Church Integrity and Handling Restricted Gifts
- Tuesday, April 23, 2013
We live in a day and age when it is more important than ever for churches and their leaders to demonstrate integrity.
In today’s culture, people are inclined to challenge long-held assumptions and even question some of our nation’s most respected institutions—the church included.
Demonstrating integrity is important for churches because, over time, doing so establishes and reinforces necessary trust with church members as well as those outside the church who we are called to reach with the Gospel. Enhanced trust ultimately translates to a greater witness and Kingdom impact.
1 Samuel 16:7 illustrates this principle well. While God is able to look past appearances into what is in our hearts, people naturally form their impressions of both individuals and organizations by seeing what is displayed outwardly.
As president of ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), I have the great privilege of serving an organization that is committed to raising the level of demonstrated integrity in churches and other Christ-centered ministries. The founders of ECFA realized in 1979 that the time had come for Christ-centered organizations to make outward demonstrations of their commitment to excellence and integrity, thereby enhancing trust with their supporters and those they serve.
One of the foundational Scriptures of ECFA is 2 Corinthians 8:20 (NASB): “taking precaution that no one should discredit us in our administration of this generous gift, for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.”
These verses inspire ECFA’s standards relating to the proper handling of gifts made to churches and other Christ-centered organizations. The process of handling gifts that have been entrusted to us must be honorable—not just in the sight of God, but also men.
Even greater opportunities to demonstrate integrity occur when a church accepts a contribution that is restricted for a specific purpose or time. We call these “giver-restricted” or “donor-restricted” gifts.
Nearly every church receives restricted gifts. For example, if you ask your congregation to support missionaries, a church building fund or specific programs like a food pantry, your church is already in the process of soliciting and accepting restricted gifts and must be careful to honor the giver’s restriction(s). This is because there are important accounting, legal, tax and integrity issues related to giver-restricted gifts. (The accounting, legal and tax aspects are beyond the scope of this article, but you can learn more by visiting ECFA.org).
Improperly handling restricted gifts is one of the fastest ways that your church could lose trust with its constituents. When a donor makes a gift to your church for a certain purpose or for a certain time, the donor expects that the gift will be used accordingly.
Let’s say a giver finds out that funds she contributed to support a mission trip by the youth group were placed in the general fund and used to pay operating expenses. Your church has immediately lost any level of established trust with this giver, and the church’s witness is tarnished.
Admittedly, most churches would never deliberately misuse a donor’s gift. But when proper procedures for handling restricted gifts are not established or followed, this opens the door for the improper use of funds and invites a breach of trust.
What steps can your church take to demonstrate integrity in handling restricted gifts? ECFA’s time-tested standards are replete with guidance. Here are some of the important considerations to keep in mind:
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