Lambeth Conference review recommends better fundraising, communication, risk management

Published March 27, 2009

The “Big Top,” where plenary sessions were held at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

An independent review of the Lambeth Conference‘s fiscal activities suggests that future conferences should engage better fundraising practices and tighter risk management measures to avoid the half-million-dollar deficit experienced by the 2008 gathering.

While the Lambeth Conference Funding Review Group acknowledged it found no evidence of financial malpractice or dishonesty, its 17-page report cites poor communication and lack of corporate memory as contributing factors to the conference’s shortfall of £388,000 (US$564,000).

Although significantly less than the conference’s projected £1.2 million (US$1.74 million) deficit, it appears the shortfall could have been avoided were it not for “confusion over one particular expenditure commitment of £411,000 (US$597,000)” that the review says “more than wiped out [a] £300,000 (US$435,000) budget contingency” set aside by the Lambeth Conference Company.

The Lambeth Conference Company was formed in 2006 as the body responsible for managing the finances and administration of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, which met July 16-August 3 in Canterbury, England. The Lambeth Conference is the decennial gathering of Anglican Communion bishops.

The review describes the resourcing of the 2008 conference-“with expenditure being committed ahead of confirmed funding”-as “precarious” and notes that the shortfall, “albeit less grave than appeared in the summer of that year, was arguably inevitable.”

The review was set up by the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council and the board of governors of the Church Commissioners, which manages the Church of England’s historic assets, after the Lambeth Conference Company had approached them for financial assistance.

The review group was charged with “investigating the financial management of the 2008 Lambeth Conference and the reasons for the shortfall” and “consider[ing] options for the financing of future meetings of the Lambeth Conference and for the financial involvement of the commissioners and the council, and to make recommendations.”

The commissioners’ board and the council agreed in August to make up to £1.2 million (US$1.74 million) available as an interest free loan to the Lambeth Conference Company “to enable the company to honor its commitments while fundraising efforts continued.”

The company ended up drawing on no more than a third of what had been made available “in part as a result of further fundraising efforts and in part due to actual costs proving lower than had been cautiously projected earlier in the year,” a Church of England news release said. “Of the £388,000 (US$564,000) actually borrowed by the company, £124,000 (US$181,000) has now been repaid, leaving £132,000 (US$193,000) owing to each organization as fundraising continues.”

The deficit ended up being less than the projected £1.2 million (US$1.74 million) primarily because fewer bishops attended the gathering than had originally been expected.

In its report, the review group said it found that “reporting lines, responsibilities and authority were sometimes unclear, despite the improved governance arrangement for the 2008 conference with the creation of the conference company, and despite the fact that key staff met regularly” with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Anglican Communion secretary general the Canon Kenneth Kearon.

Mr. Kearon described the review as being “very fair and objective,” adding that it “identifies what the problems were and indeed what had caused the problems.”

The group, chaired by John Ormerod, a former partner of accountancy firm Deloitte, said that numerous individuals and multiple decision makers had been involved in the conference planning, but that there was “no formal chain of command or document setting out responsibilities and lines of authority between the archbishop, the conference company, executive staff, conference advisory groups and other stakeholders.”

Mr. Kearon told ENS that the review will now be discussed by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council, presumably when it next meets at the end of April in Jamaica.

Despite the budget shortfall, the substance of the Lambeth Conference has largely been hailed a success by its participants and organizers, primarily because it adopted a more missiological and relational approach than previous gatherings and managed to avoid much of the contention surrounding issues of sexuality that had reportedly pervaded the 1998 conference.

The Lambeth Conference Design Group, which met for the last time in November 2008 to review last summer’s gathering of Anglican bishops, was unanimous in its assessment that the 2008 conference was a success, according to the Rev. Ian Douglas, the group’s only U.S.-based Episcopal Church member.

The group received an update about the conference budget. The total cost of the event was £5.2 million (US$7.56 million), against the projected budget of £6.1 million (US$8.87 million), according to a Church of England news release.

The conference funding review group acknowledged that setting up the Lambeth Conference Company “to own the cost and contractual implications of decisions and to provide legal and financial accountability” was a positive step in improving controls. It also noted that “it was regrettable that the company had been set up too late in the planning process to be able to inform key decisions.”

The group recommends that the Lambeth Conference Company remains in place “to drive forward future conference planning” and that it appoints a chairperson “who is independent of all the church bodies.”

Additional pressures on conference funding, the review noted, were affected by the 2004 office move of the Anglican Communion secretariat and the cost of “additional meetings to discuss the problems in the communion.” Another factor cited is that “many provincial contributions … were U.S. dollar-denominated, and during most of the last few years the dollar has been weak against the pound.” The review acknowledges that these additional pressures have meant that, over the past decade, the Anglican Communion Office “has put aside much less than it would normally have done for the Lambeth Conference.”

Among its recommendations, the group said there should be “greater transparency and early negotiation” with Anglican Communion provinces and other contributors about their financial input, “with the aim of maximizing stakeholders’ buy-in to the event they are committing to financially.”

Calling for better forward planning and communication, the group recommends that the conference company has an approved operational and financial plan in place “at an early stage.” Assuming the next conference is in 2018, the review suggests that such a plan should be in place by 2013.

Another suggestion from the group was that the Lambeth Conference Company develops a fee-setting process “that fully factors in overall costs and financial need.”

The conference attendance fee was set at £1,970 (US$2870) per person, the report noted. “This figure was set early in 2006 — it is not entirely clear by whom … The group found no evidence of a clear process for deciding this fee.”

After it became clear that there was a risk of a financial shortfall-“certainly by late 2007 and possibly as early as late 2006”-discussions were held with the Archbishop of Canterbury about possible fundraising in the U.S. and from other sources, the review noted.

“The group recognizes the situation in the Anglican Communion that led to the decision in October 2007 not to proceed with large-scale U.S. fundraising (and, in April 2008, to take some modest U.S. initiatives to remedy what was by then a very difficult financial position),” the review said, adding that “this was ultimately, and rightly, the archbishop’s decision-and one with which the executive staff concurred.”

Addressing some of the risk management problems, the review noted that “contracts were entered into ahead of securing funding” and that “key decisions were taken ahead of securing funds, ahead of planning by bodies and individuals responsible for implementation and delivery, and without clear recognition or communication of the implications of doing so or identifying a range of actions in response.”

In recommending that risk management procedures should be strengthened, the review group suggests that “no material contract should be entered into until the necessary funding to cover that cost has been secured. If funding is not secured, then another party would need to underwrite the commitment.”

The group also recommends that “thought be given to ways of ensuring sufficient fundraising capability as part of future conference planning, whether through creating a dedicated fundraising post or otherwise, for instance through outsourcing.”

The main communication concern cited by group was the “missed” £411,000 (US$597,000) commitment for expenditure on the Big Top ? the huge blue tent that housed the main meeting space. “As a result of time/work pressure, communication issues and unclear responsibilities, the finance director did not know the spend was committed, and the organizer did not know it was not in the budget,” the group says.

Finally, the group recommends that, as an early part of its planning for future conference management, the Lambeth Conference Company should “by summer 2009 produce practical how-to guidance including a timeline for key decisions, process and input/consultation needed, and should within the same timescale draw up a succession plan for the orderly continuation of the company and its work, allowing for staff turnover.”

Although the group recommends no second phase for the review, it will now be the responsibility of the Joint Standing Committee to determine the next stages.

The review group’s members were: Ormerod (chair); Bishop Tim Stevens of the Diocese of Leicester; Dr. Christina Baxter, principal of St John’s Theological College, Nottingham; and Timothy Walker, Third Church Estates Commissioner.

? Matthew Davies is editor of Episcopal Life Online


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