The Pastor’s Pocket

The Pastor’s Pocket

March 21, 2020 Uncategorized 0
When you’re a small church, the pastor gets to do most everything. Here, the pastor helped with donation checks, the mail and the collection box. And helped himself…
The Case

George Harris, 58, was the pastor of New Day Fellowship Church in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Members put their contributions into a collection box most of the time. But they also handed him checks and cash for their tithes and offerings.

Some of that money actually made it into the church coffers.But for 47 individuals, checks took a different route. To the tune of $69,915. And nobody knows how much cash wandered.

Pastor Harris DID deposit 174 of those checks into an account in the church’s name. But it was a secret account he opened in the church name, at a bank across town.

Some members noticed discrepancies in their annual giving summary reports. The church confronted him, and he confessed and resigned. In his confession, he also described taking checks from the mail. And checks and cash from the collection box

He was arrested on felony charges of theft of property and financial identity theft.

Fraud experts call this “skimming” – the fraudster steals the money before it ever hits the books. This makes it hard to determine how much they stole. Here, he himself claims he doesn’t know how much cash he stole. But the bank records show $69,915 in check deposits from 47 individuals.

The “hole” in procedures here was that one person had access to the cash and checks by himself. And it was easy: people handed it to him. He also had access (by himself) to the mail, and could lift checks. And to the collection box – which he pilfered as well.

Note that people will often hand cash or checks to a pastor, elder, or deacon. This puts that person in temptation’s way – will that twenty get to the collection or not? But even if they are strong, this ALSO puts them at risk should someone wish to make a false accusation. If they never accept contributions, it’s hard to make such an accusation stick! Better to refer them to donate next week, or have a two-key collections box bolted to a wall somewhere in the lobby.

How To Prevent This At Your Church 

Drop safe

It’s LOTS safer if two unrelated people handle cash and checks.

When a parishioner wants to give money to the church, it should go into the collection plate. If the member is late, he can donate next week (or online).

Mail arriving at the church should go into a two-key depository safe. When it’s convenient, the secretary (one key holder) and someone else open the safe. They find the checks and immediately stamp them for deposit only. With the stamp from the CORRECT bank!

Another way to handle arriving mail is to use tamper-evident plastic bags. One person keeps the bags under lock and key. He or she issues bags to the front-desk person and keeps record of the serial numbers on the bags. When mail arrives, the carrier places it into the bag. The secretary (holding the bag) seals it, and they both sign and date it. When it’s convenient, the secretary and a second person open the bags and process the mail. They stamp the checks for deposit only. And each separately reports the serial numbers to the bag-issuer. Sounds complicated, and it would be awkward the first time or two. But it would soon become routine. Bags like this cost 15-21 cents on eBay.

 Best Choice?
Consider our church audit service – it’s easy and surprisingly affordable. We help find holes in financial procedures and tell you how to plug them.
  • Your church’s chief money person answers a bunch of questions online
  • He or she fields questions out to others as needed;
  • Others review the answers and make any necessary corrections.
  • We produce a book showing what is being done well and what to improve.
  • The book also includes a ‘best practices’ section and a plan to do it all with the fewest number of people;
  • We print copies of the book for the pastor and each board member.
  • We then meet by video conference to discuss implementation.

Next Step