And How Do You Handle Money?
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I am so happy that there are smarter people than me in the world. Really. You don’t want me to perform surgery on you (Though I’ve watched enough “Grey’s Anatomy” to know my way around the operating room.). You don’t want me representing you in a court of law (Though how hard can it be? I’ve watched the “Good Wife” for at least three years.). And you certainly don’t want me to be your financial advisor (Even I have my limitations. I failed to pick up much on “The Apprentice” – thanks for nothing, Donald.).
So I was very pleased when the ever-brighter-than-me, T.J. Putman wrote in response to last week’s “The Power of Secrecy”:
“One person having ‘control’ over the books, especially giving, is a horrible idea. What if the Smith Family gave $5,000 a year and she [the super-secret Financial Secretary] only booked it as $1,000? We need to protect the church and the financial secretary from this potentially happening…”
And the light bulb goes on. Do you have financial systems in place at your church that will prevent fraud?
Even the United Methodist Book of Discipline has something to say about this (and this might be the one and only time that I quote the BOD), paragraph 258.4 says, “The position of treasurer and financial secretary should not be combined and held by one person, and the persons holding these two positions should not be immediate family members.” Look it up and, if you aren’t following these wise words, implement them now.
One of my favorite books on this topic – and should be required reading in seminary – is Ministry and Money: A Practical Guide for Pastors. Drs. Janet and Philip Jamieson directly address “Actively Engaging in Preventing Fraud.”
The Jamiesons outline three reasons why otherwise good people will commit fraud:
- Perceived pressure: when an employee or volunteer needs money and feels she has nowhere to turn.
- Perceived opportunity: when the individual has access to cash or other assets of the entity and the ability to cover the crime.
- Rationalization: the justification made for the crime he is committing.
The “fraud triangle” is real – especially in a very trusting place like the church. It’s up to the leadership of the congregation, beginning with the clergyperson, to ensure that the way money is handled is done as transparently as possible with numerous checks in place. This is to protect not just the church but also employees, the financial secretary, or the treasurer – those who will be under a cloud of scrutiny if something goes awry.
No one wants to think that a church employee or volunteer may be doing something illegal with precious funds that are supposed to be going to ministry. So make sure that you have financial policies and procedures in place. Let’s minimize the chance that someone’s going to need the help of a “Good Wife” lawyer or be paraded in front of “Judge Judy.”
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She’s pretty sure that she’d manage a tracheotomy if she had to – thanks to all those other years watching “E.R.” She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.