Is Embezzlement Happening in Your Church?
Embezzlement happens much too often within Church settings. It often goes unnoticed for months or years, and when it is discovered the amount of the loss is usually astronomical. All anyone needs to do to discover the frequency of this type of activity is to type “Church Embezzlement” into the search bar of the computer. Headings such as:
- Woman pleads guilty to embezzling from the Church
- Church Treasurer’s Husband arraigned on embezzlement charges
- Church bookkeeper gets 3 years for embezzlement
The above are only a few of the thousands that are listed.
According to one source, Church embezzlement and Church crime is estimated to be $100 million per day. Many scholars believe Church fraud will reach $60 billion by 2025. If that isn’t staggering enough, we are told that about 80 percent of all cases of Church fraud are unreported.
The Root of the Issue
Churches are made up of trusting people. We are taught that we are to love one another, turn the other cheek, give people the benefit of the doubt, and walk in forgiveness when we have been wronged.
The thought of a Church bookkeeper or Treasurer stealing from the Church is not something that is readily accepted for those who embrace Christian principles. Church Leadership needs a reality check so they may realize that three things within the Church are stepping stones to Church fraud and embezzlement. These are:
- Easy access
- Little or no controls (Lack of accountability)
- Personal need/desperation (Desperate people do desperate things).
As much as all of us want to believe that the bookkeeper who diligently keeps the books would never steal, the reality is that if the conditions are right, embezzlement is inevitable.
Dr. Ronnie Shaw, Certified Church and Clergy Tax Instructor declares, “You get what you inspect – not what you expect.” Always be leery of those who question any inspection or accountability.
The Snowball Effect
Once embezzlement begins it is hard to for it to end. An avalanche never begins as the whole side of the snowy mountain crashing below. It always starts with a small snowball. The person does it once out of desperation and then since they did not get caught, it becomes easier to do it again. These holes in the armor demonstrate a lack of management and control.
Our natural leadership tendency in a Church setting is to empower people with freedom to work independently. However, when it comes to Church finances, we need to toss that Leadership Principle out the window.
Churches cannot exist without the generous support of its members. Those members who embrace the Christian Principle of giving trust that Church Leadership will be good stewards. Unfortunately, countless cases of Church fraud and embezzlement speak to the critical need for Church Boards and Pastors to do their job and safeguard God’s money.
Embezzlement does not have to happen if the Church Leadership will take necessary steps of accountability.
10 Ways to Stop Embezzlement
- Adopt and enforce clearly stated policies for handling cash
The more eyes there are on the books, the more likely it will be that someone will notice any irregularities.
Pastors should hire Chitwood & Chitwood to provide the tools necessary to educate Check Writers and Board Members.
As I quoted Dr. Shaw earlier, “You get what you inspect – not what you expect!” Because of our 77 years of experience, Chitwood & Chitwood has seen it all. We know what to look for.
Rotate regularly volunteers and employees who help with counting the offering. Avoid using those who are related.
Cash and checks should be kept securely locked in a safe until they can be delivered to the bank for deposit.
- Use the Three-Person Rule
Always make sure at least three unrelated people are counting the money, and do not have personal financial issues.
- Background and Credit Checks
- Be Alert for Warning Signs
These are numerous, but a few are: “Only one person having access to offering, cash, checks, or checking account; The person with access doesn’t want to take a vacation and guards against someone else doing their job; The person with access is living beyond their means; The person with access has personal financial issues.”
- Act on Suspicion
Act on that “gut feeling.” Take time to investigate and solicit assistance from a trained fraud examiner.
- Supervision Management
No one should be above accountability or oversight.
Chitwood & Chitwood has over 77 years of experience in Church and Clergy financial management. We have seen it all. Don’t ever not do the right thing because you think you cannot afford it or because of fear when it comes to protecting Church finances.
Call us today at 800-344-0076 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to make sure your books are in order and that you are not a victim of Church fraud. Pastors, we are on your side and desire to assist you in helping your Church reach its next level for God. Every day you do not contact us is another day that thousands of dollars may be walking out of your Church because of fraud. Remember Pastor, God and the IRS are holding you responsible. Get it fixed now.