3 ways accounting is vital to ministry vision
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
If your job responsibilities include keeping track of the church’s finances, you know that your role is frequently overlooked as part of ministry. After all, you ask other staff members to submit requests by a set date, fill out forms, turn in receipts, and manage their departmental budgets.
While you’re doing this out of a desire to support the church and make sure you’re an excellent steward of church finances, you may be viewed as an obstacle to ministry rather than a supporter and partner in ministry.
If you don’t work in your church’s accounting department, please note that those individuals love the church just as much as the front-line folks. They just show their commitment in different ways. Here are three ways accounting is vital to a church’s ministry:
1. Ensuring You Don’t Overspend
They’ll advocate for developing a budget for the upcoming year by department. This supports the vision by getting staff to plan ahead, prioritize expenditures, and helps them ensure the money will be there when you need it for that big event or new program.
2. Properly Stewarding Church Finances
They may push back on a purchase request because you forgot to follow financial controls like getting two or more bids for a large expenditure or not obtaining the proper approvals. This may feel like they’re slowing you down.
However, they’re being a good steward of the money that’s been donated and want to help you stay within budget, so you’ll have money to keep the vision moving forward.
3. Conducting Financial Health Checks
Just like you need a periodic physical or medical checkup, your CFO or accounting department manager may want to review financial reports with you such as a cash flow statement, budget vs. actuals, etc.
These probably aren’t the most exciting meetings, but you need to know where the money is going and if there are any concerns. If your CFO says you need to be extra careful with expenditures for a while, you need to back him/her up in front of the entire staff.
To my friends in the accounting department: I’ve been there and know it’s frustrating when your fellow staff members don’t plan ahead, ask for things last-minute, or forget to check the budget.
You’re supporting the vision by ensuring finances are well-managed and it’s a thankless job most of the time. However, you do need to work with the rest of the team to find ways to say yes when possible (and appropriate). Here are a few tips from my own experiences:
Don’t nickel and dime the office supplies. This seems simple, but make sure money is budgeted to ensure folks have the supplies they need to get the job done.
Set expectations and offer training. If a staff member messes up a purchase request, provide a quick tutorial to help them get it right the next time. They probably don’t think like an accountant, so you’ll have to tell them when (and how) to get quotes, how to know if a request is within budget, what details you need on the purchase request, etc.
Don’t just tell them what to do — explain why it’s essential to provide each piece of information. People tend to be more willing to fill out paperwork if they understand the purpose behind it.
Make forms easy to complete. Don’t make purchase requests or other financial forms several pages long or difficult to fill out. Keep each form as short and simple as possible (and put it online if possible). No one likes filling out paperwork, but if the form is pretty straightforward, you’ll have more success in getting staff members to fill it out on time.
Don’t withhold financial information people need to do their jobs. Department managers should own their budget. This means they create it, review it with senior management for approval, monitor the financial reports for their department, and are held accountable for staying within budget.
When you get a last-minute request, do what you can to help (especially if the person making the request rarely does so). People make mistakes, and emergencies do happen. Offer your assistance with a positive attitude.
Money is one of the tools needed to accomplish your church’s mission. Members of the accounting team want to support the vision by keeping the church within budget and preventing even the appearance of fraud.
They don’t want to be the "no" people — they’re just trying to do their job with excellence. Let them know you appreciate what they do, even when it’s a bit frustrating.
They want to support your vision and help you succeed. Return the favor by making sure they have your support and the tools they need to be successful.
The accounting department is more than just a necessary back-office function. It’s vital to the health and reputation of your church.
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