Local Church Finance Procedures During the COVID-19 Crisis
By Ken Sloane
The constraints of social distancing could tempt churches to throw established finance procedures out the window. Please don’t! Here are some important procedures that are available through the use of technology to help us through a difficult time.
MAINTAIN SEGREGATION OF DUTIES
The positions 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.
No immediate family members of any appointed clergy may serve as treasurer, finance chair, financial secretary, counter, or serve in any paid or unpaid position under the responsibilities of the committee on finance, as described herein. These restrictions would apply only to the church or charge where the clergy serves. (¶258.4, 2016 Book of Discipline)
Pastors may be tempted to pick up some part of these responsibilities because of access and proximity to the church office, but they should resist the temptation. Many church management systems can be accessed remotely on the web. If the treasurer and/or financial secretary must use the church computer to complete their work, an accommodation may be arranged: Establish different days for each to have access to the church office and computer. Make certain to wipe down the keyboard after each person’s use.
a) The committee shall designate at least two persons not of the immediate family residing in the same household to count the offering. They shall work under the supervision of the financial secretary. A record of all funds received shall be given to the financial secretary and treasurer. Funds received shall be deposited promptly in accordance with the procedures established by the committee on finance. The financial secretary shall keep records of the contributions and payments. (¶258.4a, 2016 Book of Discipline)
- If counting can be done safely at the church with two persons wearing gloves (masks are advisable) and maintaining proper distance, then counting could be continued at the church office, if access is available.
- As a precaution, two unrelated people could do the counting through videoconferencing. A laptop, iPad, or a properly positioned phone, close to the onsite counter, using Zoom, FaceTime, or other videoconferencing tool can provide a virtual second counter.
- Church members should be encouraged to send contributions via online options or check. They should not send cash by mail.
- Make sure the collected offering can be seen by the person not physically present.
- Count cash so the offsite person can count with you.
- Checks should be held up so the virtual counter can see the amount on the check and then see it detailed on the counter sheet.
- Instead of having the virtual counter sign the counter sheet, an email acknowledging and confirming the count could be provided.
- Deposits should be brought to the bank in a sealed bank bag, if available.
- “Virtual counting” is an alternative during the challenges of this pandemic, but when restrictions are lifted, we recommend returning to traditional methods.
TREASURER: APPROVAL OF EXPENSES AND REPORTING
b) The church treasurer(s) shall disburse all money contributed to causes represented in the local church budget, and such other funds and contributions as the church council may determine. The treasurer(s) shall remit each month to the conference treasurer all World Service and conference benevolence funds then on hand. Contributions to benevolence shall not be used for any cause other than that to which they have been given. The church treasurer shall make regular and detailed reports on funds received and expended to the committee on finance and the church council. (¶258.4b, 2016 Book of Discipline)
The church treasurer should have access to gather any bills that are mailed to the church. Bills should still be approved by someone who is not a signer of checks. This can be done by scanning bills and sending them to approver as a PDF, or a picture may be taken of the bill using a smartphone and emailed to the approver. The approver may respond with authorization to pay in the form of an email, and the treasurer should save the emails.
Treasurer’s reports to the committee on finance and church council should be prepared, even if the council is not having a regular meeting. If the council meets virtually via Zoom or another technology, a copy of the monthly report should be sent digitally to members of those bodies.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.