Balancing Faith and Finance: A Guide to Budgeting and Cash Management
- Dan Skerbitz
Oct 21, 2023
Financial stewardship takes on a special significance in the complex landscape of financial management for religious organizations. Drawing upon the wisdom of the past is not just a spiritual tenet but also a financial best practice. As such, it’s important for churches to prepare a working budget grounded in historical trends. Moreover, utilizing cash flow reporting becomes indispensable, aiding in meticulous budget management and ensuring that financial plans resonate with past experiences while addressing present-day financial realities.
A church’s mission is not merely measured by its financial bottom line but by its spiritual impact and service to the community. Nevertheless, strong financial stewardship is crucial to ensuring the longevity and effectiveness of any church’s ministry. In this light, we’d like to shed some insights on two key areas: budgeting for churches and cash flow management.
Steps to Effective Budgeting for Churches
Budgeting for churches is not just a financial exercise but a tool that can help church leaders prioritize their ministries, allocate resources effectively, and ensure that the church’s finances align with its mission and vision. Several steps can be taken to safeguard a church’s budget reflects its values and goals, including:
Determine Historical Trends: In determining historical financial trends for churches, consistent and comprehensive reporting stands paramount. Churches can discern seasonal financial fluctuations by comparing the prior year’s income and expense reports, which should detail monthly actuals. A juxtaposition of the current year’s data against that from two years ago can shed light on significant shifts, whether they stem from church growth, which often correlates with increased giving, or potential declines that necessitate budgetary adjustments. Factors like demographic shifts or changes in vision or leadership can also influence these trends. Ultimately, such year-to-year comparisons are invaluable, aligning the church’s giving patterns with its broader mission and vision. They help pinpoint seasons of heightened giving, opportunities for escalated spending, or moments when savings might be feasible.
Prioritization: Identify the core activities and ministries that align with the church’s mission, ensuring that funds are directed toward what matters most. Non-essential activities can be allocated funds once primary objectives are met.
Incorporate Employee Compensation: Employee compensation often emerges as the most significant expense for a church, encompassing not just wages but a comprehensive package that includes taxes, retirement provisions, insurance, and other fringe benefits. Hence, when budgeting, it’s essential to consider this and ensure the necessary funds are allocated.
Engage Stakeholders: Engaging the congregation and other stakeholders during the budgeting process helps in understanding their needs and expectations. It also fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility. Additionally, their involvement can provide valuable insights along with diverse perspectives, leading to a more comprehensive and inclusive budget.
Regular Review: While having a structured budget is essential, churches should also be prepared for unexpected expenses. Therefore, a budget should not be a set-in-stone document. Keeping a buffer or contingency fund helps in managing unforeseen financial challenges. Periodic reviews, at least quarterly, allow for adjustments based on actual income and expenditure.
Cash Flow Management for Churches
Effective cash flow management stands as a cornerstone of financial stewardship for churches. To ensure the continuity of their mission, churches must maintain a steady influx of funds, allowing them to allocate resources appropriately, meet timely obligations, plan for prospective projects, and build resilience against unexpected financial challenges. One pivotal strategy includes routinely monitoring finances. By keeping an astute eye on the inflows and outflows of financial accounts, churches can discern patterns and proactively address potential cash flow hurdles. Furthermore, diversifying revenue streams is paramount. While tithes and offerings remain the primary income source, exploring alternative avenues such as facility rentals, event hosting, or fundraising campaigns can enhance and stabilize financial streams.
Building a reserve fund is also important, as it can act as a safeguard to navigate financially challenging periods without jeopardizing the church’s core operations or missions. Concurrently, proper debt management is essential for churches with outstanding loans or debts. This not only helps in managing cash flows but also in maintaining a positive reputation in the community. Lastly, in this era of rapid technological advancements, churches should leverage contemporary financial tools and software. Such platforms offer invaluable real-time insights into cash flow dynamics, empowering churches to make informed and timely fiscal decisions.
Balancing Fixed, Variable Expenses, and Benchmarking
Like any other institution, churches face fixed and variable expenses in their financial management. Routine obligations, or fixed expenses, are vital to a church’s overall financial responsibilities. These are characterized predominantly by the ongoing costs of maintaining the church facility—whether through rent or mortgage payments—as well as an array of utilities like electricity, water, gas, and essential communication services such as the internet and phone.
In contrast, variable expenses are more dynamic and can fluctuate based on the church’s activities and outreach. These encompass advertising and promotional efforts vital for publicizing church-led initiatives, whose costs can vary based on their magnitude and regularity. Programs, ministries, and special occasions like baptisms also introduce diverse costs contingent on their scale and recurrence.
As churches navigate these fiscal responsibilities, several common benchmarks offer guidance in budgeting and cash flow management. Staff compensation, including payroll and benefits, often claims a significant portion, typically 40% - 50% of unrestricted income. Facilities, including maintenance, utilities, and debt payments, account for around 15% - 30% of the budget. Ministries and outreach initiatives typically use up another 20% - 30% of available funds. While these benchmarks don’t represent strict rules and can show variations, they are foundational in church budgeting, ensuring that churches maintain a balanced and sustainable financial strategy aligned with their mission.
Though a church’s mission is deeply spiritual, robust financial strategies guarantee its enduring role as a beacon of hope and service for years to come. Budgeting and cash flow management are two crucial pillars in this regard. When preparing the financial plan for your church or religious institution, consult with your CRI tax advisor for expert guidance. Their expertise can help ensure that as you tend to spiritual commitments, the church thrives on a solid financial foundation and remains financially resilient.