This version of this post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel.
In bad economic times, churches are the targets of professional con artists committed to rip the church off. Some rip off artists hit fifty churches a day.
Pastors and the benevolent committee are tasked with making donations to people in need. Con artists are good at creating compelling stories for financial gain.
How should we determine who should receive a financial donation? Helping the poor and people who have a temporary need for financial help is a never-ending ministry of the church. The church is called to serve the needy. The church is the place people go for help, but what method is used to determine value of the gift? How does the church know the difference between a person in need and a rip off artist?
One method is to establish a set of metrics for giving funds. The church board may wish to consider factors such as whether recipients are members of the church, a certain age, mothers with children, unemployed, or homeless.
The metric should determine the degree of problems. For example, a senior needing medicine may receive priority over a person needing a telephone bill paid. A church should decide whom not to give money to. Many churches don’t donate money for rent because there is a strong reality that the person will return for another donation in 30 days.
Churches should have written policies on giving to the poor. This gives the benevolent committee the opportunity to rely on the policy, not personal opinions. It’s recommended that a church give no more than $200 to a person or family in a year. This prevents the family from looking at the church as an ATM. The church may require a grantee to go to a financial literacy class to learn financial planning.
A church is wise to have a written policy voted on by the entire church on giving to the poor and needy. This cuts down on all confusion. Remember, the poor will be among us always, but the church treasury has a limited life span.
To find out how to create financially strong organizations and help families find financial security, join us for the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement’s Financial Literacy Program.
Photo Credit: Steven Depolo/Flickr
Mark Whitlock is a contributing writer for the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.