Church parishes, schools, and other Catholic organizations deal with cash, checks, and credit cards on a routine basis during the course of a normal month. Safeguarding assets from accidental or criminal loss can be achieved with a little planning ahead and diligence.
Financial control policies are contained both in the Diocese of Lafayette Policy Manual and School Administration Manual. There are also many best practices, some of which are outlined below, with additional guidance from Catholic Mutual Group and the Office of Risk Management.
Physical safeguards (a.k.a. Lead us not into temptation!)
From receipt to deposit, all monies should be handled by two people. This is known as dual control. It reduces loss, temptation and finger-pointing, and generally makes everyone feel more comfortable. Likewise, other safeguards such as tamper proof bags, a secure drop safe and restricted access to keys and combinations must be utilized. Keys and deposit bags should be numbered and the pastor/administrator should maintain an inventory of who holds these items.
The offertory collection is the most common opportunity for a parish to handle cash and checks. Regrettably, expedience and misplaced trust sometimes outweigh prudence and common sense. As a cautionary example, a volunteer Sacristan was observed by a fellow volunteer holding something underneath his coat. The Sacristan told the volunteer that he would walk the offertory over to the rectory and drop the bags in the safe. On Monday, the count team noticed a bag was missing. The parish utilized the steps below and quickly identified the missing bag and determined the Sunday collection to which it belonged. Needless to say, this information greatly assisted the police investigation, enabling them to quickly recover the stolen bag containing cash and checks.
The proper procedure for securing the offertory or other collection is:
- Prior to the weekend, a person appointed by the pastor/administrator should note bag numbers on a secure bag log. The counting team should account for all bags before counting the collection.
- After the collection at a Mass or other service, the offerings are to be brought to the front of the church for the remainder of the service or immediately placed in a tamper-evident bag.
- The ushers must sign the bag log and seal of the tamper-evident bag and place the bag in the drop safe or other secure area until the end of the service.
- After the service, all funds must be secured in a locked safe by two designated collectors or immediately counted by the count team and deposited.
- Ushers must not sort or pre-count the collection.
- Funds are to be held at a bank or secure drop safe until property counted and deposited.
- The count must be performed by at least two designated, unrelated persons. The collection, in the tamper-evident bag, is retrieved by the two counters and opened by them together. If the bag has been ripped or opened beforehand, the pastor/administrator must be notified immediately.
- The collection must be counted as soon as possible and never more than one business day after the Mass or event. The collection shall be counted on parish premises.
These are the steps for handling collections. A similar procedure is followed for receipts from bingo, fairs, dinners and other events.
- Church envelopes are separated from loose checks and loose cash.
- Currency and coins are organized by denomination.
- All checks are endorsed by stamping “For Deposit Only to (parish bank account number)” on the back of the check. A self-inking endorsement stamp can be used.
- Each counter counts the funds and records the amount on an offertory tally sheet without conferring with the other counter. The offertory tally sheet should differentiate among envelopes, loose checks and cash collected.
- Each counter also confirms that the amount contained in each envelope is accurately noted on the envelope.
- After the funds have been totaled by each of the counters, the amounts are compared and reconciled.
- When the totals agree, a deposit slip is prepared. All funds and checks are placed in another tamper-evident bag.
- The deposit is brought to the bank and a bank-verified deposit slip obtained. Those individuals taking the deposit to the bank should not have access to the inventory of tamper evident bags.
- This slip is attached to the offertory tally sheet and presented to the bookkeeper for recording.
There are many occasions during the school year when cash and checks are handled. Field trips, lunch money, and aftercare are just a few examples. As with Church parishes, schools also need a secure way of handling cash and checks. A secure safe with dual control access is best practice. Keeping cash and checks in a desk drawer or filing cabinet should be avoided - these areas are not as secure and in the event of lost or stolen money, it is possible that multiple people could be implicated, casting suspicion and doubt among staff and volunteers.
Whether it is the school fall festival or church bazaar, handling of cash should be done by two or more people at all times. The Office of Risk Management recommends setting up a central site for cash collections. For game booths and other activities, including food, consider selling tickets at a central site so that cash can be secure. In addition, ticket sales can be reconciled with cash collections to ensure accuracy of all funds and proceeds raised during the event. If large amounts of cash are collected, monies can be placed in a tamper evident bag and taken to the school/church safe.