If your car isn’t running properly—or running at all—wouldn’t you like to know that the mechanic has been trained to diagnose the problem accurately and efficiently?
The same goes for filing your taxes. When considering people who can prepare your tax return, wouldn’t you like to know that they have been trained in taxes? They should understand what is considered income and which deductions you can legally take to minimize your tax liability. It would be important to you that they were up-to-date on the most recent laws and regulations.
Everyone, from tax preparers and mechanics to doctors and surgeons, needs to receive ongoing and informed training to do their job well. This is also true of the individuals responsible for the financial matters in your church.
Ministry is what church is all about, but it can’t happen effectively if finances collapse. Many effective ministries have been minimized or closed because of poor financial decisions. Good decisions require good information, and adequate training will help ensure such information is available.
Key Training Elements
Training for your financial staff can include a few key elements.
As recently as a couple years ago, I knew of churches that were keeping their financial records on paper. There are still some that only use a spreadsheet. While inexpensive basic accounting software is available to speed up various processes, such as bank reconciliations, and minimize errors, these churches are unaware of it. Whether you have a small church or a large, complex ministry, understanding the available accounting software options and learning how to best use your current system is helpful.
If an individual is trained on key areas of concern or system improvements, their training will help you serve with excellence and protect the church from possible loss or embarrassment. It is also important to realize that these policies and procedures serve not only to protect the church, but also the individuals involved in the process, whether pastors or staff members.Training staff or volunteers on the operations of the accounting department, such as policies and internal controls, is also useful. Most of us have someone proofread our important communications because we know what we mean to say, and it can be hard to spot errors in our own work. Likewise, having someone help you consider your operations’ potential weaknesses is beneficial.
New regulations are created frequently. These are often related to employment matters, and failure to comply could result in significant fines or penalties. It can be difficult, however, to find the right information and stay current with the deluge of information we receive every day. The individuals responsible for these matters in your church need to receive adequate training to stay current and compliant.
There are a variety of methods you can use to provide training to your staff, including many options that weren’t available or easily accessible just a few years ago. These methods include free or relatively low-cost webinars that staff can participate in without even leaving their desk. These webinars are typically about one hour long and focus on specific topics. Staff can also use online training to receive more information about a topic; online classes now include training in specific areas, such as nonprofit financial management or nonprofit tax and legal issues.
Some college education options are still beneficial for those involved in accounting for a church. While gaining additional education and certifications can help broaden your perspective, however, education with practical application is most helpful. You can find this type of hands-on training by networking with others in similar positions, being mentored by more seasoned professionals, or investing in training from consultants or accountants who specialize in the nonprofit arena. Focused, effective training can often be done in small increments of time over a longer period.
Training usually makes it into the initial budget, but it is one of the first items cut when expenses need to be trimmed. Remember the phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Training is prevention. It prevents frustration, burnout, errors, and poor decisions. It also shows employees that you value them and what they do. Consider whether you need to change your church’s attitude about training, and think about how you could start investing in the people and processes that are so important to a successful ministry.