Sharing Church management best practices in the Catholic Church
Our current diocesan guidelines recommend that parish finance council members be “…practicing Catholics (obviously); skilled in financial matters, civil law or management; outstanding in character,” etc. As a mission diocese which includes several small rural parishes, we struggle to find volunteers to serve in this capacity who encompass adequate knowledge in financial matters, civil law or management. More often than not, our finance council members include the very gracious and committed volunteer who is retired from an occupation that did not include any exposure to financial matters and who is willing to commit most of his/her time serving the parish’s needs. While we are most grateful for all volunteers within our Catholic community, financial due diligence for all locations should require us to provide the pastor with guidance from qualified individuals for all financial related matters. I often encourage pastors of those communities to openly request volunteers with specific backgrounds (i.e. business owners, CPAs, attorneys, investment managers, etc.) and explain the importance of their service to the Church.
Specifically for rural locations, what are some techniques used in your parishes, diocese, or Catholic non-profit to recruit qualified individuals to serve on the parish financial council or equivalent?
What are finance councilors supposed to do? Jill Braniff is absolutely correct in insisting that finance councilors should be qualified individuals. That's what her diocesan guidelines call for. But I would say that general qualifications (even generally high qualifications) do not suffice. In order to recruit good members for the council, pastors should tell potential members what they want the council to do. And that's where problems arise. Often, pastors are not specific about the help they want. Is the finance council supposed to review income collections? To oversee the budget? To plan fund-raising? To make reports? If the pastor is unclear about what he expects, he may recruit councilors who lack the interest or the knowledge to do the job.
This is where diocesan guidelines are important. For example, finance council guidelines in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles state that the primary task of the council is to help the pastor create the parish budget. This means, of course, that the council must have access to detailed collection records, so that it may realistically project what parish income will be. And it means that the councilors must have access to spending records, so that it can see whether the distribution of the parish income is fair and mission-driven. If pastors articulate what they expect from councilors, they will be able to attract potential members who are motivated and qualified.
One of the best recruitment tools I have seen was many years ago when a parishioner interviewed the pastor of his parish in an open parish meeting. The meeting itself was a report to the parish on the current "state of the nation," including finances, and what that meant for the next few years. The interview included two questions that seemed important then and still do today as I reflect on this topic. The first question asked the pastor to describe the work of the parish finance council just as both Mark and Jill mention. Te second was an interesting follow up: Father, what are the gaps in your own financial management experience and expertise that you would like help with? The pastor was at ease in himself enough to answer honestly in front of the whole parish that he'd only been a pastor for a few years, but hat he had some management experience before he was odained. He then went onto describe what he personally needed form his finance council, including help understanding the various long term debts of the parish, what to do with an annual cash flow shortage that happened at the end of each summer in this particular parish, and what we would not call "tuition management" in the parish school. The parishioners were able to gather the right people not only to help deal with parish issues, but also supplement the gaps in the pastor's knowledge as well.
Jill, one thought on the skills you mention: it would be useful to have an HR professional as well. This is helpful to the pastor in setting salaries and explaining benefits. I also think people with business operations experience can contribute. One concern about retired executives is they may have only a very global view as they are often surrounded by those who carried out the day-to-day business for them.
I have been on the parish and finance councils at two parishes, and I found it took only a small amount of my time, easily given. An invitation to serve from the pastor gets me every time!
Yes, that invite from the pastor is probably the best recruiting tool I know! Having an HR professional on the parish council is a great idea when it comes to benefits, compensations and such issues.
It brings up for me a related issue that I have seen in many such councils over the years. I have seen councils and individual members of councils try to get involved in the employer/employee relationship. While councils may get involved in such issues as you have mentioned at the level of policy and budget, it is never a good idea for council members and the council itself to be allowed to enter that employer/employee relationship. Dealing with specific employees and specific employee issues is the province of the employer or his paid representative (eg: parish business administrator or similar position). Parishioners are not the employer, and cannot have a supervisory relationship over staff members. Their opinons should be heard by the proper person (who may or may not be the pastor in given situation). A professional HR person wold be a valuable asset to a Council, and among other things, would be able to guide the council on its boundaries regarding employees of the parish.
Jim, I agree with everything you have said.
Unfortunately, as you know, parisonhioers do sometimes involve themselves in employee matters. And, if when the council is not clear on its role (or sometimes even if it is) and the pastor is not completely comfortable either in his role as employer, things can go astray. I don't think this is a huge problem, but it can happen.