Let me be blunt. The fact that a church has never had an incident of fraud is due to one of two things: luck or planning. Needless to say, the odds of successfully avoiding fraud are much higher with the latter approach. If a church has been relying on the first approach and has never had an incident, it should be congratulated for its good fortune. But, the church should also be reminded that its good fortune rests on the fact that either the crooks have not made it to their church yet, or they just haven’t been caught. In time, one or both of these things will probably occur.
To increase the chances of avoiding fraud, the best practice is to plan and organize. This is accomplished by implementing a strong organizational structure within the church.
Key: Evidence points to the fact that churches with little or no organizational structure are frequent targets of fraud. The reason is rather obvious; many fraudsters are much better students of management theory than the average church. They can spot an “easy mark” a mile away. Crooks can also spot a well-defended church and will avoid it. Greener pastures are very easy to find because well protected churches are significantly outnumbered by poorly managed congregations. A crook-resistant church usually develops a strong organization in three areas.
- Tone at the top is the key to a church’s entire fraud prevention structure. If integrity is missing at the top levels of management, all other controls will prove to be pointless. Every church needs to have senior level staff that respects and understands the need for accountability. Good leaders may not care much for expense reports and purchase orders, like most of us, but they do understand their necessity. It is crucial that leaders comply without visible complaint to those around them. Junior staff will follow their leaders and the direction they are led is of extreme importance.
- An empowered leadership team is another essential ingredient, without which transparency is not possible. When making a point about the need for openness and transparency, Supreme Court Justice William Brandeis is credited with saying “Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant”. One of the ways churches operate in the sunlight is by appointing a formally designated leadership team to guide it. (Titles vary from church to church: deacons, elders, directors, leadership team, etc.) Members of the team must be adequately trained to understand the requirements and responsibilities of their jobs and allowed to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions.
- Competent volunteers are essential to the church, the greatest volunteer organization in the history of the world. But, volunteers should be given sufficient orientation and training in order to understand their roles. Also, a church should not just let anyone be a volunteer. Volunteers need to be checked out. Unfortunately, many volunteers have ulterior motives behind their willingness to help out.