Due to the recent COVID-19 developments, our time here in the Foundation office will be limited. However, we will be checking e-mail remotely. Please feel free to e-mail us with any questions or concerns you might have. You can find all of our staff contact information here. We have also had to make adjustments to our withdraw request procedures. You can find directions to the new temporary procedures here.
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone during this trying time.
A funny thing happened to me last week. I went to a meeting. I didn’t log into a meeting. I went there. I put on long pants (not my favorite part), drove to the church, small talked then got to the purpose of our time together. An hour later I was back in my car headed home.
It brought back some fond memories of bygone days. And convinced me it’s time to start doing those things again. With proper precautions and a shared sense of mutual responsibility I believe they can be safe to do.
But what would we talk about?
If you have an investment account with the Foundation, this may be a great time to review your account. Where is it invested? What is it invested in? What has happened in the last six months that you need to be aware of? Does what made sense last year still make sense moving forward? How do you encourage more contributions?
What has happened in your church’s stewardship program since March? Many are surprised at the rate the church is receiving funds, some good and some bad. What are the current best practices?
What about your endowment? Has it been through the wringer? Is it time to finally get one started in your church? Have you realized how important your endowment is but you need to make some changes? Does your current policy just not make sense anymore? How do we talk to your people about giving through their wills and other planned giving techniques?
Foundation consultations are free of charge, confidential and always focused on the next steps necessary to move the project forward. And we at the Foundation have a unique understanding of church best practices, United Methodist polity and federal and state regulations.
Do you care to meet by Zoom? We can do that. In-person meetings are fine as long as everyone is masked and other safety precautions are followed. We can even meet by telephone.
This fall, let’s get back in the habit of connecting, of paying attention to those things in the life of your church that matter and make sure we continue to move forward.
The last six weeks have been a remarkable time for change and innovation in the church. A year ago what would it have taken for your church to agree to worshiping online? Or having a committee meeting through Zoom or Skype? There aren’t many people in the church saying, “But we’ve always done it that way.”
This week it became clear that the social distancing piece of COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. The City of Akron has cancelled all large-gatherings through Labor Day. Public schools in Ohio and across the country won’t be open for the rest of the year. We’re settling into this thing.
Which makes this the perfect time to talk to your congregation about recurring donations through your online giving program.
During your offering invitation on Sunday morning (you are still talking about giving, I trust) offer folks the convenience of an automatic system, either through automatic bill pay from their bank or through your online giving system.
As you begin to frame this, I offer some talking points:
As I have talked with churches about changing how people can provide financial support in new and different ways, habits and existing culture have always seemed to be the biggest hurdles to overcome. This is a time when those walls have been broken down and I encourage you to jump through these openings.
In church circles much of the excitement around the CARES Act has been around the possibility of a church receiving a forgivable loan to cover payroll and other basic expenses during this period. But it also gives us two important pieces to the charitable giving puzzle that should not be overlooked.
In the last two years fewer people are itemizing their tax deductions, instead choosing to take the standard deduction because it’s a higher number than actual deductions and the process is easier. As a result, these folks have no incentive for charitable giving. But beginning this year those taking the standard deduction can also take up to $300 in deductions for charitable giving.
The reality is that $300 isn’t going to move the needle in a significant way for most churches, but it is something we can remind our parishioners about and I am happy that Uncle Sam is working to encourage more charitable giving in these times.
The second piece won’t affect as many people as I would like it to, but it can have a significant change for some.
Currently you can only deduct 60% of your Adjusted Gross Income on your taxes. So if you have income of $100,000 and make charitable gifts of $100,000 (I know, I know, but bear with me) you could only claim $60,000 of that you would have to carry over the remaining $40,000 onto next year’s taxes. For 2020 that 60% rule is eliminated so you could claim the entire $100,000 in giving in one year, effectively eliminating income tax for the year.
The elimination of this ceiling is only for cash donations. Those giving appreciated property such as stocks or real estate still have their deduction capped at 30%.
So who does this affect? Well it would be a good time to have Bill Gates as a member of your church, but think about who has a relatively low income but could give away a big gift. Retirees who live frugally but have accumulated assets would fit into this category.
There is very little if any tax benefit to leaving the church in your will. But this may be a situation where an older member or couple would choose to do their legacy giving now, while they are alive and paying taxes, rather than waiting until they are gone.
Are you ready for that conversation? If such a member came to you and asked what the church would do this year with a gift of $50,000, $100,000 or more, would you have an answer? Would that answer speak of the aspirations of the congregation’s leaders or the scarcity that is revealed when the answer is along the lines of “We could finally pay our bills.”
This is a time when people are thinking differently about money. The churches who benefit from the shift in thinking will be the ones who are doing so differently as well.
We had a great group participate in our webinar this morning. They appreciated the information about not only assessing your situation but how to put on their fundraiser hats and move the mission forward. If you have questions or seek more information, please reach out.
Please feel free to share the link with others who might benefit from it.
Kristi shared some great information about the Small Business Administration forgivable loan program.
The amount of money available for forgivable loans for 8 weeks of payroll, rent, mortgage interest, and utilities is only $349 Billion. That seems like a high amount. However, it is anticipated that demand will be higher. Loans will be made on a first come/first served basis. Getting the application in immediately to an existing SBA7(a) lender tonight is essential, because the SBA is opening to applications on April 3rd.
Here are the best sources of information that I have found about this payroll relief:
Eligibility Verification Tool: https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/
US Treasury Information (continuously being updated)
Wespath Summary of CARES
ECFA Webinar Outline – CARES Act Provisions Relevant for Nonprofits
The loan application is very straightforward requiring minimal information – you need 4 things to get started.
Who can be your authorized signer? It should be a the Trustee Chair, but if another trustee signs that would be fine.
The church’s legal name. Best bet is to check the Secretary of State records. All four states that we serve have online access for this. Search Secretary of State Business Registration and your state name. Look up the name of your church to see what the office name is. Brian’s Note: For Ohio churches here’s the link: https://businesssearch.ohiosos.gov/
The church’s federal EIN number (9 digits – looks like this 12-3456789) (this is NOT the sales tax exempt ID or the State registration number).
Sum total of employee expenses for 2019: Everything: benefits, employment taxes, paid time off. (It is unclear if pastor housing allowance is included, but I would add it for now. I have seen nothing that includes or excludes this.)
Here is what needs to happen as soon as possible:
Calculate the maximum loan amount:
2019 total payroll (including all salary, taxes, paid time off, and any benefits).
Then divide by 12 – this is your Average Monthly Payroll
Then multiply by 2.5 – this is the Loan Amount (maximum).
Fill out application, print and sign – click here
Scan, fax, or email to your SBA7(a) lender tonight.
Then the lender will have documentation that they require.
We know this seems almost too good to be true, especially because religious organizations have never been offered any form of assistance like this. Some are considering this a serious breach of separation and state. Others view this as disaster relief like what they would receive from FEMA after a natural disaster like a hurricane. Each church will need to decide.
But while you are deciding, at least you can hold your place in line by submitting an application this evening or early tomorrow.
So it seems that enough people around the world are sitting around bored that they have decided to find various online meetings and “bomb” them. That is, they go to a meeting they have no interest in attending and just disrupt it as a form of entertainment.
So for Friday’s Improving Your Church’s Cash Flow webinar we will require advance registration. Just click on the link below and give us your name, email, etc. and you’ll get the secret password to let you in.
If you are not able to attend Friday morning at 11, it will be recorded. That information will be distributed Friday afternoon.
This is important information, I hope you can be with us live or through the recording.
About a week ago I wrote About That Cash Flow, a post to encourage you as church leaders to evaluate your situation and how to move into a better place.
My colleague, Kristi Kinnison from the Mountain Sky United Methodist Foundation in Denver, expanded upon those thoughts and the two of us have collaborated on a more thorough approach. You can download that collaboration here.
If you would like to learn more, Kristi and I will host a Zoom webinar on Friday morning at 11. Please invite the financial leaders of your church to be part of this meeting
To participate you will need to register in advance. To register go to https://zoom.us/meeting/register/upYtcu-uqjks7V2egk_rQZgbpwrCYvRSZw
Here is the link to join us on Friday: https://zoom.us/j/4144790632. Please download the collaboration document in advance.
Whether or not your church has enough money can be measured in a couple of ways. At the end of the year did you take in more than you spent? Were you able to fund your ministry vision or just pay the bills? But in the next few weeks the most important measure is whether or not when a bill is due, you have the money in your checking account to pay it. That’s cash flow.
And because cash in a church usually flows into the offering plate on Sunday morning this can be a tough time to get those bills paid. I’ve talked with several pastors who report in the last two weeks they’ve had incomes equal to “lousy” Sunday offerings. You know what they mean. Perhaps the first Sunday of the month when the children’s choir sings is a really good offering week. Later in the month, when the weather is tough isn’t as good. But it still isn’t as bad as it could be.
So as a first step, figure out where you are. This isn’t complicated. How do the last two virtual Sundays compare to where you would expect the third and fourth Sundays of the month? Are you where you usually are? Were they just lousy offerings? Are you in serious trouble? You need to know this.
Once you do that, I have a few suggestions for moving ahead.
Make you sure you still call for the offering. Whether you’re live streaming a full-blown worship service or are recording a message and emailing it out, remind your congregation about the offering. It can be as simple as suggesting they mail a check to the church, or lift up online giving. If you don’t have online giving at your church, we discussed it last week. You can read that here.
Be in tune with your context. If most of your flock are restaurant servers and retail workers that’s one thing. If most are still getting paid while working from home that’s something else. As we hear the news of layoffs, closing and rising unemployment it’s easy to fall into a scarcity mode where we’re afraid to ask for money. While this is absolutely a reality for some, there’s a good chance not everyone is in the same position.
I suggest you make some calls. Those folks who are still getting paid may actually be in a good place financially as they don’t have commuting expenses, aren’t going to movies and vacations may have been cancelled. Reach out to them, explain what you learned in your analysis of the last two Sundays and respectfully ask if they could increase their giving in the next two months. Could they give three months’ worth of their annual pledge in the next two months, then take December off? Could they commit a portion of their tax refund?
Consider your reserves. What funds are out there, like endowments, savings accounts, that planned gift you received but haven’t quite figured out what to do with? All of these can help, providing there are no restrictions preventing it. If you want to borrow from these, I would hope that you would do it with great transparency. If at all possible, go in with the understanding that this is a loan and will need to be paid back when things get better.
Your financial situation should be discussed with Administrative Board and an overall strategy should be developed which probably involves to some degree all of the above. This is a time for leaders to be leaders.
In the last week the churches of the East Ohio Annual Conference have scrambled to figure out how to live stream their worship services. Some have full-blown Sunday morning productions, others are pastors in front of their cell phones offering a message and a prayer.
And once they got that figured out by Sunday, they started calling my office on Monday trying to figure out electronic giving. Because passing the plate is really hard when no one is in the sanctuary, isn’t it?
For years, I have recommended Vanco as a service provider. I find them to have great customer service, a quality product, the best in online security and just for fun if you call their Minnesota offices they all sound like Garrison Keillor on Prairie Home Companion, a real bonus in my book.
Now I can’t say that I have look exhaustively at every single provider and determined that Vanco is the best, so if you would like to spend your time during this hectic time doing so, be my guest. But if you just need to get this thing done by Sunday, call Vanco.
Besides, you already use them. Any time you send money electronically to the conference for apportionments, retirement or health insurance payments, are done through Vanco. It’s also endorsed by GCFA.
Vanco offers two levels that I suggest you look into. The web page and mobile app offer you the chance to have them build a page that connects to your church’s web page. They do the work to make it look seamlessly with what you already have. And the mobile app is a portable version of the same thing.
Cost for this is $10 per month, and they will waive the charge for the first four months.
The next addition is text to give. You’ve seen this with organizations like the Red Cross, send a text to a given number to give a gift. This is great if you need to be able to give very easy and simple directions during your webcast. Cost for this is an additional $5.
Set up is quick and easy. If you call today, they will do most of the work and you will be in business by Sunday morning.
Once you’re ready to go, there are per use charges:
Now at this point you may be tempted to do the math and worry about paying some fees. But I think you should also consider the cost of not doing so. What is the cost of your giving slowing to a trickle until your sanctuary is populated again? What is the cost of not accommodating your parishioners’ needs at this time?
To get started, just reach out to Vanco. I called their toll free number, 855.213.3705 and was on hold for about ten minutes. My new buddy Zach Olson, who I talked to, offered his direct line, 952.352.8155 and suggested leaving a message if he’s on another call.
A board member of mine is fond of saying “Never waste a good crisis.” I’ve thought for years that all of our churches should be using online giving. Maybe this is the crisis that prompts that important action.
I grew up in a very United Methodist home. Going to Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance on Sunday was never in question. Dad was the Lay Leader for our church, my brothers and I did Sunday School, UMYF, various choirs and projects. We earned our Eagle Scout Award from the church’s boy scout troop. We were in it deep. But we were in a United Methodist silo. Other than going to Camp Wanake the United Methodist didn’t exist beyond the corner of Arch and Broadway.
Oh, and we thought that we were the Christ United….Methodist Church. Not the Christ….United Methodist Church.
Then at age 32 I went to work for what was then the Berea Children’s Home. In my first few months my boss gave me United Methodist orientation. I was surprised to learn that we had a bishop, and districts and superintendents over those districts. I grew up 15 minutes from Copeland Oaks and had no idea that it was connected to us.
For those of us deep in the United Methodist system, last week’s General Conference was devastating. Yesterday at my church in Strongsville I talked of the pain and anguish I felt as we as a church voted to further disenfranchise LGBTQIA+ and the impact this can have, especially with younger generations.
But as much as we are focused on this, many in our congregations are not. Many, perhaps most, are in their silos.
I’m also reminded of the words of Bishop Tracy Malone, for whom I am so grateful at times like these.
“Keep the main thing the main thing.”
If your church’s main thing is taking foster kids to camp, keep that your main thing. Nothing we did in St. Louis will keep you from doing that. If your main thing is children’s programs, a food pantry, Upwards Basketball, tutoring elementary school kids who are at risk, feeding kids in the summer when school cafeterias are closed, housing homeless families, whatever your main thing is, keep doing it.
Keep the main thing the main thing.
I am confident that we can get the General Conference thing figured out. We simply have to.
I believe in the Connection, I believe that as 800 churches linked together we can do great things. If you don’t believe me take a field trip to the Urban Mission in Steubenville or Flat Rock Care Center.
We have 61 weeks between now and General Conference 2020. Can your church find 61 lives your church has changed and invite those people to share their stories? Can you find 61 ministries to celebrate? Where does your church write checks for mission? Where does it send volunteers? What are the ministries in your church?
I challenge you to spend five minutes at the beginning of each and every of the next 61 Sundays celebrating the Main Thing.