Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Setting Policies is Step 1 for Short-term Mission Trips

It is so easy for a church to say “Yes” to sponsoring a short-term mission trip. But it is so much more challenging to put appropriate policies in place before raising the first dollar for the trip.

Too often questions arise after fundraising for the trip begins or, worse yet, after the trip is in progress or finished. It is take-off of the old adage: “A policy in time saves a lot of agony.”

A few of the key issues include:

  • The funding concept. Will the church provide the funds out of its budget? While this is possible, few do. More than likely, trip participants will raise the funds needed for the trip. But are they raising the funds for church or themselves? How does a church demonstrate discretion and control over the funds?
  • Gift acknowledgments. Do gifts to support the expenses of the mission trip qualify for charitable gift acknowledgments? Most probably do; some may not. What is the phrase that should be on all charitable gift acknowledgments? No good or services where provided in exchange for this gift (if this is actually the fact).
  • Refunds of gifts for a trip. Should a church ever refund a gift given for a trip? Generally, no. One of the rare possible exceptions is when a trip is cancelled.
  • Trip expenses. What expenses qualify for reimbursement? The short answer is only those expenses that comply with the church’s accountable expense reimbursement plan. If your church doesn’t have one of those policies—well, it a good time to get one set up before you plan your trip.
  • Church staff participating in trips. When church staff are involved in a trip, should they raise their own support, how many trips a year are permissible for staff and if they are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, how do you track the hours staff are on or off duty? There are no firm answers here but there is certainly much to consider.

For help with these issues, check out a newly posted document on ECFA’s website: Short-term Mission Trip and Mission Field Assessment Visit Sample Policy

Also, consider joining us for 7 Key Issues to Properly Handle Missions Finances Webinar on June 28 cobranded by ECFA and Church Executive, featuring Dan Busby, ECFA president, Samantha Cave, McLean Bible Church global impact administrator, Pat Willow-Kulesza, Willow Creek Community Church director of international serving and John Van Drunen, ECFA vice president.

Click here to register.