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Faith-Based Finances and Empowering Engagement

By: Dean Dorton | June 17, 2021

In the wake of COVID-19, faith-based organizations are almost universally facing a T2 deficit. They’re running low on time and treasure. Restoring these essentials to pre-pandemic levels is a great goal, but achieving it may be more challenging than you think.

Accounting and Financial Outsourcing | Nonprofit & Government

Based on annual aggregated data collected by Gallup, 2020 represents the first year in their many decades of polling that church membership among U.S. adults has fallen below 50%. Rather than chalking membership up as a casualty of the pandemic, Gallup concluded in its report (released March 29, 2021) that this is just the latest result in a disturbingly steady trend. Americans are not placing value on specific church affiliation as they once did and that means they aren’t engaged to share their time and treasure.

This nationwide trend doesn’t have to be the trend for your faith community. With thoughtful planning at this worldwide point of transition, your community could be the positive outlier in Gallup’s future research.

A T2 deficiency may be a product of less membership, but it also indicates a less engaged current membership. There are a multitude of programing ideas to attract and retain members, but without a solid financial foundation, these programs risk being inadvertently undermined through no fault of their own.  Programs that flounder financially may actually alienate the membership they were designed to engage. Additionally, interest in further innovation could be mortally wounded and your community could be destined to become a statistical average.

To counter this possibility, take steps now to develop financial credibility. Well organized financial results should be available to all members in dynamic formats that makes sense to them individually. Your members care about different aspects of their faith life so initiate frequent informal discussions to determine what those aspects are. Then map and simplify financial data to demonstrate results specific to areas of interest.  If results are poor in a given area, highlight it instead of hiding it! Invite other to share in definition of the problem and identification of solutions. Doing so gives members a great opportunity to share their talent and strengthen ties to their faith community.

Integrity is the cornerstone for credibility. Integrity demands that you present accurate financial data in accordance with best practice accounting standards so that data can be understood, compared and relied upon by anyone who picks up your reports. Make sure your process included review so that, once published, financial information for your faith-based organization can be a solid point of reference. When members can clearly see the financial impact of specific action or inaction, engagement is an easy choice.

If you’re at a loss to picture how you can accurately and credibly present financial results for the aspects of faith life that most interest your members, contact me for a complimentary discussion. Talking through your accounting structure will help clarify your next steps toward successful financial transparency and credibility.

Lastly, whenever possible, infuse financial reports with non-financial data. This marriage of results will add depth to your financial foundation and give members a hearty springboard for engagement. It will arm the meekest in your fold with an easy talking point and they may feel emboldened share that good news with others. In the end, vanquishing your T2 deficit will take the efforts and engagement of your entire community. Empower them in this mission!

As a manager in Dean Dorton’s Financial & Accounting Services team, Kaydee Ruppert enjoys assisting faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to empower their financial stories. 

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