ECF Office

Debate directly related to English Chess Federation matters.
Paul Cooksey

Re: ECF Office

Post by Paul Cooksey » Sat Apr 28, 2012 2:00 pm

Angus French wrote:Paul, you've attempted to infer far too much.
Feel free to correct me :)

Roger de Coverly
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sat Apr 28, 2012 2:08 pm

Paul Cooksey wrote: I don't think anyone has visibility of what the ECF spends most of its money on, because it is hidden in one pot called "the office". The office is a means to an end, not an end in itself
If you read the various Farthing reports, they break down the 3 FTEs by function. I agree it's not part of the accounts or the regular background notes to the accounts. The Farthing review managed to squeeze up to 2*FTE from the expenditure by not doing things like mailing ChessMoves and copying and mailing Council papers. Also scrapping involvement in "Chess Sets for Schools". It does now seem that the Office is dangerously low on bookkeeping and accountancy skills, given the recommendations of the Finance Committee.

Paul Cooksey

Re: ECF Office

Post by Paul Cooksey » Sat Apr 28, 2012 2:19 pm

Roger de Coverly wrote:If you read the various Farthing reports, they break down the 3 FTEs by function. I agree it's not part of the accounts or the regular background notes to the accounts. The Farthing review managed to squeeze up to 2*FTE from the expenditure by not doing things like mailing ChessMoves and copying and mailing Council papers. Also scrapping involvement in "Chess Sets for Schools". It does now seem that the Office is dangerously low on bookkeeping and accountancy skills, given the recommendations of the Finance Committee.
I did look at that in an old thread, but I think the breakdown was intended to be indicative. It did not cover everything.

The point about bookkeeping is a nice example. I think this is the Finance Director's Budget. Maybe it makes sense to get someone in the office with the relevant skills, maybe it makes sense to buy in some 3rd party. Either way, I think it should be presented as part of the FDs budget.

One could make the same arguments and analysis for Membership administration in the Home Director's budget and the Website in the Marketing Director's budget. Currently we don't know what these things cost, so Council cannot vote on what it wants to spend money on, and what it does not.

Justin Hadi

Re: ECF Office

Post by Justin Hadi » Sat Apr 28, 2012 4:29 pm

Paul Cooksey wrote:I don't think anyone has visibility of what the ECF spends most of its money on, because it is hidden in one pot called "the office". The office is a means to an end, not an end in itself
Apart from Andrew Farthing's report I agree. What would be really useful is a breakdown of expenditure on directorships as Roger mentioned elsewhere. Whether that's going to happen is anyone's guess.

Andrew Farthing
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Andrew Farthing » Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:04 pm

Justin Hadi wrote:What would be really useful is a breakdown of expenditure on directorships as Roger mentioned elsewhere. Whether that's going to happen is anyone's guess.
We don't have hard data on how much of the office staff's time is spent supporting each of the directorates, so there is no breakdown of this sort available.

Based on my observations and discussions, I can say that the demand for administrative support is quite uneven during the course of the year. If we are making arrangements for junior squads or international teams to go overseas, for example, this can mean that the office spends a greater proportion of its time supporting the Junior and International Directors respectively. Even this needs qualifying, because the amount of office support requested by directors and their teams does vary from one jobholder to the next: a new director may be more (or less) self-sufficient than his predecessor or may have a more (or less) ambitious programme of activity.

Any breakdown which I suggested, therefore, would be very approximate and not necessarily indicative of what was true last year or will be the case in the future.

None of which has any real bearing on my personal judgement that a staff of three people to support a volunteer base of about 50, covering a range of activities and demands, is modest (to say the least) by any reasonable standard.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:31 pm

Andrew Farthing wrote: Based on my observations and discussions, I can say that the demand for administrative support is quite uneven during the course of the year. If we are making arrangements for junior squads or international teams to go overseas, for example, this can mean that the office spends a greater proportion of its time supporting the Junior and International Directors respectively.
So the Office asks as a travel booking service. Reasonable enough, but it makes the volume of "official" international activity a cost driver for the Office, or if it makes a charge for its services, a revenue creator.
Andrew Farthing wrote: a new director may be more (or less) self-sufficient than his predecessor or may have a more (or less) ambitious programme of activity.
If you have a contested election, Council needs to know the hidden costs in order to take a view on the candidate. Even if the election isn't contested, an informed judgement needs to know.
Andrew Farthing wrote: None of which has any real bearing on my personal judgement that a staff of three people to support a volunteer base of about 50, covering a range of activities and demands, is modest (to say the least) by any reasonable standard.
Does that make the number of volunteers a cost driver? If so, then activities now with little popularity such as the National Club competitions could be up for scrapping or redesign to not involve the ECF.

In terms of office size, I would rather you asked how many people you need to employ to handle an active chess population of around 12,000. Active in the sense of playing often enough to make it to the grading list. Active in the sense of played at least one game is, or was, around 15,000 unless the graders know a higher figure.

Andrew Farthing
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Andrew Farthing » Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:35 pm

Roger de Coverly wrote:In terms of office size, I would rather you asked how many people you need to employ to handle an active chess population of around 12,000. Active in the sense of playing often enough to make it to the grading list. Active in the sense of played at least one game is, or was, around 15,000 unless the graders know a higher figure.
You're quite right, Roger. When you put it this way, a staff of 3 does sound a ridiculously low number. :)

Roger de Coverly
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sat Apr 28, 2012 8:03 pm

Andrew Farthing wrote: You're quite right, Roger. When you put it this way, a staff of 3 does sound a ridiculously low number. :)

The Scots, Welsh and Irish manage with nil for most practical purposes. Back in the seventies, the BCF managed with about one and a half. The material on the Surrey Congress reminds us of just how many players Congresses could attract.
Last edited by Roger de Coverly on Sat Apr 28, 2012 8:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Paul Cooksey

Re: ECF Office

Post by Paul Cooksey » Sat Apr 28, 2012 8:06 pm

Andrew Farthing wrote:When you put it this way, a staff of 3 does sound a ridiculously low number. :)
In which case maybe the ECF should be trying to make the case for a bigger office!

I'll repeat a point I make occasionally, that wanting a clearer breakdown of the ECF's expenditure is not a criticism of the office. In fact I don't think it is fair to the office to show all the expenditure in one pot. It makes them seem like The Department for Administrative Affairs.

If the break down of a £12 membership is, say:
CEO £2
Home £3
International £2
Junior £1.50
Marketing £2
Finance £1.50
I think that is a better way to engage with the membership, than saying the ECF spends £10 in every £12 on administration. It also makes the Directors more accountable for what they do, the election is not for a single Board+Volunteers totalling 50 people. It is for individuals with different plans, which ought to be costed.

I do see universal membership as a game changer here. If you are paying £12, then you, or at least your representative, has a right to know what it is being spent on.

Andrew Farthing
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Andrew Farthing » Sat Apr 28, 2012 8:58 pm

A major source of difficulty here is that the ECF obtains so much for free that other organisations would pay for. I include in this the time and, in many cases, expenses of the various directors and officials.

Comparing the ECF with the charity in which I'm involved, the latter allocates about a third of its expenditure to what it calls "Central Services". The rest is spent on the various services provided by the charity, which is done through a combination of paid staff and volunteers. In each case, the vast bulk of the expenditure on each service consists in the costs of the people who deliver the service, i.e. salaries and volunteer expenses.

On the face of it, the charity spends 30-35% of its total expenditure on " central admin", whereas the ECF spends a much higher percentage. I would argue that this is deceptive, because the ECF benefits to such a huge extent from people who work for free, while my charity benefits to a much smaller extent from this. In other respects, the two organisations are quite similar in size, both in terms of the number of people involved in delivering their services and activities and in terms of total turnover. It does help to explain, however, why the ECF lumps the expenditure into one pot.

It wouldn't be realistic to try to make the case for a larger paid staff, given that the culture of English chess is founded on the widespread assumption that people should work for free. It is revealing in itself that what I continue to argue is a modest expenditure on administration for an organisation of the ECF's size and scope provokes such controversy in some quarters.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sat Apr 28, 2012 9:21 pm

Andrew Farthing wrote: It is revealing in itself that what I continue to argue is a modest expenditure on administration for an organisation of the ECF's size and scope provokes such controversy in some quarters.
But the ECF only spends money on administration to the exclusion of anything else. Whenever it has a budget crisis, it cuts the amounts it spends on chess or professional chess players. Local bodies see next to nothing from the ECF, except grading, which doesn't make material use of the Office.

A simple test is to ask whether local chess would immediately shut down if the ECF folded. As the answer is, I presume, no, the ECF cannot take credit for all the activity that keeps local chess running. Presumably the local activities of the charity would fold without the central body.

Michele Clack
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Michele Clack » Sat Apr 28, 2012 10:49 pm

I think I see what Paul is getting at. Although in practice it would be difficult i.e. time consuming and therefore costly to do, if it were possible to break down the office expenses to their constituent parts by core activity then people would think in terms of those activities. Then people might feel that the ECF was better value. As it is quite a few people seem to think it is poor value even though, by both Andrew's and Roger's analyses of the amount of volunteer activity it supports, it sounds very efficient indeed. I don't agree with the last part of Roger's analysis that all this volunteer activity wouldn't stop if the ECF closed down. I suspect that things would gradually start to break down. Since I enjoy playing chess so much, despite being hopeless at it, it's not an experiment that I would want to see tried!

Andrew Farthing
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Andrew Farthing » Sun Apr 29, 2012 7:36 am

michele clack wrote:I think I see what Paul is getting at. Although in practice it would be difficult i.e. time consuming and therefore costly to do, if it were possible to break down the office expenses to their constituent parts by core activity then people would think in terms of those activities. Then people might feel that the ECF was better value. As it is quite a few people seem to think it is poor value even though, by both Andrew's and Roger's analyses of the amount of volunteer activity it supports, it sounds very efficient indeed. I don't agree with the last part of Roger's analysis that all this volunteer activity wouldn't stop if the ECF closed down. I suspect that things would gradually start to break down. Since I enjoy playing chess so much, despite being hopeless at it, it's not an experiment that I would want to see tried!
I can't say for certain that the ECF volunteer activity would cease if there was no paid-for administrative support. I suspect that the answer is that it would continue in a much-diminshed form. I've said before in this forum that I would never have volunteered to work for the ECF if there had not been an office infrastructure to ensure that there was always administrative support.

Given how hard it is to attract volunteers willing to give up time for the ECF, it would be a dangerous game to see if it could still be done on the basis of: "Not only would we like you to volunteer to [e.g. run junior chess] but you'll need to do your own administration. There may be someone to manage the bank account and so on, but it's on a voluntary basis so we can't guarantee continuity."

Roger asks whether local chess would stop immediately if the ECF didn't exist. Of course it wouldn't. There would be detrimental effects, but it could carry on in some form. The question isn't about what would happen immediately; it's about longer term health. In my view, the absence of a national chess federation would be as near to fatal to the long-term health of the game as makes no difference.

Andrew Farthing
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Andrew Farthing » Sun Apr 29, 2012 8:23 am

Paul Cooksey wrote:I'll repeat a point I make occasionally, that wanting a clearer breakdown of the ECF's expenditure is not a criticism of the office. In fact I don't think it is fair to the office to show all the expenditure in one pot. It makes them seem like The Department for Administrative Affairs.

If the break down of a £12 membership is, say:
CEO £2
Home £3
International £2
Junior £1.50
Marketing £2
Finance £1.50
I think that is a better way to engage with the membership, than saying the ECF spends £10 in every £12 on administration. It also makes the Directors more accountable for what they do, the election is not for a single Board+Volunteers totalling 50 people. It is for individuals with different plans, which ought to be costed.
I do understand the point Paul is making, and I have some sympathy with it. In the past, I did look into the possibility of allocating more of the central costs to individual directorates, but I was persuaded by others more expert in financial matters that it was not a practical option.

My argument earlier in this thread when comparing the ECF with a charity in which I'm involved was that the sort of simple breakdown set out above would be deceptive. It misses the point that each directorate also supplies value in the form of its volunteers, none of which appears on the expenditure side of the accounts and much of which would disappear (in my judgement) if there wasn't the bedrock of central administrative support.

Say, for the sake of argument, that Paul's illustrative figures are correct and £2 of a £12/£13 Bronze membership pays for the CEO directorate, based on the proportion of the time spent in the office on CEO-related activity. For this £2, members would be receiving one sixth of the Management Services function (i.e. about half a person in the office) plus 30-35 hours a week from a senior executive, including the all-in costs of his own office set-up (phone calls, printing, travel, premises, etc.). In any commercial business, you could realistically expect to pay something in the range of £70,000 to £80,000 for a "package" like this. I don't think that I need to reproduce the maths to show that in fact English chess gets it for a small fraction of this.

You may argue that only the first part of this is visible in the accounts, i.e. the Management Services element, so only this is relevant to what the member is paying for. I continue to argue that this is a misguided way of looking at it. Without the office, there would be no Chief Executive - at least, as far as I am concerned - so the member's £2 must be considered as paying for the whole package, not just the element which is visible in the columns of the financial accounts.

I've used my own role to make the argument because I can comment from personal knowledge about what's involved. It would be possible to do a similar rough analysis for the work of each director (and his team).

Matthew Turner
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Re: ECF Office

Post by Matthew Turner » Sun Apr 29, 2012 8:23 am

Perhaps when the ECF ceases to exist we would not have committed volunteers making comments liked these.

"I have grown increasingly concerned by how much of this expenditure of time and energy has been directed towards activity which, ultimately, is at best unproductive and at worst destructive"

"As a result, I've found myself not only spending much more time on the CEO work than I expected, to the detriment of just about every other aspect of my life, but also being enormously frustrated that this extra time (and then some) has been channelled into looking backwards in a fundamentally negative, even self-destructive way rather than into trying to achieve positive, constructive progress."

The ECF's demise will see resources no longer diverted to completely unproductive ends. What a tremendous boost to chess that will be. Luckily, we don't appear to have long to wait.

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