If you’re involved in full-time ministry, you have a high calling and a lot of weight on your shoulders. And if you’re involved with managing the finances of a church or non-profit group, one of your biggest responsibilities is making sure that God’s money is being used God’s way to do God’s work.
Money can be a tricky thing to manage — plenty of people struggle to get a handle on money in their personal lives. And as important as it is to handle your personal finances well, it’s even more important to be sure that you use wisdom and responsibility in handling the financial affairs of a ministry. After all, ministry can’t happen without money. If you want to be able to spend time doing the ministry work that you love, you have to make sure that your organization is financially healthy.
Fortunately, managing your ministry’s money doesn’t have to be a big mystery. We wrote in the last article in the series about how God’s basic rules of math, wisdom and planning apply to our ministry money in exactly the same way that they do in our personal finances. Today, we’re going to examine the importance of transparency in handling money in our ministries.
In full-time ministry or other non-profit organizations, it can be easy to feel isolated and insulated from the outside world, especially if your organization is small. Though you have plenty of friends, family and supporters, most of them are involved in work in the secular world, and don’t have the same in-depth perspective on your organization that you do. They certainly don’t bear the weight of managing your organization’s finances the same way that you do.
If you’re not careful, this can put you in a dangerous place as a financial administrator. It’s easy to think that nobody else out there understands the financial demands or needs of your organization. That can lead to developing an attitude that seeks to keep financial data private. And though you may feel like you’re protecting your organization by keeping the financial records to yourself, you’re actually putting yourself at greater risk.
The best-run non-profits, churches and ministries have very clear, open systems of financial accountability, and are transparent about their financial affair with their members, donors and other constituents. Though it may seem scary to let the world see the facts and figures of your ministry’s balance sheet, it’s actually a very healthy thing to do. Why? Because it forces you to be detailed in your record-keeping and accountable in your management — two things that can easily fall by the wayside if you’re the only person who knows what’s going on in your organization’s finances. Plus, it opens the door for wise people to come in and give you guidance, suggestions and other support.
There’s a lot of things about organizational finance that mirror personal financial principles. One of the biggest keys in personal financial management is to keep good records and to budget well — if you don’t keep track of where your money is going, you’re going to look up one day and find that it has slipped through your fingers. But if you know you have to publish a report on your organization’s finances, you’re going to be diligent in making sure that you know where your money is going, which actually makes your organization much more efficient.
Being transparent with your financial records also protects you from potential accusations of impropriety. Far, far too many ministries and non-profits get into trouble when it comes to their money: Outsiders see that there’s a lot of money going into a ministry, but have no way of knowing how it’s being spent. This can lead to scrutiny, blame and finger-pointing that are toxic for a ministry organization. So instead of giving outsiders ammunition to question the way that you run your organization, it’s better to be entirely transparent from the very beginning. If you’re able to demonstrate where every dollar that comes into your ministry goes, nobody has any grounds to suspect misbehavior.
The importance of transparency goes beyond the advantages and protections that it provides, too. We believe that transparency is a key principle in ministry management because of the fact that you’re dealing with other people’s money and, ultimately, with God’s money. The money that you use to fund your organization is money that people worked hard for, and then set aside for the work of Christ through your ministry. It’s not just a number or abstract dollar figure; it represents someone’s toil and the abundance of their heart. Money has meaning, and the ways that we direct our money reflect the thing that we treasure in our hearts. So when you manage your organization’s money, you have to keep in mind that what you’re really managing is the fruit of people’s labor and the generosity of their hearts.
If you’re transparent with your donors about what their money is doing, you’re going to inspire confidence in them that their hard work and generous gifts are doing real good. You may even find that people are inspired to give more once they see your exact financial position on paper. Not every donor is going to care to look at your financial statements. But there are plenty of people out there who won’t give to an organization until they have a clear picture of how that group handles its money.
It may seem a little bit scary to let outsiders see your organization’s finances. It may seem like an invasion of privacy for people in your life to be able to find out what your personal income is. But if you’re interested in really running your organization right, those things comes with the territory, and they’re a small price to pay.
Transparency is one of the best financial moves that you can make for your ministry. It makes you a better money manager, it protects your organization from criticism, and it actually inspires people to be better givers. Give it a shot, and we think you’ll enjoy the results.
Photo by David Barrie. Used under Creative Commons License.