It was a Greek Orthodox church of about 250 members – but it could have been your church. They hired one of their members as a secretary/bookkeeper to keep things straight. Her job was to run the office, of course, and this included opening the mail, taking care of folks who came in to the office, and keeping the books straight. And she was trusted, like all embezzlers. Like the people who handle money at your church.
Turns out that over a two year period she wrote checks to herself, pocketed cash from donations, and kept rent money from properties owned by the church. The total was over $141,000. She’s now serving ten years in prison. Link
Again, we see one person being given the responsibility that should have been shared by two. Two should receive the mail, open the mail, and record checks that come in. Two should received checks and issue receipts. Two should count the cash and prepare the deposit. And two should sign the checks. Here, this secretary/bookkeeper appears to have been in charge of everything. The news accounts don’t tell us, but you can bet that nobody was reviewing the bank statements she was reconciling, either.
How To Prevent This From Happening At Your Church
- Have all bank statements and credit card bills sent to the pastor for an initial ‘smell-check’. After review, they get sent to the bookkeeper for reconciliation.
- Mail should be opened by two people, with checks logged immediately (or photocopied or photographed and sent to the bookkeeper and audit committee). The checks should be immediately stamped with a “for deposit only” stamp with the church name and account number.
- Cash should be received, recorded, and receipted by two people.
- The bookkeeper should never have check-signing authority, or access to signature stamps or digital signature files.
- Blank checks should be numbered and locked up unless needed for bill-paying. Once prepared for signature, they should be given to someone else for signing – along with supporting documents like invoices and bills.
- Two should sign checks over a certain amount: many choose $500 as the threshold, but some authorities suggest $50 – or just require it for all church checks. The bank should have it in writing to require the two signatures, and the requirement should also be printed on the checks.
- Someone OTHER than a church finance person should look at the check register, bank statements, and check images each month. This person doesn’t have to push numbers around or dig deep into the books: with even a casual inspection this sort of embezzlement would have been caught the first month.