Safeguarding Church Donations

“It’s hard to believe that someone would steal from a church.”

That thought is not uncommon and it’s probably one of the reasons that theft actually happens. When church leaders, ordained and lay, can’t imagine someone stealing from the church, they are likely not to implement financial safeguards and processes that remove the opportunities for theft.

Last month, an employee of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas reported to police that the offering for one weekend’s services was missing. More than $600,000, donations collected during Saturday and Sunday services in an early March weekend, was stolen from a safe. In 2004, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas discovered that its treasurer had embezzled more than $600,000 from its coffers. A few years before that the treasurer of national office of The Episcopal Church of the United States made off with $2 million before getting caught. So, do you think that there might a $20 bill here or 10-spot there that occasionally does not get counted and used for ministry?

How do donations in your church get from the sanctuary to the bank? Are your money handlers, money counters, financial committee members trained, or do they learn by following others? These are important questions that compel churches to exercise intense, detailed and constant vigilance of all funds. And it all starts with the offering plates because, as you know, they are the most susceptible to theft.

I would like to recommend that these principles guide your processes and policies that need to be in place to prevent internal and external theft:

  • Adopt the attitude that you are not suspicious of everyone but rather want to remove any temptation thus protecting your employees and volunteers.
  • Every person responsible for having some contact with the offerings should be trained on the church’s count procedures. Training should include a process of establishing and evaluating good controls, or best business practices, for procession the offerings.
  • Always arrange or schedule two trained persons to be present with the offering until it gets placed in a safe.
  • Clergy, if at all possible, should avoid any involvement with cash management and processing.
  • Encourage church members to use offering envelopes that seal the currency.
  • Issue annual giving letters reporting the donation amounts by each giving unit in the church.  These can be done as often as once a quarter or as seldom as once a year.
  • Publish the processes in place for handling donations in detail and post those procedures in your count room. Describe the process of every step of the flow of money. Also, include the policies and procedures in your accounting policy manual.
  • Review your policies and procedures regularly and frequently.
  • Follow your policies and procedures.

Being a good steward of God’s money also requires that churches implement sound, redundant and vigilant practices. We can help you assess you develop good procedures so that your congregation’s donations are safe and secure.

The certified public accounting firm of Cox and Associates CPAs has been serving churches and nonprofit organizations since 1996. Our goal is to achieve excellence in the provision of tax, accounting, auditing, financial education, consultation, and other related businesses services to our clients. Call us with your questions at (281) 399-8153.