Make Sure Your Revenue Is Secure

The title of this posting can be used as a “mantra” in many organizations, as well as households, today.

Think of it like this:

Make…
Sure…
Your revenue is secure.

To make it a little more personal, substitute “my” for “your” in above statement.

Sounds like a cheer, doesn’t it? It should, since this site is about “Advancement,” and the Advancement Director of any organization can be compared to its cheerleader.  And we need A LOT of cheerleaders right about now!

That phrase is particularly important because of a data breach by a credit rating provider that exposed the personally identifiable information of 148 million Americans.  While that sounds like a very large number, that can be considered as factual “content,” and facts themselves don’t create urgency until they’re put into “context.”  Since the population of the United States is about 327.5 million Americans, but 78 million are under the age of 18 and don’t usually apply for credit, that means there’s a 3 out of 5 chance that credit information about you has been compromised!  Then there are those other services that experience security breaches.  The most recent one is Zynga – an online game service.  It’s estimated that 218 million records were compromised, exposing login information and other passwords.  While that may not necessarily sound imperative, when you realize there are people who use the same password for EVERYTHING, then the realization is a bit darker.

As for parishes, remember that people of the parish count the funds gathered at the offertory, and many parishes have a fire-proof safe in which to house the funds from their Sunday offerings until they can be taken to the bank on Monday (or Tuesday if Monday is a holiday).  Unfortunately, if safes aren’t built into the building, or are incredibly huge and heavy, they can be stolen.  Such was the case at one of our local parishes a number of years ago.  All one has to do is watch an episode of “Storage Wars” on A&E to see how easy “portable safes” are to demolish.  A few years ago, someone decided to steal the Sunday collection from a Cleveland area parish (http://chronicle.northcoastnow.com/2015/02/20/collection-bag-stolen-avon-church/).

Unfortunately, cash is still a source of temptation.  News reports of fiscal impropriety or missing funds at church and school offices are too common today, and make news headlines, like this one: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2015/02/24/former-employee-accused-of-embezzling-438k-from-holy-family-cathedral-school/.

Or this one: http://www.pahomepage.com/news/police-woman-stole-more-than-500000-from-church

And the list can go on.

Today, more and more banking “apps” for Smartphones allow checks to be deposited into checking accounts just by taking a picture of them.  This might be a consideration for some parishes.  If your parish has a Smartphone that you can tie to your parish’s account, you could deposit any checks written to the parish quickly and easily.  But if someone has written a check for a particular amount, and has left the “Pay to the order” line blank because the organization has a “stamp” for that line, and since many banks don’t forward copies of cancelled checks today, there’s always that outside possibility that someone may use the convenience of this new technology for fraudulent purposes.  After all, do you really check the cancelled checks that come to you electronically every month…or do you trust that all your funds were supposed to go where they were supposed to go?  Catholic parishes and churches are under a microscope today, and it would make good business sense to scrutinize every transaction that takes place.   But today, with all the issues being brought to light regarding the issue of clergy abuse and/or harassment, there are groups calling for the monitoring of former clergy when they’re no longer employed by Dioceses.  I really can’t imaging any other organization being called upon to monitor the activities of former employees when they’re dismissed and who are not mandated reporters, as Church leadership is now.  Mandated reporting does not require monitoring after employment dismissal.

There are also some organizations who shy away from electronic transactions because they prefer to receive checks.  The problem with that mindset is that checks have banking account numbers printed on them.  So even if your parishioners want to give you a check, it is now your responsibility to protect those checks, since YOU are responsible (at least partially) if there’s some type of breach of that account holder’s personally identifiable information (PII).  There are even services out there today that are encouraging you to register your checking account numbers with them…before somebody else registers your checking account numbers as theirs!

Scammers have also realized the potential of filing fraudulent tax returns with W2’s they may find in mailboxes, so many companies now have employees log in to their corporate portals and download their W2’s.  If the perpetrators file a fraudulent tax return, they have the refund saved to a debit card which they have sent to a different address, and trying to prove that you are actually, well, you, can be an arduous, frustrating, and expensive task.

Now, there are “spoofers” who use a telephone number to call you that might be recognizable to you due to area code, or, could coincidentally be someone who is in your contact file.   Recently, members of my family saw a phone number on their caller ID, and recognized it as a member of their parish.  They answered the phone, and were immediately connected to a debt settlement company (rather than a debt management company).  And, if you don’t know what the difference is between those two companies, you need to.  The first has the potential to destroy your credit rating.

Every so often, our neighborhood is hit by someone who empties mailboxes on a Friday evening.  After one of these incidents, I received a call from our local police department because a neighbor had found an envelope on his lawn that had my return address on it on Saturday morning.  The police advised us to keep tabs on our credit reports for all members in our family as well as our bank accounts.  Doing a little research, I discovered there could be three reasons for what happened:

  1. Kids just playing around.
  2. Identity thieves looking for pre-approved credit card offers and W2’s
  3. Envelopes addressed to credit card companies, utilities, or mortgage companies which have checks in them.  Thieves aren’t interested in the amounts of the checks.  They want your routing and account numbers from the bottom of your check.

It’s a common practice for folks that don’t use online banking to write checks to when paying their bills, and rather than taking them to the post office or a blue stand-alone mailbox, they place them in their home’s mailbox for the letter carrier to pick up.  If a thief gets a routing number and an account number from a check, they could clean out your bank account.  Even though opening US mail is a federal offense, a criminal is probably not thinking about the consequences of their actions.

The bottom line is that checks were always thought to be more secure than cash.  No one would think about leaving cash just “sitting out,” but many have no fears about checks being kept in plain view or just putting them in a drawer or envelope until they can be taken to the bank.

Not anymore.

Procedures must be put into place to ensure security of funds, and, interestingly, the safest way today is through electronic funds transfer and online banking.   The ability to check account balances on your connected devices can make you quickly aware if something unsavory has happened.

Many parishes today offer the convenience of making their offerings via an online portal.  That’s very important as more and more people are choosing this manner of making contributions.  Then the Sunday offertory can be used for special collections for disaster relief.  If contributions are made online, this can also save time and energy when recording that information into the parish’s contribution records – which is actually your CRM (customer relationship management) system.

What?

Yes, your parish is a non-profit charitable entity.  Non-profit organizations have development directors who are charged with generating the revenue for the organization by increasing the philanthropic (or, in the case of the parish, stewardship) giving.

Since the tax laws changed last year, it’s been seen that it’s had an adverse affect on end-of-year gifts.   But that doesn’t mean that we’re called to stop supporting one another and those in need just because the law has changed.  The members of the early Christian community shared what they had with each other (some even sold their homes).  When there was a famine in Jerusalem in the early days of the Church, St. Paul encouraged the people of modern-day Greece and Turkey (where he was converting souls to Christianity) to help their Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.  Think and pray about the words from St. Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there may be equality. At the present time, your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.’
2 Corinthians 8:13-15
In just a few week’s, it’s going to be Thanksgiving.  It’s not only a great time to give thanks, but to “Thanks give” since it’s what our faith (even if it’s the size of a mustard seed) calls us to do.

 

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