Embezzlement Happens: Guard Your Church
CHICAGO, IL (June 22, 2015) — No one wants to think that someone in their church might steal from congregational funds—but it happens far more often than you might think.
In recent years, embezzlement in Covenant congregations has been reported more than a dozen times, with thefts ranging from several thousand dollars to more than $100,000. The actual number of cases probably is higher because many churches do not report the incidents when they occur.
Reasons for the theft may be financial strains, such as bills or addictions, most frequently gambling. If churches do not have financial controls in place, embezzlers may not be caught for years. Some reports say that embezzlement continues for seven years on average.
The Northwest Conference recently called Sandy Norris as director of finance “to provide direct financial services to our new churches to help them get off to a good start relative to financial policies procedures and practices,” said superintendent Mark Stromberg. Norris also will provide direct or indirect support to established congregations.
“We believe that this is an extremely important resource that we can provide our conference churches and ministries, as we are aware of a number of irregularities in process that have led to an inappropriate use of funds in some churches,” Stromberg said. “And while we’d all like to believe that everyone with responsibility over the finances of a congregation would be without reproach in how they handle the funds, this unfortunately has not always proven to be the case.”
Stromberg added that embezzlement “places a local congregation and its leaders in a vulnerable position where any course of action has its own series of consequences, many of which are extremely painful and divisive.”
Several recommended practices can help churches guard against embezzlement:
1. Have a written financial policy.
2. Conduct background checks and run credit reports on anyone handling church funds.
3. Require two individuals to sign checks that exceed a predetermined amount. The bank should have this restriction listed on their signature card.
4. Have regular audits performed by an independent auditor
5. Checks must be signed by someone other than the person authorizing an expense.
6. All checks should be pre-numbered. Account for each of the checks weekly.
7. Have regular audits performed by an independent auditor.
8. Regularly rotate the volunteers and employees who count the offering. No one should be included in the rotation indefinitely.
9. Keep funds in a safe and entrust the combination to only a few people. A safe with a drop-in slot is preferred.
10. Two people who are unrelated should accompany all deposits to the bank.
11. Annually train volunteers and employees who handle funds on the church’s financial procedures.
12. Written documentation such as check requests, receipts, or invoices must accompany all checks written except for payroll checks.
13. Bank reconciliations should be approved by someone not authorized to sign checks or make deposits.
14. Invoices and check requests should be marked “paid” with the date and check number and then filed.
15. Implement a credit card policy that requires prior approval of purchases.