Shortly after I began working at our church, I noticed that not all the offices had windows. Some of that was logistics; there was not enough wall space for each office to have a window. For some on staff, it became a touchy subject because they counseled people and needed privacy. And others in the office work with sensitive information and need privacy. These are all legitimate reasons for privacy, but how much is too much? In the end, we decided to put windows on any office door where there was not already a window in the wall achieving accountability with privacy. Sharing the church budget with the congregation can have that same tension. How much of the church budget should be shared? How much and what should remain private? The truth is, not everyone in the church is interested in the budget, and even fewer can or will grasp all the costs associated with operating a church. But integrity matters, and that is why the National Council of Nonprofits says that transparency and accountability are so important in building trust.
Trust is a gift. Some people come to a church and give their trust (and money) immediately; they start from a position of trust. For others, trust is something earned over time; trustworthiness needs to be proven. Two of the best ways to gain and keep trust are to be accountable and be transparent. That means your church needs to create a budget, follow it, and share the progress with the congregation. Doing this will probably bring about some questions from the donors/stakeholders. That’s okay; you want that! When someone invests their financial resources to support the church’s mission, they expect a level of accountability. With each question you answer, you build trust with your church. A word of caution, answering questions about the church budget and the progress made throughout the year is not the same as allowing donors to sway, influence, or otherwise dictate the allocation of funds. That role belongs to the budget team. In fact, capitulating to the demands or suggestions of donors might even erode the established trust. Be accountable, be transparent, be available, and be confident.
How Much to Share
When sharing the budget with the church body, more isn’t always better. Obviously, the church needs to be as open and transparent as possible, and finding the sweet spot in the tension between transparency and privacy is the key. Each church must follow its policies, covenants, and ordinances. But whenever possible, avoid sharing individual compensation information. For example, instead of listing each missionary and their financial support, combine the amount when sharing this sensitive information with the church as one total to missionary support. For compensation, the same strategy is best. Use a summary of the totals for Salary, Taxes, Benefits, and Retirement making it impossible to discern an individual income, yet providing the transparency required to show the amount allocated to compensation. This strategy shares everything needed for accountability and transparency without violating the privacy of the church staff.
Sharing the church budget is a little like adding windows into the doors at the office; you may encounter some resistance for valid reasons. But, the benefits outweigh the concerns. Sharing the budget builds and maintains trust. It provides accountability and transparency without sacrificing necessary privacy. Sharing the church budget is a strategic way to build confidence with the donors/stakeholders to enable the church to carry out the mission.