Five Things Every Board Treasurer Should Know

Published on: March 1, 2014

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The board treasurer has a vital role in the operation of any church. To get some perspective concerning what board treasurers most need to know, we turned to Unity Worldwide Ministries’ COO/CFO Bruce Verkruyse, as well as three Unity ministers with business and/or financial experience: Rev Russell Heiland of Unity of Fairfax, Va.; Rev Scott Schell of Columbine Spiritual Center in Boulder, Colo.; and Rev Doug Werth of Unity of Chattanooga, Tenn.

1. Understand Your Responsibilities

A board treasurer’s key skills should be “the ability to read and analyze financial statements,” Verkruyse says. “This includes balance sheets, budgets, cash flow, revenue and expense, and bank statements.” This may seem obvious, but some board treasurers find themselves thrust reluctantly into the role, often without any financial or accounting background.

Werth notes that in addition to the above, a treasurer is responsible for ensuring the adequate recording, presentation, and interpretation of financial data. “I’ve seen instances where people were very well meaning, but they didn’t know how to present the data or how to interpret it, and it was very confusing for board members. Since one aspect of board membership is fiduciary responsibility, it is important for them to understand the financial status of the church and be able to make decisions based on adequate data.”

Schell agrees. “Most of my board members don’t know how to read a financial, and it’s really important that the treasurer does. And in smaller churches, that board member might actually have to prepare the financials.”

It’s also important for a board treasurer to be aware of current law related to nonprofits, especially with regard to ministerial accounting. Heiland notes, “Accounting as it relates to ministers is really its own category, because they are considered employees for some things and contractors for others. It’s a little bit of both.”

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Although most would agree that the ideal candidate for the board treasurer position would be someone with accounting experience, this is often not the case. Schell says, “It’s important for board treasurers to understand that if they don’t have a financial background, they need to seek help beyond the church. I think it’s dangerous to step in as the treasurer without any financial background and assume you’re going to be fine.”

So where can a board treasurer turn for help? Werth suggests, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, contact a CPA firm that’s familiar with nonprofits and retain them to train you.” He also advises that board treasurers “have a finance committee that includes either the board president or vice president, the minister, and the treasurer at a minimum. Meet regularly and go over the financial statements prior to a board meeting. That’s key.” (See the sidebar for a list of useful resources.)

3. Remember That Being Objective Is Not Being Negative

“I’ve heard in a variety of different Unity settings that if one reports facts that are not glowing, then that’s perceived as being negative,” Heiland observes. “It’s not. What happens is that we make a judgment as human beings on the facts, and that’s what clouds our perception.” In truth, he says, “An organization can’t make adjustments based on wishful thinking. Decision-making must be based on two things: knowledge of spiritual truth and principle, and an appreciation of the facts as they are at any given moment.”

4. Don’t Take It Personally

The board treasurer is not personally responsible for the finances of the church. “Some treasurers take every little monthly shift in income and either celebrate or panic about it, depending on what direction it’s going,” Schell says. “But the treasurer’s role is to bring clarity and hold that bigger view for the church. They’re looking for trends, and they can’t live in a reactionary mode or it will put too much stress on the board.”

Heiland adds, “Always remember that money represents energy, and sometimes the money flow is indicative of what might be happening energetically in a congregation or in a community. To be blunt, if money’s down, something is happening that isn’t drawing excitement or enthusiasm. It’s not necessarily an indictment of the minister, but it speaks to what’s happening throughout the entire congregation.”

5. Keep Business and Spirituality in Balance

There’s no getting around the fact that the church “has got to be run like a business to survive,” Schell asserts. “It needs to have revenues to pay the expenses.” With his background as a CPA, Schell says he tends to “be a realist around our numbers. What I’ve enjoyed is that our treasurer can remind me of the high watch.” The real role of the treasurer, he reflects, is “to bring balance to the gift of the minister. If the minister is the one who holds the high watch, the treasurer can be the one to remind us of what the numbers really are and what actions might need to be taken.”

The most important thing, Heiland says, is for a board treasurer to have “a consciousness of what it means to be in the flow of life, to really be cognizant of prosperity. It doesn’t mean that the board treasurer needs to be wealthy. It means that the board treasurer must know to the depths of his or her being that we are in a flow, that there is enough, and that spirit always provides. At the same time, it is incumbent upon that individual to recognize how the physical world, money, accountants, and tax law play into that as well.”


Also see Resources for Board Treasurers


Lisa Colburn

Lisa Colburn is a writer, writing workshop leader, and former editor of the Alban Institute’s Congregations magazine. She is an active member of Unity of Fairfax in Oakton, Va.

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