Except in the rarest of cases, personnel costs are the single largest expenditure of a church. Because churches are in the “service industry”, it should come as no surprise that forty-five to fifty percent of the typical church budget will be dedicated to employee related costs.
This highlights a basic principle in the behavior of an embezzler. For obvious reasons, people committing fraud prefer to remain anonymous. In order to enjoy the fruits of their labor they must remain hidden. It is much easier to hide fraud among the bigger numbers – like payroll.
Key: As a result, personnel costs are a favorite target of fraudsters. Usually, fraud in this area is small-time with one employee falsifying their own time card or submitting phony expense reports. However, some payroll frauds can be quite extensive and creative. The more spectacular (and costly) may involve:
- “Phantom” employees
- Fraudulent insurance claims
- Bogus tax refunds.
These scams can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Churches should not be naïve about payroll fraud. Because churches are as vulnerable to personnel fraud as businesses, they should do two things.
- First, repeating the theme of a previous section, churches must follow the IRS compliance guidelines. This means designating an independent compensation committee to set compensation amounts, based on market comparison information, and documenting all decisions made. At a minimum, this process should be followed for executive level staff but is also a good practice to follow for the entire church staff.
- Second, churches should also follow a “best practices” approach in human resources administration. In addition to contributing to a healthy workforce these best practices also contribute to eliminating the possibility of fraud. A few of these practices are:
- Establishment of formal job descriptions
- Performing background checks
- Performing regular performance evaluations and obtaining written termination letters from departing employees.