The Sting (part 3 of 3)

In prior weeks I told a rather unbelievable story that happened to me many years ago. Embezzlement happens in some church in America every week. Be aware of the opportunities for theft and prevent them.

 Here’s my suggestion for all churches: that the church treasurer and the church financial assistant/accountant coordinate each year to do a test of the cash handling by the tellers using the system outlined above.

On 3 or 4 pre-selected weeks, the church accountant put in the offering plate $50 in cash (1 twenty dollar bill, 2 ten dollar bills, 1 five dollar bill, and 5 one dollar bills). Before putting them in the offering plate, the bills must all be photocopied to capture their serial numbers.

After the tellers have counted for that week, then church treasurer and church accountant will go through the offering together – it is vital that this be done jointly to ensure there isn’t a potential for a false accusation. They will compare the actual cash received to the photocopied bills to ensure the cash was received in the offering plate.

  • If the photocopied cash was in the counted offering, then all is well and they can use that same $50 for the other weeks of the operation.
  • If the photocopied cash was NOT in the counted offering, then they need to bring a couple of lay leaders and together determine a course of action. That action should include continuing the photocopied cash when different members of the tellers are not present to eliminate suspects. By all means, keep this quiet – if it got out, it would be disastrous for the member’s confidence in the church’s financial operations.

Lead On!

Steve

 

 

The Sting (part 2 of 3)

The story below happened to me. I wrote it up as a case study for a class I taught. Every word (except the name of other people) is true – including the twist at the very end. I promise it isn’t made up.

As you read it, think about what you would do in my situation. Over 20 years have now passed since this happened, but embezzlement happens every week in some church in America. Be aware of the opportunities for theft and prevent them.

 

The Rest of the Story

Steve, Bob, & Larry decided to share this story with the senior pastor but not to bring in anybody else, not even the church’s treasurer or the chairman of the Finance Committee. Knowing that making accusations is dangerous and potentially could split the church, they decided to be surreptitious in their actions – they decided to do a sting operation.

Bob, Larry, Steve, and the pastor agreed to these details of the sting: each week Steve would get about $75 dollars which he would photocopy. He then gave the cash to Bob. The next Sunday, Bob met the ushers coming out of the 8 a.m. worship and said that he’d carry the offering to the Sunday School office. Bob slipped into an empty classroom – he pulled out all of the cash from the offering plates and replaced it with the photocopied cash he had put in his coat pocket. He then put the real offering cash in his coat and then went to the Sunday School office. He greeted Jody and left the bank bag where she said it goes. Bob took the real cash to Steve’s office and left it in a hidden place.

On Monday, the church treasurer (who was not in on the sting) did her counting with the volunteers as normal. When she finished counting, she gave the money to Steve to post in the accounting software. Steve closed his office door and spread all the cash out on his desk and pulled out the photocopies of the cash that was planted. It took a while to compare the copies to the cash because there was money from both services and it was co-mingled. After about 20 minutes, Steve had his results – $28 was missing. He called Bob and told him the results.

Bob and Steve carried out this sting for three more weeks and told Larry and the pastor the results each week. Each week there was about $30 missing, but never the same figure. The second week $28 was missing and the fourth week $33 was gone. The third week nothing was missing – not one dollar bill. That week was the proof that was needed because that week Jody was gone on vacation. It was clear, when Jody was at church, money disappeared and when she was absent, money didn’t go missing.

Even though Bob and Steve had proof after three weeks that it was Jody, they continued it for one more week – Jody was back from vacation but the treasurer was gone on vacation. And money disappeared which meant that the church treasurer didn’t steal the money because she was not in town. Actually, Bob did the sting operation a fifth week and didn’t tell Steve. Steve was gone on vacation out of town and money still disappeared. That provided complete proof: only when Jody was out of town did money not go missing. Jody was guilty.

Bob, Larry, Steve, and the pastor met to talk about the next steps. They agreed that the pastor and the lay leaders (but not Steve because they wanted to protect him) would meet with Jody. The result of the meeting was that Jody confessed immediately. She even admitted to stealing money from the Wednesday supper receipts. Here is “the rest of the rest of the story:”

  • Jody was removed from her position and given a nice “retirement” party
  • Money was handled better– it was placed in the safe by two ushers after each service
  • The Treasurer and Finance Committee were told about this event 18 months after it was over but it was done in complete confidence
  • No one else in the church was told about this
  • No legal or tax authority was informed because it would have meant a tax liability and a felony conviction for Jody

Final Notes:

  • Jody took about $30 each Sunday and $30 each Wednesday. She did this 50 weeks a year for a total of $3,000 per year. She was in her position for 20 years which means she could have taken over $50,000.
  • And finally, Jody took a vacation each year to the same place – Las Vegas – using the money she stole from the church.

 Lead On!

Steve

 

The Sting (part 1 of 3)

The story below happened to me. I wrote it up as a case study for a class I taught. Every word (except the name of other people) is true – including the twist at the very end. I promise it isn’t made up.

As you read it, think about what you would do in my situation. Over 20 years have now passed since this happened, but embezzlement happens every week in some church in America. Be aware of the opportunities for theft and prevent them.

 

The Story

The administrator had been at the church for about three months when Rachel called. Rachel was in her 70s and a long-time Finance Office volunteer. She was a sweet lady known for helping and occasionally putting her nose in where it didn’t belong; she always meant well but she had her quirks. Rachel told Steve that the church’s Sunday School secretary, Jody, was stealing money. Rachel was good friends with a man who worked with Jody. Every Monday the man made a bank deposit for the company and every Monday Jody gave the man about $60 in ones and fives to deposit into her personal bank account. Rachel made the accusation that the cash was stolen by Jody each week from the church.

Steve didn’t know what to do. It would have been ridiculous for him to accuse Jody. For 20 years she had been volunteering at the church and her dad did the same job for 20 years before that. It was a revered family and it was still recovering from the early death of Jody’s mom just a few years before. Jody was in her 50s and Steve was just 33 and brand new to the church. Steve told Rachel that there wasn’t anything he could do until Rachel had some proof. Rachel scoffed at that and said that because it was all done in cash, there wasn’t any proof. Steve did nothing and told no one.

Steve continued to work with Rachel and Jody for the next several years, never forgetting that accusation. Three years after that first call, Rachel walked into Steve’s office and closed the door. “Steve, she’s continuing to steal money. I don’t have proof, I just know that she’s doing it. Why else would she have cash every Monday to be deposited? She’s taking money from the church. It’s not much, about $30 each week, but that adds up over the year.”

By now Steve knew Rachel – she had a good heart, loved her church, volunteered often, and was not mean-spirited. By now Steve had built up a good reputation at the church and was a trusted staff member. Steve knew that Jody was always well-intentioned, much beloved at the church, always willing to help anyone in anyway, and just a nice person.

Steve decided to share this confidentially with two church leaders: Larry, the church’s legal counsel and Bob, the Administration lay coordinator (lay member responsible for all non-ministry things such as the building and finances). Both Larry and Bob were also church elders and highly respected members. Steve asked both of them to meet him off-site and told them the story.

 

Background Info

The church had an 8 a.m. Sunday early worship and an 11 a.m. Sunday regular worship. The ushers were trained to place all tithes and offerings from the early worship in a bank bag which was then left in the church’s Sunday School office in Jody’s care. Jody got to the church every Sunday about 7 a.m. and stayed in the office till the 11 a.m. worship. The ushers at the 11 a.m. service also collected their offerings into a bank bag; they took their bag and the 8 a.m. worship bag (which they got from the Sunday School office) to a church safe next to the Finance Office. Two ushers always accompanied the bank bags as they traveled around the church. Every Monday, the church treasurer and volunteers got the money out of the safe and counted the offerings. Then, the money went to the bank about 2 p.m. on Monday.

Steve knew that the combined Sunday morning cash was only about $250 each week and that about $75 of that came from the early worship service. If Jody was taking $30 each week from the early service she was probably also taking money from the Wednesday Supper receipts which had about $500 in cash each week. Every Wednesday a volunteer collected supper payments and put all the money in a bank bag. The volunteer left the bank bag in the Sunday School office under Jody’s care till the church treasurer finished eating. Then the church treasurer took the bank bag to the safe. Steve thought that if Jody was taking about $30 from both the Wednesday supper money and the 8 a.m. Sunday worship offerings, that would equal the $60 her co-worker deposited each week in her bank account.

 

Lead On!

Steve

 

Questions re Accepting Credit Cards (part 1 of 5)

Churches which do not have online giving often have several questions which hinder them from proceeding. Here are some of the concerns I’ve run into over the past few years:

  • Online Giving (itself)
    • Making financial transactions online has been normalized by society in the past 10 or 15 years. Amazon and other online businesses have made us comfortable with spending money online and using our credit cards on our computers and smartphones.
    • In 2016, our society spent more on restaurants than groceries; in 2015, we spent more electronically than we did using cash and checks. We have moved inexorably into the age of electronic transactions.
    • I predict that by the year 2025 (maybe 2030) we won’t even be using credit cards anymore – transactions will be made using Apple or Android pay or some other electronic financial exchange system which is being created even now.
  • Fees paid by the church
    • All credit cards have fees ranging from about 2.3% to 5% of the transaction. VISA and Mastercard have lower fees while American Express has the highest. Most VISA and Mastercard providers have fees in the 2% to 3% range.
    • Remember that banks have fees on every check and cash transaction they process, albeit about 25 to 30 cents for each one and that is lower than credit card fees.
    • Fees on credit cards is very much a “cost of doing business” in today’s world. Just as every church has a copy machine and air conditioning, fees on credit cards are just part of being “in business” for a church.
    • Frankly, the fees aren’t that much. If a church gets as little as $10,000 in online gifts during the year, the fee for that is about $250 which seems pretty small when weighed against the $10K that came in.

Lead On!

Steve

 

First Time Donors

Coming to a church for the first time is frequently celebrated. People are encouraged to introduce themselves, provide contact information, and are even given coupons for coffee or food. These are good steps whose goal is to encourage the people to return again and again.

Churches can take another step which is to send a thank you note to all first time donors. The first time someone gives to a church is a big deal. It is one thing to come but it is an even bigger step to pull out your wallet and financially support the church. That action should be acknowledged.

Every first time donor should get a thank you note from a church leader – the pastor, the treasurer, or the church administrator. This simple act will take about 3 minutes per card and cost a dollar or two including postage. But the benefits of that expense will be enormous – people will comment about that for a long time and they will be genuinely surprised and grateful.

Take the time to write a thank you note. It is a big deal.

 Lead On!

Steve

 

 

Nest Camera

A few months ago I bought a Nest Camera for $200. Nest Cams are linked with a smartphone. I bought it for one specific reason but I’ve come to see a multitude of additional benefits. The camera is located in my office window and is pointed to the parking lot.

 

I bought the camera for this benefit (and why I encourage you to get a Nest Cam):

  1. Bad weather: I live in Virginia and I wanted to see from the comfort of my house how much snow had fallen at the church and whether I needed to close for the day or postpone opening the building. I even got my facilities manager to create a snow gauge so I could see how many inches had fallen. (Here’s the irony, this first year of the camera we’ve had two snow events, each of less than an inch!).

Here are the unexpected but very cool additional benefits:

  1. It uses the church’s Wi-Fi and electricity. When either the power or Wi-Fi goes out, I get an email stating the camera is offline. Wherever I am, I will know that something is wrong at the church and I need to address that problem.
  2. The camera is pointed at trailers in which we have a lot of expensive equipment for our multisite location. If someone steals the trailers, the camera will capture the vehicle that took our equipment and that will help the police. For a fee, Nest will store video from your camera. Currently (2017) I pay $10 per month for 10 days’ worth of recordings.
  3. My facilities director has access to view my camera, too. He’s getting one for the other side of building so we’ll have everything covered. Multiple people can have access to the same camera.
  4. The camera has a microphone and a speaker. It captures conversations inside my office (though the audio is very bad). Be careful with how you use captured conversations because there may be legal issues with that. The speaker on the camera can be fun – from my smartphone I can talk and whoever is in my office will hear my voice. I haven’t done that yet, but I could really scare someone!
  5. When the lights in my office are off at night, the camera easily captures everything going on outside in my lighted parking lot so I can see if there are any cars that shouldn’t be there in the evening.
  6. When the custodian comes into my office and turns on the light, the camera catches his reflection in the window pane. I also hear his conversations! This allows me to “spy” on my staff – as if I have time.
  7. Speaking of spying – some of my staff realized that my camera captures when they come to work and they believe (despite my instance to the contrary) that I monitor when they come and go. I could do that, but, I don’t have time and I really don’t care.
  8. Last month there was a violent storm. Using Nest Cam’s recording feature, I captured a seven minute video of the storm which I was able to show to my insurance company during the claim process. The video helped the insurance company understand why I was making the claims – and we’re getting a new roof!

 Lead On!

Steve

 

Cameras

Churches should use cameras to protect their most valuable assets – people. Other businesses may use cameras to protect against theft and other crimes – churches can do that, too. But the most important reason churches should have cameras is to ensure the safety and security of everyone inside the church buildings.

There are several principles which churches should follow when installing cameras:

  1. Children’s areas are the priority. If you have a limited budget, then install cameras in children’s areas first. You don’t have to install cameras in each room but you should at least have them in the halls around the children’s rooms. The goal is that no one can get into or leave that area without being on camera.
  2. Exterior doors are critical. Every exterior door must have a camera covering who is leaving through those doors. That means that the camera should be above the door pointing into the building. Most security cameras capture images of people entering. But for churches, the critical issue is who is leaving the church and are they carrying someone (a child) or struggling with someone (child or adult). Cameras facing inward will also capture anyone taking something out of the building they shouldn’t (a TV or something else).
  3. Hallways and stairs are the final priority. Cameras should also capture “long throws” of halls and stairs. These images allow police to follow a person as they walk through the building and see what their path was.

Ensure you buy quality color cameras, not black & white. Camera systems include a CPU (computer) which records about 30 days of images before being copied over. The CPU must be in a cabinet which is locked. Some systems load their images to the cloud; access to that must be controlled so that no one can tamper with the recordings or camera settings.

These systems are increasingly sophisticated. Most systems are motion activated so they only record when there is activity (and not 24/7). Others can do facial recognition and track people from camera to camera creating a path the person walked. Cameras can also be linked to your smartphone so you can monitor and control the system from wherever you are. It is amazing what is available – but they can also come at an amazing price. Determine your priorities and your budget as you enter this project.

Lead On!

Steve

 

 

A Story About Faithfulness

This is a story from a friend of my wife. It is a true story and used with permission:

 

So I hadn’t tithed for four months. I could list reason after reason why, but not one of those reasons would justify not giving God what is rightfully His to start with. 

I went to church with a dear friend this past Sunday and one of the messages I heard was on tithing. As I listened, the Holy Spirit began to work in my heart. Needless to say conviction was overwhelming. 

When I got home I not only wrote the tithe check, I took it to the treasurer that evening at Bible study. 

I got to work the next day only to be overwhelmed once again. This time not with conviction, but with gratitude. I was told of a bonus that I would be receiving later in December. And guess what??? 

It’s 3 times the amount of the tithe check I wrote. (🙊<— me)

Now I want you to hear this part loud and clear, it’s not, not, NOT about the money!!! It’s ALLLLLLLLL about the faithfulness of a loving Father who sits waiting to bless His children when we are obedient. 

I know many will see this post as putting to much personal info out there. But I can not be silent about the faithfulness of a Mighty God. He is worthy to be honored by our testimony. 

I love you Jesus!!!