Your Finance Questions, August 2008

Q: Who owns a church’s accounting records? Our treasurer frequently brings some of the church’s financial records home to work on them. He claims that the records are his property, and not the church’s, when they are in his home. Is that correct?

A: Let me make six observations in response to your question.

1.The nonprofit corporation laws under which most churches are incorporated require that corporations maintain various kinds of records, including financial books of account. To illustrate, the Model Nonprofit Corporation Act, which has been adopted by most states, provides that “a corporation shall maintain appropriate accounting records.” While this language does not directly address ownership, the fact is that how can a church maintain appropriate accounting records if they are possessed and “owned” by the treasurer? As a result, it should be assumed that the church is the owner of its financial records, and not a volunteer treasurer who takes them home. The takeaway point is that location, and even possession, does not determine ownership.

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