It’s the last thing a pastor expects, yet it happens. You may have seen a recent news article regarding a church financial secretary who embezzled over half a million dollars from the church. When asked about the theft, the church pastor commented, “We as Christians like to believe we’re trusting and we put our trust in other people and in God and sometimes that trust is misplaced.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated event.

Other churches have faced the awful reality that a trusted staff member or volunteer committed fraud and stole from the church. While we’d all prefer to trust those who handle church finances, that’s not a risk we can afford to take. Instead, we need to have safeguards in place to protect the church and the reputation of those handling church finances.

Here are a few simple ways to protect against fraud:

No. 1: Always have multiple people involved

It’s much easier to steal when no one’s looking, right? Therefore, it would be unwise to have a single individual count the offering, prepare the bank deposit, make the deposit, and reconcile the bank account.

Likewise, you need more than one person involved in the process of paying bills and reconciling bank or credit card statements. Having two or three people involved in these processes can significantly reduce the likelihood of fraud.

No. 2: Enforce financial safeguard policies

It’s one thing to say multiple people must be involved in the process of paying bills. However, instead of relying on people to fully comply with that rule, you should also enforce it via specific controls.

For example: You can restrict access within an accounting software program so that Sue can enter an invoice but cannot create a new vendor (thereby preventing her from creating a fake vendor and then entering a fake invoice). You could also restrict church debit or credit cards with a limit per transaction and a limit per month.

Church leaders who aren’t involved in the day-to-day bookkeeping should be the ones authorized to sign checks or open bank accounts in the church’s name. Church leaders should also review financial reports monthly and investigate anything that looks out of the ordinary.

No. 3: Get outsiders involved

Hire a CPA firm to audit the church’s finances annually. By bringing in someone not affiliated with the church, you’re able to get an unbiased viewpoint. This also serves as a deterrent as people are less likely to attempt to defraud the church if they know they might get caught in an audit.

Also, consider talking with the church’s insurance provider. Most vendors offer tips on fraud prevention and can discuss your specific situation to share tailored advice.

No one wants to believe that a church staff member or volunteer would steal from the congregation. Unfortunately, that does happen. Protect your church from becoming a victim by implementing a few simple safeguards today.