Much has been written about how we’re responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. One common theme is summed up well in the title of a country song, Storms Never Last, written by Jessi Colter. It reminds us that while storms can be bad, they do pass. There are plenty of biblical stories, though, which remind us that decisions we make during storms can have a big impact on how we weather them. (Check out Paul’s stormy experience in Acts 27-28.)
For churches and Christian-led organizations, a looming question is how to respond to an especially uncertain financial future. Revenue is never guaranteed, but these times have taken uncertainty to another level. What kinds of adjustments should you consider making today to help your organization navigate this storm? ECCU has been serving churches, ministries and Christian-led organizations for decades. That experience has taught us and our members some helpful lessons.
We had a conversation about these concerns recently with ECCU Relationship Managers Michael Garcia and Chris Hernandez. Here’s what they had to say.
When faced with a challenge, the first things you do, often prove to be the most important. Here’s a good starting point.
Before adjusting your budget, figure out what’s essential.
The term “essential” comes up in many pandemic conversations. It’s the right starting point for making decisions about budget adjustments. Think of essential as those things your organization must keep doing to stay on mission. If you’re a school, this might mean things like providing a top-tier Christian education or helping students develop a healthy biblical perspective. Small businesses might focus on providing specific products or services or investing in a certain social good initiative. These are the places you want to invest the revenue you do receive. How do you decide what’s essential?. Here’s an objective way think about this: Since finances support vision, whoever casts/carries your vision should be the ones who decide what’s essential. Obvious ones for churches could be to declare and demonstrate the gospel or to support gospel-centered missions work in a specific city or country. Once you’ve identified who carries the vision in your organization, these people must be able to:
- Prepare wisely. After you identify what’s essential, you can prioritize expenses and plan for contingencies. Do a cash flow analysis to get a detailed look at which line items are actually supporting essential efforts. This will help you to determine whether and how to cut or reallocate funds. For example, if you’ve been planning to fill a certain position in a role that’s only tangential to your core purpose, you’ll want to rethink making that investment. That might just free up the budget dollars to keep a person or two on the payroll who will be essential long after the pandemic ends.
- Monitor closely. You need to know if current revenues can pay for essential activities. And if revenue trends turn down, you need to know immediately so you can respond appropriately. Waiting for a monthly report could keep you from making adjustments in time to avoid a larger problem. Close monitoring also helps you project how long alternative funding sources, like cash reserves, might last. If your revenue drops $5K per week, compare that decline to your reserves and you’ll find out in a hurry how much time you have to put contingency plans in place.
- Respond quickly. With the financial landscape changing so rapidly, a typical meeting schedule (say monthly, quarterly or annually) won’t work. Short-notice meetings should be expected so that quick decisions can be made about how to adjust spending. If missions are a church’s priority, for example, a drop in giving would require quick action. Deciding today to postpone a planned roof replacement scheduled for next week could preserve essential financial support for missionaries. If you’re in the business of building houses and the cost of lumber jumps 25 percent while home sales slide 20 percent, that’s something you need to know, well yesterday!
One benefit of taking this kind of reasoned, measured approach to adjusting your budget during the pandemic is that it gives you the flexibility to change course based on what you’re learning along the way. Like one ECCU member church. The pastor said that when things return to “normal” again, they plan on going from two to five services but won’t do children’s ministry for awhile, based on our current understanding of social distancing.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind. I mentioned earlier the kind of social-good initiatives that many organizations have embraced. It’s possible the pandemic has highlighted the fact that one of those items you’ve tagged as essential is proving to be especially so right now. Maybe that’s your cue to move this initiative up on your essential list for the longer term, after the elusive new normal arrives. For example, are you committed to countering domestic violence? Indications are that it’s increased significantly as we’ve all been sheltering in place. For victims, the need for safe shelter has become even greater.
At ECCU, one of our “essentials” is to help our members stay focused on theirs. As you clarify your essentials, it helps to know how much liquid capital an organization like yours should have on hand. If you haven’t done so lately, contact one of our Relationship Managers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.921.1130.