Navigating donations, designations, and more.
In this biweekly column, longtime executive pastor and XPastor.org founder David Fletcher takes on readers’ questions about finances, staffing, communications, and more. Submit your questions using the subject line "Hey, Fletch" to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are planning the launch of our first multisite campus. This includes conversations on best accounting practices. We are setting up a central accounting hub with tracking of giving and expenses by campus. Is there anything I need to be aware of as we enter this new territory?
Hooray for your new campus! These are exciting times for your church. Many multisite churches track donations by campus. This creates “cost centers” so you can create financial health reports for each campus.
What will you do with a mailed-in check that doesn’t have a campus preference? How will donors indicate if they change campuses? These issues will impact your hope to have a self-sustaining new campus. With robust software—and by checking that every donation accurately reflects the campus attended—you will have reliable financial reports. If you are not diligent, your report can be skewed when a few significant donors change to another campus.
If a person designates their gift to a campus, you have created a donor restricted fund. That money can only be used for that campus, period. Unless you want to break the law, you cannot use Campus A donor restricted funds for expenses at Campus B.
I looked at the website of a church with six sites. The executive pastor is a good friend, so I asked him: “Do you know your website has donors designating their gifts to a campus?” His first reply was: “We don’t do campus-designated giving—only that the giver identifies their campus of attendance.”
He continued, though: “Then I logged on, because the website was recently updated. I was alarmed by the language. It does indeed indicate a donor restriction. This is not our intent at all. We want to know where the giver attends, but the gift goes to a unified budget. Thanks for the email—I’ll get the team to return to the previous nomenclature!” They changed the website that day.
You will need to monitor what your teams say or publish. Preachers, pastors, and communications teams need to share this clearly: “All gifts go to the church general fund. We use your campus preference only to understand the financial health of each campus.” Normally this isn’t much of a problem, until some nice person designates $1.5 million only for use at one campus.
These are a few of the donation issues for multisite churches. None are unsolvable. Develop a careful strategy to communicate well, keep yourself out of court, and honor the intent of the donors. Finally, regularly inspect what you expect!