Monday, March 26, 2012


Most congregations have some form of tellers that count the Sunday offerings. There are no regular patterns:
  • some count on Monday, some on Sunday
  • some count during the service, some count after worship
  • some copy checks, some write down all the info
  • some enter data into the database system, some fill out forms and leave the docs for the finance office
  • some take an hour, some take almost an entire day to count
  • some teller teams have been disbanded leaving the job for the finance office staff and some teller teams will never give up their prize job
The purpose in having a Teller Team is to ensure that all funds are counted and deposited. It is a carry forward from days when the church didn't have a staff to count the money - volunteers took turns counting the Sunday collection and depositing the money. In many, if not most, churches, those days are long past but the committee lives on and on and on and on. Most tellers will tell you they feel they are protecting the church by ensuring that no one steals the money. Funny story - I worked at a church where the extremely zealous Teller Team never wanted the church staff to touch the money and they cited a story from 50 years ago when money was stolen - but it was stolen by a member of the Teller Team!

Let me suggest the easiest way possible for both the Teller Committee and for the Finance Office staff. This will save time, improve accuracy, cut down on gossip, and make everyone happy - yes, it sounds too good to be true!
  1. Once the tellers have the offering, they should spread it out on a table
  2. The tellers should go through the pile and gather all loose dollars and coins
  3. All loose plate cash should be added and written on the deposit slip on one detail line
  4. Then the tellers should stack and open all envelopes (but not pull out the contents)
  5. Envelopes with checks should be placed in one stack and envelopes with cash in a separate pile (envelopes with both, which is rare, should be in the cash pile first and then moved to the check pile after the cash has been removed and noted on the envelope)
  6. Cash in the envelopes should be removed and the amounts written on each envelope
  7. All envelope cash should be added and written on the deposit slip (same one as #3) on a detail line
  8. Then total all the cash and coins and write them on their respective lines at the top of the deposit slip. Two members of the teller team should initial the deposit slip so that an alternate slip is not made.
  9. You now have one deposit slip and all cash (currency and coins) for the bank
  10. A member of the teller team can take the cash deposit to the bank or leave it for the staff to deposit
  11. Next, rubber band all the cash envelopes together and another stack of the check envelopes
  12. Take the stacks of envelopes to the finance office in a locking bank bag
  13. The tellers have now finished their job and can leave.
    1. Because the tellers do not see the amounts on the checks, they do not see what various people give. All too often I've seen tellers discuss a gift by Mrs. Smith and that this week's check is bigger/smaller than last weeks and then wonder aloud what that means about her. Confidentiality is paramount in dealing with church money and if you have gossipy tellers, you've got a problem. Removing the temptation by removing the checks solves that problem!
  14. The financial assistant will then scan the checks (if you don't have a check scanner, you've gotta get one - they're not terribly expensive but they are incredible timesavers!).
    1. In every church I've seen, the financial assistant and a scanner are 10 times faster and more accurate than the tellers. All too often tellers make a (very human) mistake which means their total is not equal to the finance office total and that make the assistant have to search for the error - time she/he could use on something else.
  15. When the financial assistant scans the checks, she/he can also scan the envelopes and the software will record an image of both check and envelope should you ever need to refer to them again (that happens more often than you think)
  16. After scanning, the assistant gets a report from the software and prepares a deposit slip for the checks (the cash is on a separate deposit - see #8-10).
  17. Ideally, someone other than the financial assistant will take the deposit to the bank to prevent embezzlement.
  18. The offering/deposit totals are then recorded in the General Ledger of the church's financial journal.
  19. The finance office now has a record from the computer of the Sunday offerings and that paper record is rubber banded with the deposit slips and kept for seven years (that's what a record retention schedule recommends). If you have scanned the offering envelopes, then shred them; if not, keep them with the deposit slips.
  20. The financial assistant can now move on to the next project, probably payroll or accounts payable.
These steps are pretty easy to do. The tellers can do their job in about an hour. The financial assisant can do her/his job in about an hour IF there is a scanner (again, get one!). In two hours (maybe 3 for a big offering), all the church receipts can be totalled, prepared for deposit, and entered on the church's database. That will save loads of time that can be used elsewhere.

The tellers will need some equipment such as:
  • A room where the tellers can lock themselves inside to preclude anyone from randomly walking in. Safety and security are paramount.
  • The room should have tables so the offering can be spread out
  • The offerings should ALWAYS be in the possession of two unrelated people. No husband-wife only teller teams or any other familial combinations; if a husband and wife are present, then a third completely unrelated person MUST be present.
  • Locking bank bags are good. If the tellers count right after or during the service, then the offerings should be placed in the bank bag after counting and the bags locked tight.
  • If the tellers finish on Sunday, then the bank bags should be placed in a safe; if the tellers won't count till Monday, then the bank bags should be placed in a safe on Sunday morning. Then, on Monday morning, two people should go to the safe to retrieve the money.
    • To prevent people from stealing money while it it in the safe, purchase a safe that has two combinations and then give the two combinations to separate, unrelated people. Those two people will always have to be present to unlock the safe. (An envelope containing both combinations can be sealed and stored offsite with a church trustee or a bank official.)
  • Since the tellers are only counting cash and coins, not checks, they shouldn't need any adding machines. Even if you got $1,000 in cash, two different people can add that up in their head or writing down figures. Save some money and storage space - don't buy the machines.
Some churches have completely disbanded the tellers and that is fine SO LONG AS you have enough internal controls to prevent one person from handling all the money by him/herself, especially the cash. Checks are not easily stolen (they can be but it is really hard) but cash is easy to pocket. Take adequate measures to protect the staff and tellers, but make the work as easy as possible.

Lead On!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

1Q2012 Statement of Contribution

One quarter of 2012 is almost over so you need to prepare now to send out your first quarterly contribution statement of the year. Some churches send out statements only once a year - let me encourage you to send out statements each quarter plus one more:
  • 1Q2012 - send out in the first 10 days of April
  • 2Q2012 - send out in the first 10 days of July
  • 3Q2012 - send out in the first 10 days of October
  • 4Q2012 - send out the yearly statement by January 31
  • Send out a statement for the first eleven months (January through November) in the first 10 days of December. Why? So that people can see what they've given or not given so far in the year.
But let's get back to 1Q2012!

Sending a statement out in early April makes sense for several reasons:
  • Use this opportunity to send a letter with the statement of contributions explaining to people what their money has been used for. They want to know what the church did with it - so tell them all the good things you've been doing and are planning to do. Share with them a couple of compelling stories - that will make all the difference in the world to some readers.
  • At this time of year (tax-filing season in the US), people's awareness of how much they've given or not (and thus able to deduct from their tax return) is heightened. Since many people have just completed their annual tax forms, they're making promises to themselves to give more away to charity so they can give less to the government. Sending a letter in early April gives them a great reminder to give a check to their church.
  • Easter is typically in early April. Most Christians will come to church on Easter and they'll usually hear a sermon about God's gift to us through Christ. They will hear about giving and sacrifice - this letter is a way to encourage them to tangibly respond with their own gifts.
  • Gentle reminders throughout the year of how much people give to their church are good for both the church and the donor. These reminders are not heavy-hitting or guilt-inducing. These letters are simply nudges in reminding people to be financially faithful to their church - and you're sending these letters to the people who have already "bought in" to the vision of the church, they're already giving!
So, here's your homework for this weekend: find two great stories about what has happened in your church these past three months (since Christmas), put them in a letter, and send the letter with the quarterly statement of contributions.

Oh, one very important fact: send your letters with first class postage. Yes, that is a lot more expensive than bulk mail. But realize that the "open rate" (as opposed the "throw in the trash can rate") of first class stamped envelopes to bulk mail envelopes is something like five to one (don't quote me on that ratio, but it is way up there). People will open an envelope with first class postage far more often - and you want people to open envelopes to read the letter and the statement of contributions. Okay, back to your homework.

Lead On!