Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why We Have a Policy for Financial Assistance

It’s Friday afternoon, and a person walks into the church offices claiming to be from out-of-town and needing gas, food and lodging because “someone stole my wallet.” Or, in the middle of the week you get a call from someone whose electricity is turned off. Maybe a member of your church is experiencing a financial crisis due to illness, injury, marital problems, or loss of employment.

These are common occurrences for those of us involved in church work, and needless to say it puts us on the spot each time it happens. That’s why it is important that we handle these situations with tact and sensitivity, with wisdom and discernment, and an eye open for safety and security.

We have a written policy for benevolence or requests for financial assistance. Here are a few reasons why:

(1) A written policy eliminates many inappropriate requests and a ton of personal pressure. Our church will develop a reputation as an “easy mark” for professional panhandlers if we do not exercise due diligence. Plus, it is very difficult to make a decision “on the spot.” A written policy gives us something to refer to, guidelines to follow, and makes the decision for us.

(2) Problems with the IRS. A written benevolence policy avoids problems with the IRS who can always challenge a church’s tax-exempt status due to questionable or undocumented receipt or distributing of funds.

(3) Confidence. A written policy establishes confidence within the church that benevolence funds are being distributed fairly and in good order.

(4) Tact and Sensitivity. It’s important for us to remember that every person’s problem is a crisis to him or her. Whether the situation is worthy or not, people asking for money should be treated with kindness and respect. This can be difficult if the person is demanding or unwilling to cooperate. However, when we are backed up with written procedures, we are free to say, “I’m sorry. We are not permitted to give you money or put you up in a hotel; but I can direct you to the local mission which can provide lodging.

While we must treat people with tact and sensitivity, we must ALSO REMEMBER that their problems are not our fault or our responsibility to solve. The church is a church, not a social agency or a government agency.

(5) Wisdom and Discernment. Not every secretary, ministry assistant, or pastor is gifted to deal with benevolence issues. For instance, a person who oozes mercy never says no and may give away too much. Conversely, a person with the gift of prophecy may take a colder “live-or-let-die” approach. A written policy helps us strive for balance by employing wisdom, discernment, and good administration. With these kinds of checks and balances built in, the decision is never an emotional one or a knee jerk reaction.

(6) Safety and Security. Total strangers sometimes walk in off the street asking for money. Sometimes the offices are down to one or two people. This is extremely dangerous, especially for the women. So we exercise caution and plan for the unexpected. We never allow anyone to be alone with a “walk in.” We never allow strangers to move around freely in the offices or church building. We never permit anyone to be alone with a member of the opposite sex. We lock the doors when female staff are in the building alone. This helps prevent a purse snatching, church property stolen, or an assault.

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