When You’re Responsible for Other People’s Money

by Jac La Tour, ECCU Communications Manager
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

You never know what you’ll find in Wikipedia. I was looking for information about the 1991 movie Other People’s Money and discovered that Louis Brandeis, namesake of the well-known university near Boston, wrote a collection of essays that was published in 1914 as a book titled Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It. In the Wiki summary of the book, Brandeis, who later became an associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, sounds prophetic:

“Brandeis harshly criticized investment bankers who controlled large amounts of money deposited in their banks by middle-class people. …Brandeis supported his contentions with a discussion of the actual dollar amounts—in millions of dollars—controlled by specific banks, industries, and industrialists such as J. P. Morgan, noting that these interests had recently acquired a far larger proportion of American wealth than corporate entities had ever had before.”

Brandeis’ book turned the spotlight on financial institutions, much as the economic crisis is doing today. This scrutiny was appropriate then, as it is now or whenever an organization takes responsibility for other people’s money. Federal regulators agree and, you’ll be pleased to know, they are examining credit unions like ECCU more frequently now.

Of course around here it’s generally understood that a unique financial institution like ECCU answers to a higher authority than the National Credit Union Administration. We’re responsible for ministry funds, much of which originated as other people’s money, people who gave because they know that God owns it all. You’re responsible for this money too.

This is one reason we make such a big deal of managing ministry funds. We use terms like “cash management” and talk about the importance of “protecting your ministry’s assets,” but when you get right down to it, what we do with other people’s money is part of a much bigger financial picture. And the ultimate goal isn’t to become really good at developing the latest and greatest financial plan. The goal is to be sure this money is invested wisely in God’s redemption plan.

So the next time you’re under the spotlight, being asked to explain or justify the way you manage ministry funds, I say welcome the scrutiny. We do. If the way we’re handling other people’s money passes the test, great. And if we discover some things that need to change, that’s great too. Because Louis Brandeis was right. When you’re responsible for large amounts of money, you must never forget who it belongs to.

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