Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Hey Fletch … I have been a fan of your work and website for several years. I have a question and would love your insight. As a board member, let me say that our church has a history of taking special offerings whenever there is a disaster. Our congregation loves to give to emergency causes (wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, famine) and tends to give generously. However, our general fund often drops significantly during those weeks. People give to disaster relief and then our core offering diminishes.
I have heard of some churches who build “disaster relief” into their budgets so that they can respond quickly when needs arise without draining regular income. Any thoughts on best practices around this?
DRF—Thank you for gracious words about XPastor. That is wonderful that your congregation gives so much to special needs. It sounds like your church has a huge heart for the hurting world … to the detriment of your general fund. It is truly a ‘steal from Peter to pay Paul’ issue!
There is no reason why you can’t have a line item in your General Fund—you can internally restrict it for disaster, compassion, mercies or benevolence. When a disaster hits, you would say to the congregation, “Our General Fund has money for disaster relief. As needed for the relief, gifts above our regular weekly offering will go toward this current need.” You may even want to salt the food by saying, “and we have already given $25,000 this week to get help on the way.”
The issue that I see is one of communication. If people are accustomed to giving to a special fund, they will feel like the rules have shifted. You are changing away from a donor restricted fund, one which the money can only be used for disaster relief. You are moving to an internally restricted fund, where the Board can use the money as they see fit for the current disaster, future local needs, etc.
You should communicate the new style of giving well in advance of the next disaster. Share the reason for the change, in print and in person, with the Governing Board, Finance Team, staff and key leaders. Once a month for six months, share a carefully worded statement with the congregation about the change. Ensure that any online giving reflects the wording that your church formally adopts, such as “Give at this link for disaster relief. This is a part of our General Fund and will be targeted for the current need. Unused funds will be used for other church ministry.”
I would also position this as one of great potential vision areas for the church. “We want to do so much and celebrate God’s generosity among us. By having these donations in the General Fund, we have governing board approved methods to strongly continue our ministry and disaster relief.”