Sunday, 17 March 2013
A message to the merchants of doom!
An Association AGM is a good opportunity to review progress and make plans. We can see, in black and white and with the auditor's stamp of approval, just how the figures add-up (or don't). No well crafted report can hide the naked truth of the balance sheet.
It's very difficult to write this without appearing to blow my own trumpet - because that's what I am about to do! After all, if a CEO of a failing company turns it around, he or she receives the plaudits, which are rightfully shared with the managers and staff. Same in politics; what we have achieved hasn't been down to me alone. Our Officers, Management Committees, branches, activists and donors have all contributed to the success, and they all deserve their share of the praise.
Nothing I am about to publish is a betrayal of confidence. The Electoral Commission publishes the accounts which are open for all to read. It is therefore no secret that four years ago, when I was appointed, Tonbridge & Malling Conservative Association was heading into difficult times. Two full time staff spent 75% of their working time raising money to pay their own salaries and the Association was operating at an annual deficit; all but a few thousand pounds of the reserves had been spent.
In Tunbridge Wells the situation was equally bleak. The Association has been forced to use it's reserves for eight of the previous ten years, the only two years it had not made a loss was during 2001 and 2005 when the Association benefited from the surplus of the General Election campaign appeal. However, unlike Tonbridge & Malling, the Association had a substantial asset in the form of it's Georgian HQ.
Chatham & Aylesford, the third of the Associations I look after, is in a different league. Small in numbers but high in political activity, it has never had a large base to raise funds, and almost every penny they raise is spent of campaigning. Nevertheless, a cash surplus built-up pre the 2010 GE was slowly being eroded with small loses each year since.
So, where are we now?
Well, despite the economy, Europe, the rise of UKIP, The Gays, the coalition, cuts, recession and doom & gloom; all three of my Associations have made a substantial surplus! In T&M it's the third consecutive year of growth and we have now replaced all the reserves we had spent over the last ten years. In Tunbridge Wells we have now had two consecutive years of growth, with our surplus this year being the largest for twenty years. Even C&A have returned a small surplus, not much in real terms, but relative to its income it is a real achievement.
So how have we achieved this ?
Firstly, by sharing back office administration and cutting out duplicated costs. Secondly, by not missing a trick when it comes to raising money, thirdly, continuing to aggressively promote our offer and making enrolling or donating as simple as possible, and finally by supporting and growing our network of branches which have roots in the local community and are far better than me at identifying new supporters and donors.
By following these relatively simple principles we have not only turned things around financially, but also grown membership (yes, that's right - GROWN membership) when almost everywhere else it is in decline.
But we are not hoarding cash at the expense of campaigning, for that would be equally irresponsible. We have just sent out 80,000 voter ID surveys and in June across West Kent will will embark on the largest ever recruitment campaign when 36,000 Conservative pledges will receive an invitation to join us or support our work. T&M are also giving financial and practical support to C&A to ensure they have the resources to retain this critical seat in 2015.
This article makes what we have achieved sound easier than it was. It has taken enormous effort from a group of members whose dedication is an inspiration. We are driven by one overriding belief, that regardless of how much we grumble, a Conservative government led by David Cameron is a hell of a lot better than any of the alternatives!