bucketIt happens more often than you think it should.  The church seems to be vital, even growing, but the money in the collection plate doesn’t keep up with the growth, or there seems to be a shortfall every month.  There might be grumbling about how the new folks aren’t pulling their weight financially.  Then someone notices some irregularities, even though a trusted, long-time volunteer has been responsible for the money. And then it comes to light that hundreds, even thousands of dollars are unaccounted for.

Churches are especially susceptible to theft, embezzlement and fraud.  We foster an environment that encourages trust and vulnerability in other aspects of congregational life.  We are often so desperate for volunteers we don’t ask for the kind of skills or accountability that we should to meet our fiduciary responsibilities.  And we often inherit systems, habits and volunteers that would be hard to change without a good reason.

Here are some basic practices and policies that every congregation should have in place:

Finance Policies

  • Two signers for checks
  • Separate duties of income, check writing, check signing and reconciling accounts to provide checks and balances  (e.g. the person who makes the deposits should not write checks)
  • Reimbursements must have receipts and proper paperwork and signatures
  • Duplicate Bank Statements that go to non-signers
  • Mandatory vacations for employees who have financial duties
  • Have the finance committee or other appointed committee review church financial records annually
  • Have the finance committee track patterns of giving over time
  • Permanent financial records should be kept at the church, not in someone’s home

The Collection Plate

  • Have two unrelated counters of every offering
  • Rotate count teams
  • Have 2 copies of the deposit slip. One goes with the money to be deposited, the second goes to another person that can provide a financial check and balance
  • Immediately deposit the money after the service using a sealed bank security bag.  NEVER allow anyone to take the offering home.

Uh-Oh…We Might Have a Problem

If you think that your congregation might be a victim of theft, embezzlement or fraud:

  • contact your attorney immediately
  • contact your District or Regional Congregational Life staff person.
  • consider engaging a Certified Fraud Examiner to assist you with the formal investigation

  • DO NOT confront the person

  • keep the investigation confidential
  • don’t be afraid to press charges
  • Once the investigation is complete and charges have been files, be as transparent as possible with the congregation.  Let them know the amount of the theft and what changes in policy and procedure have been put in place to prevent such occurrences in the future. Your members need to know that their financial gifts are being well-stewarded.

Additional Resources:

Financial Management for Congregations  UUA Website

Subscribe to the UU-Money Email List A forum for congregational money leaders.

A financial pandemic is sweeping the country article from Church Mutual

We’ve Been Embezzled! from Church Law & Tax

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, CERG Congregational Life Staff

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • Stephen Cook

    Sad to say, a vital and needed set of guidelines for all churches. A real keeper, thank you.

    • vitalleaders

      Yes, we don’t always talk about these kinds of issues.