In 20 years of finance and accounting, the task I despised above all others was collecting receipts for my team. If you share my frustration here, keep reading. But if you enjoy tracking receipts from everyone, you can stop reading right now because my goal is to take lessons learned over two decades to make this task as easy as possible.
First, let me acknowledge the most difficult part of receipts: what do I do about my pastors or senior leaders? They often fail to get their receipts turned in, and what am I supposed to do? I can remind them, but this only goes so far, and I don’t want to nag them or interrupt their important work. But how am I supposed to be a good financial steward if I just ignore that I am missing a lot of receipts from them? If I let it slide now, the problem will only get worse.
Several years ago, I decided to do something about my team members not turning in receipts, including documenting the process so that I could also help other churches and nonprofits with this problem. I cofounded KleerCard, an app and card program for churches and nonprofits, to help solve this problem with some really cool technology. But technology is only one component. Like many other management areas, properly solving problems requires alignment between people, processes, and technology.
Getting receipts from one individual several years ago became such a problem that I almost quit my job. Month and year-end close was late, Amazon receipts took me hours to track down, and I was worried the rest of the team would begin to get sloppy with their receipts. In desperation, I turned that special someone’s card off and waited for them to call me so we could have a challenging conversation. This tough conversation was ultimately productive; it was clear to me that there had to be a better way to manage corporate credit card compliance easily.
The advantage ministries have in approaching the issue of financial management is that we all recognize that we are accountable not just to the government or our donors but ultimately to God. Stewardship is the foundation of our work. Whenever I have brought this up with church leaders, they agree before I finish my sentence.
We finance professionals must confess that we often care about stewardship when it means holding others accountable, but we often overlook stewardship when it means maximizing others’ ability to do their jobs. For example, our leaders need to steward their time; turning in receipts for $4 of coffee is not a good use of their time. How often do we forget this?
Put a policy in place for your team about what your threshold for receipts should be. For reference, the IRS does not require receipts for food, coffee, and meals under $75. While your organization may not be able to go this high, it is vital to steward everyone’s time and ensure we are not requiring receipts for routine items in a way that detracts from the overall mission.
So, work with your leadership to implement a policy that best uses your time and theirs. One example I have seen you may consider for a starting point: “No receipt required for $40 and under if that institution does not sell alcohol, and a detailed receipt for every meal or snack at an institution that does sell alcohol.” Practically, this makes coffee and fast food easy as part of everyday operations and adds transparency for fancier meals.
As we know too well, just having people agree to something does not mean they will do it. (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?) Here is the real key: you have to build a process that makes it easier for people to be accountable for their policies.
We all want to be well respected for our role in the mission. With this in mind, I have found that an organization that will devote 15 seconds to receipts in the staff meeting is much happier at the end of the month than any other organization. Here is what I mean:
For each staff meeting, ask to reserve one slide or one stand-up to acknowledge those who have done a great job publicly and identify anyone from whom you still need some help. When done in a respectful, even playful manner, this is so helpful for transforming organizational culture. Try something like this:
“I want to thank Katie, Emily, and Stew for getting all their receipts in and coded this month. You have made our team’s lives much easier with your efforts. And for Owen and Elinor, please try to get all your receipts in by the end of the day or speak with me about what we can do to make this easier.”
That’s it. It is quick, easy, and effective for driving change.
Finally, we live in the 21st century, and many of our younger staff couldn’t send a fax if you offered them $1,000. Don’t have your team spend their energy writing on receipts, typing into spreadsheets, or uploading into Google Drive only to have to spend hours reconciling. There is some amazing technology to help us steward the resources entrusted to us.
KleerCard is one of those technologies and shares the vision of the mission of the Church. KleerCard can help your team with real-time notifications when they spend and includes an easy-to-use app to instantly upload a picture of the receipt. It can save your finance staff many hours each month by simplifying your ministry’s expense tracking and seamlessly importing to Realm Accounting, PDS Ledger, or ACS General Ledger.
With alignment of people, processes, and technology, you can equip your team with what they need to ensure every minute and every dollar possible is used to further your ministry’s mission.
About Owen Hill
Owen Hill is a cofounder of KleerCard and has spent 20 years in finance and operations leadership roles for nonprofits. KleerCard helps churches and nonprofits organize and control all their spending, from credit cards to bill pay to reimbursements, with one easy-to-use app. KleerCard can help you save 12-28 hours a month on managing expenses.