The question first came up while presenting the monthly financial report to our church’s governing body.
“Why are office supply costs so high?” an elder asked.
I hadn’t previously noticed, and I didn’t have a good answer to the question.
I discussed the variance with my finance team and sat down with the manager of our print shop, who handled all office supply purchases. No one had a good explanation for a nearly 15 percent expense increase.
What was happening?
Start by Watching
When it comes to managing a church’s money, leaders sometimes assume that they need answers to questions right away. My investigation into this question reminded me that isn’t always so. Budgets, income statements, and expense reports are complex for churches of any size, so to immediately recall every detail is impossible.
But you do need to be willing to figure out the answers.
Our team was. We started by monitoring expenses, flagging when, where, and by whom office supplies were purchased.
The mystery was finally solved.
Our staff of 60 people bought the office supplies they needed, often for upcoming meetings or events, by heading to local stores and purchasing them with church-issued credit cards. This may not seem like a big deal but it was. Team members—unintentionally, as far as we could tell—were circumventing our entire purchasing process.
That process called for them to identify their supply needs, contact the print shop manager who would place their order, and then have their supplies paid via a check request through the finance team. Doing this would help us get better pricing. Perhaps even more importantly, it allowed us to anticipate the costs for the office supply budget and to sometimes suggest more inexpensive alternatives. When team members used their credit cards, all we could do was simply assign the expenses retroactively to the office supply budget when the monthly credit card statements arrived. We were being reactive instead of proactive.