboe. At the box office he wanted to pay for my ticket and I stopped him – I hoped I did it politely but I suspect, in my eagerness to square up I didn’t! – I insisted on paying for my own ticket.

Since then we’ve come to a happy balance on these things but it felt important to start this way: paying for myself was a way of asserting independence from him from the outset. I think he got that.

In Community Organising, we talk about two kinds of money: ‘Hard’ money and ‘Soft’ money. Soft money is the money we might get from a trust or foundation and hard money is the money we raise from our own member institutions. Soft money does no damage to our budgets but hard money always does.

But that’s not the only difference: hard money lets people know that we’re serious and tells people where our commitment is going to be. In my tradition I’m reminded of Jesus’ saying, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” which is very different from the slightly less pithy, “Where your grant application is, there your heart will be also.”

Now I’m not saying that hard money is good and soft money is bad. But I am saying we need to be clear about the dynamic each offers.

We pay for our own alliance because we own it ourselves. We’re not being done to, stymied or steered by outside agency. For some of our people owning your own house, for example, is a distant dream but perhaps, by owning their own alliance, they can aspire to win more genuinely affordable housing. Others might dream of owning their own business, and because they have a stake in an alliance which has their ambitions in mind, they can work for a more accessible market place.

Owning our own alliance is vital to this work. Anyone who has bought a TV on tick, knows that you don’t own the TV and it can be taken from you at the slightest error. People know what it is like to be in other people’s pockets and few people relish it. If you’ve ever filled in a grant application then you know that it nearly always comes with strings attached and can be precarious.  If we are going to build a meaningful broad-based alliance then we need to aspire to funding it through our institutional dues, raised from our own budgets. Experience tells us that alliances that prefer hard money over soft last longer, build deeper, and have a greater impact than those that do not. Different institutions will do this in different ways. Some schools will want to engage using Pupil premium or money set aside for citizenship, or even raise it through the PTA. Some churches set it aside in their budget, some mosques hold fund-raising events that both raise the money and wider participation. Let’s be creative!

Not everyone recognizes the importance of paying in for our own alliance and you may find a little resistance. But I like to think of it as civic insurance. Almost every institution I know has buildings and therefore has to pay building insurance. They would not dream of defaulting on that commitment.

But equally almost every institution I know thinks that people are more important than buildings and in order to thrive people need deep democratic engagement.

That is exactly where our dues model comes in: this is your civic insurance against the threat of apathy and to ensure the collective building of the common good.

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