Ministry Financial Indicators and Online Banking Survey

SUMMARY

In October 2009, members of ECCU’s Ministry Advisory Panel (MAP) were asked which financial indicators are meaningful for evaluating their ministries’ performance. Their response: 62.5 percent stated that cash reserves is a meaningful metric for financial health. Cash flow was a distant second. The panelists were also asked how likely they were to use various online banking tools and features.

**The MAP 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.

ONLINE BANKING TOOLS/FEATURES

When asked about the perceived benefits of online tools and features, including those associated with online banking, the panelists’ responses revealed that:

  • Fraud prevention tools and features were the most popular, with a mean score of 3 on a 4-point scale.
  • The ability to order cash online was the least popular feature.

This survey also identified that 64 percent of ministry panel members would be likely or highly likely to use a dual control authorization feature with their online banking (see chart below).

This contrasts with previous MAP surveys, where close to 87 percent of panelists stated they have already implemented dual control process in their general cash handling practices, and presents a 23 percent gap for the likelihood of panelists using dual control authorization in their cash handling practices.

 

MEANINGFUL FINANCIAL INDICATORS

We also asked panelists to list specific financial indicators that have been meaningful for evaluating their ministry’s performance.

Multiple financial indicators were listed by 35 percent of panelists; 42 percent listed only one indicator. Our analysis of their responses produced the following categories:

As the chart reveals, 48 percent of all the responses identified cash reserves as a meaningful financial performance indicator (this represented 62.5 percent of all panelists). When we combine responses for cash reserves and liquidity (another way to measure readily available cash), 53 percent of responses identified cash position as a meaningful financial performance indicator for their ministries.

How important is this metric? The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) defines cash reserves as the number of days or months of operating expenses available in cash (the ministry’s annual budget divided by the average balance of cash). This metric helps determine the strength of a ministry’s position. The ECFA reports that their members with an annual budget of less than $1 million usually have over 80 days of expenses in cash. Those with budgets greater than $10 million maintain only 30 days of expenses.

It would seem, then, that the need for cash reserves diminishes as a ministry’s annual budget increases. What may be troubling, however, is that in ECCU’s second MAP survey, 48 percent of panelists stated that they only maintain 0–2 months of their annual operating budget in cash. Since 75 percent of MAP panelists have an annual operating budget under $10 million, it appears that most panelists are not following ECFA’s best practices for cash reserve levels. Perhaps that is why this metric captured such disproportionate attention.

Cash flow was the second most popular financial metric with 17 percent of responses. Cash flow is the difference between money coming in and money going out over a set period of time. (This metric does not account for depreciation.)

While profitability metrics like return on investment (ROI) or return on assets (ROA) were not listed, that makes sense because all panel members represent non-profit organizations. However, it’s important to note that whether for-profit or non-profit, all organizations must track their finances in a way that allows them to know their financial position and thereby ensure financial stability.

Also missing among the panelist responses was current ratio, which is the ratio of current assets to current liabilities. This metric is important because a negative trend over a number of years is a clear indication of a ministry’s declining financial health.

CONCLUSIONS

In summary, 62.5 percent of all panel members surveyed consider cash reserves to be a meaningful financial metric. This may explain why the most downloaded resource from ECCU’s website is our liquidity white paper. This resource addresses the question of how much liquidity (cash reserves + available cash in the form of a credit line) is enough according to your ministry type—church, Christian school, or parachurch ministry.

The liquidity white paper also suggests these three practical steps for determining the adequate liquidity level for your ministry:

Step 1: Determine your ministry’s transaction requirements

Step 2: Determine your ministry’s precautionary requirements

Step 3: Determine your ministry’s speculative requirements

RECOMMENDATION

This survey affirms that liquidity management is essential to the financial health of any ministry. Take the time to test your current cash reserves levels against best practices by reading ECCU’s white paper, Liquidity: How Much Is Enough? And, for a strategic approach to matching your ministry’s vision with financial indicators like ROI and ROA, read George Babbes and Michael Zigarelli’s book The Minister's MBA: Essential Business Tools for Maximum Ministry Success.

 

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