What a Successful Church Accounting Department Manager Looks Like
If you will be taking on a position as a church accounting department manager, the following considerations may be helpful. If that position is currently filled, you may want to use this list to assess your current church accounting leader’s strengths and areas for improvement — even if that leader is you!
Understanding the Role
The titles and responsibilities for this position can vary from church to church. Larger ministries may have an executive pastor as well as a controller in addition to various accounting positions such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, and payroll clerks. Smaller ministries may have a business administrator who is responsible for bookkeeping functions as well as facilities, IT, and human resources.
Whatever the specific title and responsibilities, however, the basic objectives of an accounting department leadership position generally include:
- Ensuring the integrity of financial matters so all accounting policies and practices are compliant with accepted accounting principles and related oversight (e.g. Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, etc.)
- Working with management on specific budgeting and expense reporting
- Working with auditors on successful completion of the annual audit
- Managing the finance team to best utilize the staff and volunteer resources available
Depending on your church, the accounting department manager job requirements may include:
- A personal testimony of faith. This may or may not also require attendance at your congregation.
- A team mindset. The individual needs to lead any subordinates in a way that allows them to grow professionally. He or she also needs to support other church leaders to encourage a spirit of cooperation.
- Strong communication skills. There is a misconception that accountants have little interaction with other people, but it is actually important that accounting leaders be able to communicate well, both verbally and in writing. These individuals will consistently communicate with department leaders and may be required to make presentations to boards, committees, and possibly even the congregation at large. Strong writing skills will also help accountants prepare and maintain adequate policies and procedures manuals as well as effectively use email, the most common communication tool today.
- An ability to build and maintain effective processes. The individual in this role needs to understand the most important components of each process, whether that is how to complete payroll or maintain an adequate structure of internal controls. The leader then needs to be able to implement the steps necessary to be efficient and effective with the limited resources available.
- Leadership experience. Even if there will only be a few people reporting directly to the accounting department manager, he or she will still oversee work done by others, possibly through the use of volunteers. The leader in this role needs to understand how to motivate and develop people in a way that is consistent with the church’s values.
- Proficiency in accounting. Consider the individual’s accounting experience. Many people today take jobs at churches in the second half of their career. They may have valuable experience, but it’s important to realize there are some key differences between for-profit and nonprofit accounting. These individuals will need time — and probably training — to come up to speed on the unique requirements of nonprofit accounting. You should also consider your church’s particular needs. If your church is small, your payroll is outsourced, and the only accounting requires cutting checks and making deposits, then someone with bookkeeping experience may be sufficient. If your church is growing, has multiple revenue streams, works with a sophisticated board or finance committee, and/or enters into various financial contracts, then you need a much broader level of experience, either on staff or through outsourced arrangements. No matter what size your church is, the individual in this leadership position should have experience with these basic activities:
- Maintaining a general ledger
- Performing account reconciliations
- Preparing financial reports
- Preparing budgets
- Completing month-end and year-end close procedures
- Preparing 1099s
- Overseeing or completing payroll processing
- Experience with your accounting system. While this isn’t a “must-have,” it certainly reduces the time required to learn your church’s processes and can minimize errors made early on. If the individual doesn’t have significant experience with your system, make sure he or she connects with other users or attends training.
- A willing spirit. The job description in a ministry position always seems to include “other duties as assigned.” People don’t come to work at a church for the financial rewards. It is imperative that the individual in this role senses a calling to the work and has a spirit of cooperation to do what it takes to get the job done — even if it doesn’t fall under the assigned responsibilities.
Aside from the requirements related to accounting proficiency and experience with your accounting system, you will notice the above list is applicable to nearly any church leadership position. You may find it useful during the hiring process.
There are many training resources available today, and we will discuss some of them in additional articles. In the meantime, consider whether your church is being well-served and what areas may need improvement. Pick something to work on, and make a plan for change. It won’t happen unless you set some specific goals. Remember: this is critical for the church to operate at its full potential.
This article first appeared on ChurchLawandTax.com.