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August 18, 2011

Fraudulent Calls to Churches

Responding to desperate requests for help.

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Churches often receive calls for financial help. The most difficult part of these conversations is determining the honesty of the person on the other side of the phone line.

When churches in Florida received a call from a man claiming he needed financial assistance to travel to be with his dying child, a dozen churches called their County Sheriff’s Office fraud hotline, according to a CBS news station. Other churches and individuals gave money to the man without knowing that he was lying. Fortunately, the man has been arrested.

Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), says that creating a policy may protect against this: “Your church would be wise to establish criteria for individuals who may receive assistance. It should also adopt policies on how benevolence funds should be disbursed. A board-approved benevolence fund is an excellent way to handle gifts for needy individuals.”

Setting up a benevolence committee may also be helpful, according to Rod O’Neil, author of Guide to Benevolence Giving for Church and Family. A sample protocol for a church's benevolence program written by O’Neil is offered for free by BuildingChurchLeaders.com.

Another way to respond to calls for financial help is to find programs in your church and the community that might help the caller, Andy Bales says in Christianity Today. Long-term help that comes from being in a community may be what the individual needs the most. Bales writes:

As the manager of several church benevolent funds over the years, I realized that no matter how many safeguards I put up to make sure the funds were dispensed to people truly in need, I could have spent $1 million and not made a dent in the need.
People experiencing homelessness and poverty need a caring community. The scriptural basis for this is the story in Acts of Peter and John healing the lame man. The men respond to the beggar's request for funds not by giving him money but by giving him a better gift: the gift of healing.
People need permanent help in becoming strong. They need a connection with Jesus Christ and a faith community.

Michelle Dowell is the editorial coordinator for the Church Management Team at Christianity Today International.

Related Tags: administrative assistant, benevolence fund, churches, finance, fraud, generosity, giving, office, outreach, phones, scam

Comments

Our community has an organization called Love INC (in the name of Christ) that mobilizes approximately 30 churches. They do all the screening, meet the needs through volunteer's time or items donated by the church members. This takes a lot of pressure off of the individual church staff to determine if a need is legitimate or just someone trying to use the system.

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