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Church Finance and Tax Issues

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Fri, 20 Jul 2012 - 2:44 PM CST

Safeguards for Handling Church Funds

BY MARK S. BURGUND

Stewardship is a necessary sermon topic in our churches, but we must be diligent to see that the church practices good stewardship after the congregation has done its part. Pastors and leaders have a responsibility to properly manage funds given to the church. Careful money management establishes credibility with the church body as well as with those examining the finances of the church. Sloppiness in this area leads to mistakes and invites possible criminal activity.

EXAMPLES OF FAULTY FUND HANDLING

Your church may have a fund-handling system that worked well when the church was small, but now because of growth, the procedures need to be changed.

Your situation may be similar to what I encountered when I was invited to meet with a deacon board and pastor to recommend a fund-handling procedure change for their church. Their obstacle was a faithful treasurer who had been in office for over 20 years. Her regular routine was to take the uncounted offering home and count and deposit the funds, with no accountability to anyone else. While there was no reason to doubt the honesty of the treasurer, the church needed to change this inappropriate method of handling funds.

Another church had a youth department treasurer who had similar practices. Because the weekly amount was small, he would only make deposits when it was big enough to be meaningful. Meanwhile, it was not unusual for him or his parents to borrow from the undeposited funds, with all good intentions to repay them.

A third church had the offering regularly collected by the ushers, but then left only one usher to put the collection into a bank deposit bag and then the depository for counting the next day.

These are examples of glaring fund-handling problems that can be prevented when proper procedures are followed.

"We’ve always done it this way" is a dangerous slogan for church finances. Stressing proper accountability removes individuals from being vulnerable to accusation. A full accounting of funds is impossible without clearly following procedures.

You may have inherited a situation where each department has its own checking or savings account. This is a practice to insure that funds won’t be intermingled, but it is no longer acceptable. One main account, with all funds from each department flowing through that account, is much preferred for proper fund management. Fund accounting is then used to keep department totals separate. Bookkeeping programs are available for every level, from handwritten manual accounting systems to sophisticated computer software programs that can handle hundreds of departments.

PROCEDURES FOR HANDLING OFFERINGS

After an offering is received and until it can be properly secured, it should not be left unattended or with only one person. Smaller churches may have the ushers or other designated people count the offering immediately, using a form indicating the amount of cash, coin, and checks, along with who counted the funds (see sidebar for Sample Offering Form). Completed offering forms are essential and should be kept on file for an appropriate amount of time.

The offering counted during or immediately after the service must be done in a private, secure area. Many pastors prefer the offering be secured and counted later to avoid people missing out regularly on the sermon. If so, at least two people should put the money into a money bag and secure it until it can be counted later.

There are times when an offering will not be counted until the next day. In such cases, it is wise to have two people take the offering to the night depository at the bank. At least two people should also pick it up and count it. Unless your church has a secure safe, leaving money on church premises overnight is too risky.

When an offering is counted, care must be taken to see that the people who donated funds receive proper giving credit. It is necessary to have a system to assure that the name and amount on the envelope agree with the amount inside.

PROCEDURES FOR OTHER CHURCH RECEIPTS

When special events are held, expenses should not be paid directly from the income, and then only the profit deposited. For example, if the church’s youth department sponsors a music concert and receives an offering to pay the band, proper personnel should deposit the total offering and write a check for the band’s fees.

In other instances where church activities provide food concessions, it is tempting to just pay for the food expenses with the cash received and then only account for the profit. All proceeds from church-related events must be deposited and checks written to pay for expenses. This procedure provides for accurate record keeping and accountability.

Tape and book sales, pop-machine collections, food-service sales, and fund-raisers all offer potential fund-handling problems. Make sure people involved are held accountable for moneys received and are properly instructed in the church’s fund-handling procedures. In many cases, those collecting funds are not designated to deposit the money. Funds should still be accounted for by more than one person and turned over as soon as possible to those responsible for making deposits.

SOLUTIONS TO FUND-HANDLING EXAMPLES

In the meeting with the deacon board and pastor mentioned earlier, I suggested a plan of action to honor the treasurer for loyal service. We invited the treasurer to meet with us, and after acknowledging her years of faithfulness, I presented my evaluation of the need to change procedures. I pointed to past practices that exposed the treasurer to possible criticism or accusations, especially since no one else had been involved or shared the accountability or responsibility of the record keeping. The treasurer readily agreed with me and welcomed the change.

The church with the youth treasurer changed its fund-handling procedures. They established that the offering must be counted immediately by two people who signed off on the amount and then gave it to the church treasurer to deposit along with the regular church offerings.

The church that left the funds with one usher changed procedures to include at least two ushers to be with the money at all times until it was secured. They initialed a form with the number of the locked bank bag on it, even though they did not actually count the offering. They did not have a key to unlock the bag once it was secured. The keys were kept in the accounting department and used when the bags were picked up the next day at the bank.

CONCLUSION

Proper fund-handling procedures protect church funds and the reputations of those involved. The time it takes to set up proper accountability is negligible compared to the time and effort it takes to remediate situations where the mishandling of funds has created problems.


Mark S. Burgund is church administrator at Calvary Church, Naperville, Illinois.