June 2001
Money, God and Vestries

Time Stewardship at a New Level

When you were elected by your peers to the vestry, you quickly became aware you had the power of the purse. You were no longer responsible only for your own stewardship of money. Suddenly you began spending time on such serious matters as budgets, staff salaries and capital expenditures.

Perhaps at diocesan training you were told you had become a fiduciary. You were to put the interests of the parish ahead of your own interests. You were to keep yourself informed about the parish’s financial condition and use prudence in expending its funds. You had risen to a new level in your ministry.

This article is not about money stewardship, important as that is. Instead, I want you to think about your duty to care for the collective time and talent of your congregation. The two key resources you have at your disposal are money (which can pay for paid staff time), and volunteer time (which is made productive through talent).

Wasting Volunteer Time
I have spent more than thirty years as an adult in parish life. My experience is that leaders, both clergy and lay, who would not dream of wasting money, with all good intention repeatedly waste volunteer time. The results are unsuccessful programs, half measures, and volunteer discouragement and burnout.

This happens when the vestry fails to set priorities and demand good administration. My business is advising private-sector companies in strategic and operational planning. I tell my clients they cannot afford to pursue every goal which comes to mind. Good planning comes from focus, and that requires pruning down goals and programs to a feasible number, one that your budget and your people’s time can support.


  • Ask yourself if a proposed new program (or an existing one) supports your mission. Is it someone’s pet project? Is it a tradition that no longer makes sense yet continues to gobble up volunteer time?
  • At your vestry retreat be sure to take time to list program ideas. Then take the next step: pare down the list. I know it’s harder to do that in a nonprofit organization, but you were elected to lead.
  • How easy is it for your volunteers to communicate with the office? Does the secretary and rector or vicar have email and common word processing and spreadsheet programs to facilitate modern messaging?
  • How up-to-date is your mailing list? Are you sending members out at canvass time to call on dead people and those who have moved out-of-town?
  • Do you keep good records, or do your volunteers have to start all over when the secretary resigns?

Sound administration and respect for volunteer time are part of your job and the jobs of paid staff. They are central to spreading the Gospel. Respect volunteer time. You will get more done, and your volunteers will be happier.

Steve Huffman is a lifelong Episcopalian, strategic planning consultant for Huffman Strategy, and junior warden of All Saints Church in Sacramento, California.

This article is part of the June 2001 Vestry Papers issue on Money, God and Vestries