June 4, 2014 by Greg Syler

Summertime means audit-time in the life of congregations of The Episcopal Church.

The Canons [I.7.1(f)] state the standard accordingly: “…All accounts of parishes, missions, or other institutions shall be audited annually by an independent certified public accountant, or independent licensed public accountant, or such audit committee as shall be authorized by the finance committee, department of finance, or other appropriate diocesan authority.” In our Diocese of Washington, an audit report is due by September 1. Given that the work has to be done and the report written, presented to and approved by the vestry – presumably, during the vestry’s August meeting at the latest – this means the summer is spent on internal financial audits.

Audits are a good thing. In an earlier Vestry Papers article, Tom Patterson does a fine job of explaining why, in fact, audits are “a necessity, not an option.” I commend this article highly.

But audits can be expensive, and inexpensive audits can have little impact.

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January 7, 2013 by Nancy Davidge

Happy New Year!

What makes some vestries really effective? Is there a secret to developing a vestry that enjoys working together, feels energized while doing so, and has fun at the same time?

How are vital congregations and congregational leaders making God present in their families, community, and world at a time when it sometimes feels as if no one is interested?

These are questions we think about a lot at ECF Vital Practices – and we’re devoting our January/February Vestry Papers to an exploration of some of the vital practices that lead to vestries that work well.

This month, we’ll share articles on:

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October 17, 2012 by Brendon Hunter

Cutting the office budget - and especially the print newsletter - is an easy target.

It seemed every year I served as the administrator at a parish, I would be put to task to advocate that my office budget was already running as leanly as could and I had to make the case for the print newsletter to be kept in place. This was despite the fact that the majority of the congregation read the newsletter and valued it. As a print publication in our digital age, some in the congregation still viewed the newsletter as something that could simply be digitized.

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July 24, 2012 by Miguel Escobar

As stewardship season in the Episcopal Church draws near, we decided to explore the groundwork for a successful stewardship campaign. The following series of articles explores a whole range of topics, including the connection between a transparent budget and increased pledges. Please check these articles out and share widely.

Tough Talk on Budgets and Pledges
In this article, Dick Kurth of St. Luke's, Darien, CT, explains why his church had to address confusion over the budget prior to being able to increase pledges. "We learned that there was a widespread assumption that there was a lot of slush in the budget, only that it was going to some program other than their own." This article first appeared in the Vestry Papers issue Church Budgets in a Bear Market.

Show Them the Money
With stewardship season right around the corner, we are revisiting Laurel Johnston's six practices for Modeling Intentional Giving. One of these practices - "Show Them the Money" - explores the need to demonstrate how pledges fuel the ministry of the congregation, and how expenses are connected to the mission of the church. This article first appeared in the Vestry Papers issue Pledging.

Blog Posts:
Helpful Tools:
Dream Budget: Rector Peter Strimer shares why he asks his staff to submit dream budgets, where resources are no limit, year after year.

L.E.A.D.E.R. Budget: A helpful tool for showing how your budget fuels the mission of your congregation. Simple Giving: Lisa Meeder Turnbull explores the modern tithe and offers ways for individuals to prayerfully increase their pledges.

Year-Round Stewardship Ads: Did you know the Episcopal Church offers free monthly ads highlighting year-round stewardship?
Beyond Time, Talent, Treasure: Bishop Claude Payne speaks of stewardship in ways that go beyond the three T's. Pledge Card Prayer: A prayer in both English and Spanish by Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia. Innovative Stewardship Ideas
St. David's in Austin, TX is funding their ministries through a wide variety of ways including a consignment shop, a cafe for nearby office workers, a day school, parking garage and more. Jeanie Sablatura writes "We have found new ways to lead our congregation and grow, spiritually and numerically, in mission in the community and to increase our financial stability." This article appeared in the Vestry Papers issue Innovative Stewardship.

Topics: Finance, Stewardship
March 21, 2012 by Anne Ditzler

Last week I remembered a resource about “survival mode” vs. “growth mode” for congregations. There are lots of resources available about this topic, but my notes pointed me to a short, easy description I could remember and share with others.

So with due credit to the Rev. Gerald W. Keucher, here’s my simple digest of a framework provided in his book Remember the Future: Financial Leadership and Asset Management for Congregations.

Congregations in survival mode tend to:

Centralize power in the hands of a few. Let the same people do everything, because “it’s easier” that way. Assume “everyone knows” what’s happening. Take a complacent or passive stance toward the future.

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February 8, 2012 by Anne Ditzler

Me están llegando preguntas por correo electrónico sobre dinero. No estafas en las que me instan a que gire fondos para los necesitados en algún país extranjero ni pedidos de subsidios. Provienen de líderes de feligresías que luchan con el dinero y las finanzas.

Algunas de las preguntas son bastante directas. Por ejemplo, una junta parroquial me preguntó si hay algún folleto u otro documento que explique el propósito y el uso del fondo discrecional de un rector. (Lo hay, ver el Capítulo V en el recurso indicado más abajo).

Pero un correo electrónico reciente insinuó inquietudes más profundas: describió una instancia de mala administración financiera y de desconfianza entre el tesorero de la parroquia, el sacerdote a cargo y la junta parroquial. Es el tipo de situación que sería un estudio de caso perfecto para aprender cómo no gestionar las finanzas de la iglesia, y si bien el autor no proporcionó los nombres de las personas involucradas ni de la parroquia, sí describió cómo se manejó la situación. Como es fácil suponer, las secuelas ahora están afectando negativamente la dinámica y el crecimiento de la feligresía.

Este tipo de correo electrónico me pone la piel de gallina. Desgraciadamente le tuve que decir a la persona que ella no está sola. La mala administración financiera, intencional o más frecuentemente por negligencia, ocurre más a menudo que lo que suponemos. Y para peor, el liderazgo deficiente y los malos patrones de comunicación entre los dirigentes laicos, el sacerdocio y sí, también los obispos, puede convertir una situación administrativa difícil en un embrollo mucho más profundo.

Esta es una lucha muy real en nuestras feligresías episcopales. Por lo general no tiendo a desesperarme ni a quejarme, especialmente en estos blogs para líderes eclesiásticos. Pero a veces tenemos que nombrar los obstáculos en nuestro camino y señalar una manera de zanjarlos.

La Oficina de Finanzas del Centro de la Iglesia Episcopal ofrece un recurso llamado Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs (Manual de Métodos Financieros en Asuntos Eclasiásticos). No resuelve todos los posibles problemas relacionados con las prácticas financieras y administrativas, pero es una base sólida. Si usted o los líderes de su junta parroquial no saben que existe este recurso, por favor “lean, marquen, aprendan y digieran” estas directrices. No sólo lo requieren los Cánones de la Iglesia Episcopal, sino que también pueden ahorrarles muchos futuros dolores de cabeza y contratiempos a usted y a su feligresía.

Si usted gestiona las finanzas de la feligresía, puede seguir adelante con la misión, liderando con seguridad como buen mayordomo de todos los recursos que le da Dios.


Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs (Manual de Métodos Financieros en Asuntos Eclesiásticos)

Topics: Finance
February 8, 2012 by Anne Ditzler

I've been getting email inquiries about money. Not scams urging me to wire funds to needy causes abroad, nor do I mean grant requests. These come from parish leaders wrestling with money and finances.

Some of the questions are fairly straightforward. For example, a vestry member recently asked if there was a brochure or other document explaining the purpose and use of a rector's discretionary fund. (There is. See Chapter V in the resource below.) 

But one recent email hinted at deeper concerns; it described an instance of poor financial management and mistrust between a parish treasurer, clergy in charge, and vestry. It's the kind of situation that would be a perfect case study for learning how not to manage church finances, and though the writer didn't provide the names of the people involved or the parish, they did describe how the situation had been dealt with. Not surprisingly, the fallout is now negatively affecting congregational dynamics and growth.

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January 4, 2012 by Miguel Escobar

With the start of 2012, many people - including myself - are considering ways to improve their health and well-being. Resolutions will be made and, if research on New Year’s resolutions is any indication, nearly 80 percent will be broken by Valentine’s Day. 

Change is hard. And not just for the Church.

Having made (and broken) many New Year’s resolutions year after year, I am now focusing on those few small changes which have an outsized impact. The above video, a popular piece on the health benefits of walking 30 minutes a day, illustrates this idea beautifully.

In the same vein, I believe that there are small changes we church folks can do which will make a significant impact on the tone and vitality of our congregations. As someone who chairs a few committees in Episcopal organizations, here are the changes/projects I’m resolving to do in 2012:

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November 29, 2011 by Anne Ditzler

“Fiduciary.” When I first heard the word it was a bit of a stumbling block, a mouthful of technical legalese. But in years of working with nonprofit and church groups, I eventually picked up its meaning by context. Basically, members of governing bodies need to be clear about their “fiduciary responsibilities” and to practice sound management and accountability about finances and other assets. The phrase has become more commonplace in my vocabulary.

But last week, while editing a document related to management of parish endowments, I tripped on the word again. Did I really know what it means? Was this strange word masking some meaning or connotation that I’ve never learned or long ago forgotten?

With the internet at my fingertips, I did a quick search and clicked the first available link: Wikipedia’s description of “fiduciary.” What immediately struck me was not the legal connotation, but the root of the word:

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Topics: Finance, Stewardship
October 27, 2011 by Peter Strimer

Our finance committee held its first meeting this week to build the 2012 budget. For the third year in a row I have encouraged staff and ministry leaders to submit “dream budgets” that will let the vestry know what directions they would pursue if resources were no limit.

However, resources ARE a limit and becoming more so each year for Episcopal churches. In a 2011 Episcopal Church survey and prepared by Dr. Kirk Hadaway and from recent parochial reports of the Episcopal Church, the following sobering findings were presented:

Normal operating income in 2010 showed a decline of 2.3% over the previous year.  72% of congregations in 2010 are facing financial difficulty. This is up from 44% 10 years ago and 66% three years ago.

At St. Andrew’s we are still growing and the issue of managing growth is certainly more fun than managing decline. Still, those dream budgets show that there is much more ministry we could offer if the resources were there. The time has come, for example, for us to buy a church van, but the initial costs and ongoing maintenance and upkeep put that out of reach. So it is only a dream. Unless an angel appears.

That is one purpose of the dream budget exercise; to be ready with a vetted project if a new bequest or gift comes in. By having the finance committee and vestry check off on these dreams we have already accommodated the possibility of new work before the fact.

Our budgets are value statements. They represent in cold hard cash what our intentions for ministry and service are meant to be. These values become clearer both when we are able to add new resources and when we are required to plan to work with less. Either way having a number of people in on the conversation – staff, vestry, a finance committee, ministry leaders – helps assure that the outcome is clearly understood and expresses the shared values of the community.

Many of us hate the budget season. Some of us actually enjoy using numbers to express values. All of us share a responsibility to be good stewards. Everyone should have a dream.

Topics: Finance, Stewardship
September 6, 2011 by Nancy Davidge

September is a time of new beginnings. Summer vacations are over and the start of the new church program year brings a sense of optimism, a chance to try something new.

For the September and October Vestry Papers, we’re sharing stories from individuals, congregations, and dioceses who are taking innovative approaches to the ongoing challenge of financial sustainability. Inspired by the Province IX Sustainability Conference held in Tela, Honduras, in March, we sought examples of congregations using the principles of asset based community development to first discern their gifts and strengths and then use these assets in service to God.

Our September articles include:

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Topics: Finance, Stewardship
August 15, 2011 by Nancy Davidge

Today’s blog post might just save your congregation some money.

Last week, Bishop Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina learned that two of the congregations in his diocese were eligible for a tax credit through the Health Care Act of 2010. Kristin Hoyle, a Raleigh CPA specializing in nonprofits who worked with these congregations, contacted the Diocesan Canon for Administration so that information about this credit could be shared throughout the diocese.

Wanting to quickly share this information with other congregations in his diocese, Bishop Curry invited Kristen to join him in creating a video informing congregational leaders about this program. And, to spread the word to the wider church, Sarah Herr, director of communications of the Diocese of North Carolina shared this information on the Episcopal Communicators list serv, which is how I learned of it.  

In the video, Kristin explains that churches with 25 or fewer employees who pay 50% or more of their employees health insurance and have a payroll of $50,000 or less, may qualify for a tax credit through the Health Care Act of 2010. And, because clergy do not participate in social security, their salaries are not included in the $50,000 cap. While the deadline for filing form 990T was May 15, when the IRS recognized that many churches did not realize that they could apply for this special tax credit, they extended the filing deadline.

Sarah reported that one congregation in their diocese received $12,000 and one in the Diocese of Southwestern Virgina received $30,000. This is no small amount for a small church!

To find out if your congregation qualifies, Kristin recommends working with a CPA in your area. Or, you can contact her at her office.