Weathering the Recession Survey: How Ministries Are Coping in this Economic Crisis

SUMMARY

In August 2009, members of ECCU’s Ministry Advisory Panel** were asked about their cash handling practices. This was a follow-up to a previous survey in which panelists expressed a high degree of confidence in their ability to set appropriate cash management policies and procedures. The results of the August survey reveal that the competence expressed in February is in line with panelists’ actual practices: 90 percent have documented procedures and 87 percent have implemented dual custody procedures. On the topic of the economy: Slightly less than half of all ministries maintain only 0-2 months of their budget in cash reserves; 65 percent of ministries plan to budget differently next year.

**The Ministry Advisory Panel is composed of ECCU member and non-member evangelical ministry staff and leaders representing churches, Christian schools, and other evangelical ministries. This report was produced by ECCU’s research department.

DOCUMENTED CASH HANDLING PROCEDURES

In February 2009, ECCU asked Ministry Advisory Panel members to rate their expertise at implementing processes and procedures for collecting, counting, storing, and depositing cash. On a scale of 1 to 5, they averaged a 4.19 level of expertise. Taking the time to write formal procedures, especially when financial risk is involved, is a best practice that allows ministries to spend more time on their mission and less on dealing with potential errors and other issues.

To discover whether this expertise translated into practice, we asked if panelists had documented cash handling procedures and 90 percent said yes (see chart below). The majority of those who said no said they “know it’s important but haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

DUAL CUSTODY

We also asked panelists about dual custody—the best practice of ensuring that cash is always counted simultaneously by at least two unrelated people. Again, results were in line with our expectations: 87 percent of panelists have such procedures in place.

Conversely, 13 percent of ministries have not yet implemented dual custody—a simple procedure that safeguards your ministry’s financial assets, reduces controversy, and, barring extreme carelessness or collusion, reduces or eliminates the risk of loss. For more information, download the white paper, Handling Cash: A Common-Sense Approach to Securing Your Ministry's Most Liquid Asset.

CASH RESERVES

In response to the question, “On average, how many months worth of your ministry’s annual operating budget do you maintain in cash reserves?” 48 percent of panelists said they maintain only 0-2 months in cash reserves (see graph below).

This tells us that ministries may need to pay more attention to liquidity management—the practice of managing finances in a way that allows ministries to meet their financial obligations and accomplish their mission. In a tough economy, maintaining adequate cash reserve levels can play a key role in liquidity management. To learn more, download the white paper, Liquidity: How Much Is Enough?

Most panelists (51 percent) stated that their ministries’ cash reserve levels were lower than planned, due mainly to reduced revenue/giving. An additional 34 percent said their cash reserve levels were according to plan or higher than planned.

CHANGE IN REVENUE FROM 2008 TO 2009

In response to the questions, “Are you managing your ministry’s budget differently today than you did a year ago? If so, how? If not, are you contemplating doing something different?” 52 percent of panelists said they are managing their budget differently today than they were just a year ago; many also intended to implement changes for the upcoming budget year.

The majority of ministries (40 percent) plan on managing their budget more conservatively while minimizing expenses; 33 percent simply plan to monitor their budget more closely.

 

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