When to Say No

Every week ministries across the country get several hundred thousand requests for assistance. Some are valid, while others are not. Here are some real life examples of benevolence requests that I have encountered recently in my experience with ministries:

  • A church member requests the business office to help with the monthly payments on his vacation home in Colorado
  • An employee had a major surgery and the ministry decides to assist with overwhelming medical bills
  • A local resident calls the business office and requests helps with the utility payments
  • A stranger walks in the door and asks for help because her car ran out of gas
  • A local resident requests the ministry to buy him a $2000 suit for an interview so he can land his dream job
  • A church member requests assistance with expenses for her daughter’s semester in Spain

Most churches and ministries are sympathetic and want to help and most requests are compelling, especially in this economy. But unfortunately, there are scammers out there that prey upon ministries’ willingness to help and are not afraid to take advantage. For instance, on May 18, 2010, the Columbia Missourian reported the following story:

Columbia Church Reports Possible Money-Wiring Scam

It is relatively easier to tell the difference between a need and want, but not always easy to discern between legitimate and fraudulent requests. So how can a ministry respond to all requests in a compassionate yet tactful manner?

Adopt a written benevolence policy. A well written policy will lay out the foundation for ministry’s benevolence activities and should:

  • Specify who is to receive and approve the requests for assistance
  • Specify the situations in which assistance may be provided, the type of assistance that will be provided and how it is to be provided
  • Eliminate any inappropriate requests for assistance
  • Keep the ministry within guidelines set forth in the Internal Revenue Code
  • Establish confidence within the ministry and amongst its benefactors that benevolence funds are being administered properly
  • Enable the ministry from developing a reputation of an easy target amongst scammers

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