We are looking to formalize a process for handling benevolence needs. How do other churches handle such requests, and what processes do they have for receiving, reviewing, and approving benevolence requests? Do other churches use deacons or other staff members for such matters?
Calls and walk-in requests for financial assistance from those with no connection to our church body are almost always referred to various community resources, based on the need. The main exception to this is a partnership we have with a veterans’ group for up to two hotel nights per month (all other requests for lodging assistance are referred elsewhere).
If there is a connection to our church family, we want to make sure that any assistance will benefit the recipient long term, as our goal is to give people a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” We ask the following questions:
- What circumstances/decisions lead to this current situation?
- If the church is able to assist financially, what will be different next month so they’re not right back in this situation again?
- What funds do they actually have on-hand and what other avenues for assistance are they currently researching?
Depending on the request, we may also ask for the landlord or payee’s number so we can verify the need and see if this is a pattern or if it’s a one-time issue.
In the past, we directed benevolence requests to a care pastor who completed a financial assessment and made a recommendation. Requests are currently fielded by a staff member and approved by the senior pastor with the exception of $25 gift cards occasionally dispersed for gas and food assistance.
We have a couple of processes set up for those desiring help. We have divided up the needs a couple of ways.
First Area – People needing food or gas for their vehicle or a hotel room for up to two nights.
Second Area – People needing help with rent or utilities (we do not help with deposits).
For both areas we have different procedures and guidelines.
First Area: Food Card and Hotel
A person must set up an appointment with our church administrative assistant, which are only done on Mondays. Our CAA takes down their information and what they are needing and then has them come back within the hour, after she has had time to review and check to see if we have helped the person in the last six months. For food or gas, they will receive a gift card from a local grocery store, and for a hotel, the CAA goes and pays for their room. We do not give out cash or buy bus tickets. After a person is helped, we keep their name on file for future reference.
We also have a monthly budget for the food/gas cards and hotel, and people are helped on a first-come basis.
Second Area: Rent and Utilities
This process is a little more thorough. The person needing help must make an appointment and fill out a form giving pertinent information. Our CAA reviews the information given, making appropriate phone calls to see where the person stands in regard to their rent and/or utilities. If everything checks out, the CAA then passes the information on to our benevolence committee. We have a three member committee who have been appointed by the pastor. The committee reviews the request given to them, and then decides whether to help the person based on information gathered and based upon the guidelines that we have set forth as a church. Sometimes the committee will require more information if they are not satisfied with what they have received, and then after receiving the extra information they have asked for, they will make their decision. As with the food/gas cards and hotel, we have a monthly budget and people are helped on a first-come basis. We have a set amount that we will help an individual/family within any given month. We keep each person’s information on file so we can check on whether we have helped them within the last six months. We will help the same person/family up to two times a year with a set maximum within that year.
As a church previously located in a large metropolitan area, we had numerous situations where it was necessary to address this issue. The requests for help were wide-ranging — from genuine needs within the congregation to people just showing up at the door; from people we knew well to complete strangers. These requests for assistance included relatives and acquaintances of church members, as well as people calling the church office, or leaving requests on the website. We actually had one woman knock on the side door of the church, pushing an empty grocery cart, and expecting us to fill it up from our food shelf, which we didn’t have. While each request for assistance will be unique, each church should determine in advance how to handle requests from both insiders and outsiders.
We believe there is a biblical mandate to help those who have a legitimate need. The church should be a place where people can go and find help in a time of need. One translation of 1 Timothy 6:18 puts it this way:
…Charge them to practice benevolence, to be rich in good works, to be open-handed and generous…
Each church should develop certain guidelines that help the staff members and people in the congregation know how to respond to requests for help. Obviously, when people who have a relationship with the church come with a genuine need or emergency, the church can and should practice benevolence. However, we also have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to the church.
Unfortunately, our experience has taught us that the majority of people looking for “help” from outside the church are really only looking for “cash,” and usually for the wrong reasons. In fact, there were some well publicized cases of people who were arrested for running a “scam” on the churches in our community. Think of these policies as a means of separating the “sheep” with legitimate needs, from the “wolves” that would devour the resources of the church.
Taking the time to inquire about the validity of a need and then facilitate helping that person can be delegated to leadership in the church. It helps to have a basic request for assistance form available that each person asking for help is required to complete. The best scenario is when that person is willing to come in and meet with someone in the church. That provides an opportunity to share the Gospel with the person while meeting their need. That’s easier to accomplish with someone who already has a relationship with the church, as compared to the outsider who isn’t interested in having a relationship.
The best policy is to never hand out cash to anyone, for any reason. When someone is asking for “gas money” to get to their grandmother’s funeral, go fill up their gas tank. When necessary, meet the person at a local store and buy them some groceries, or a few weeks worth of diapers and baby formula. We’ve known of situations where giving the person a gift card to Walgreens, Target or Walmart doesn’t always mean they’ll buy what they “need,” but they’ll turn around and sell the gift card for cash. Legitimate requests that involve the necessities of life are actually easy to deal with.
Usually I’m the one in the office that handles most of the phone calls looking for assistance from outside the church. I’ve learned over the years to ask a few simple questions right up front that will help me determine if the need is legitimate, or not. I’ll ask…
1. Have you talked to your pastor about this need?
The usual answer is “No, I don’t have a pastor,” or “I don’t have a church.”
2. Have you talked to some of your relatives about helping you with this need?
The usual answer is “No, they don’t live around here!”
3. What other churches or agencies have you talked to about this need?
The usual answer is “I’ve tried everybody, and no one seems to want to help! Can’t you?!?”
Sure, but you need to understand that as a tax exempt organization, we need to give account for where our ministry funds go. You’ll need to complete a request for assistance form before we can help you. Are you able to come in and see someone at the church and fill out the form? Perhaps we could meet with you after the service tonight?
Many times, for whatever reason, the person hangs up in the middle of one of these questions, or doesn’t bother to show up at the church. By the time I get to this last question about coming in and completing a form, many have hang up without even saying “good-bye!” The best example was a woman who called and talked to me as if we were best friends. I apologized for not recognizing her name, and after she avoided my normal line of questioning, I simply asked her to describe what I looked like. “Click!” She hung up.
Whatever the need is, it should be provided or purchased by someone representing the church, or a staff member on behalf of the Body of Christ. Therefore it’s important to have specific guidelines available when requests for assistance are made. Having policies and procedures in place helps verify that the request is genuine, and the needs will be met.
Here is the policy we have set up:
The church has a benevolence committee regarding benevolence paid by the church on behalf of those in need. Benevolence records are maintained by the benevolence committee regarding what was given, when it was given, how much was given and to whom it was given. The church never gives cash to an individual. Payments are made by church checks. The church pays providers of goods and services, such as utilities, landlords, grocers, etc. The church does not loan money in lieu of benevolence, at interest or otherwise, and the church does not receive donations designated as benevolence for a particular person.
The benevolence committee welcomes information regarding persons in need of the church’s help. No church member may receive more than $250.00 of benevolence in a given year without a separate vote from the board of directors. Those who do not attend the church and reach out to us for help will be offered a $20.00 gift card to a local grocery store or gas station. We do this as long as we know that the need is legitimate.
In every situation, the person receiving benevolence is encouraged and prayed for when receiving the help.
The following information was submitted by Josh Goodman, Family Care Minister, on behalf of Pastor Kevin Berry.
At Mount Hope Church, we separate the distribution of benevolence into three groups of people: (a) those that are active, tithing church members (who have done so for at least one year), (b) those that come to church consistently but are not tithers, and (c) those in our community. We have ‘tiers’ established and thus will offer assistance to a person based upon which group they may fall in. For example, tithing church members may receive “up too” $1,200 based on their circumstances. A non-tithing church member may receive “up to” $750, and we offer “up to” $200 to someone in the community. We use community benevolence as one way to reach out and cast the net.
First, we have the individual(s) come to the office in order to meet with them and provide an application. Our application is fairly extensive and also provides a list of community resources to further help them with assistance. We have already communicated that it may take a couple of weeks to process their request, depending on circumstances. The application and timeframe will automatically filter through those who may be disingenuous. Next, we have an internal committee of volunteers who review the application and provide a decision based on the category, situation, and the remaining budget we have for that year. After a decision is reached, the individual(s) will be contacted with an answer. Often, we can make recommendations or suggestions such as eliminating certain expenses. For example, if the individual(s) request is from the community, we know that they could be given “up to” $200. But if we also notice that they have a budget that includes clothing, cell phone, car payment, and cable, we might simply lessen the amount we would provide and/or offer them participation in our Financial Fitness Class.
We also subscribe to our local group of charities who provide “community” notifications of any individuals who may be taking advantage of good will.
Here are a few things that we let the applicant know up front:
- We don’t offer cash, and we always tie any funds distributed directly to a bill, to an apartment complex, or city governing agency, etc.
- The application needs to be filled out completely.
- It will take a couple of weeks to get an answer.
- Once an individual is determined to be back on their feet, we ask that they consider giving back to the Mount Hope Benevolence fund, so that others may be helped in the future.
Some of our internal policies include:
- In order to effectively steward our budget, we operate with the following understanding in mind: We never want to help our friends at the detriment of our family.
- It must be one year after the distribution of funds before we would consider giving to an individual or family again.
- Due to the number of requests, schedules, and other ministry priorities, a committee decision may take up to two or three weeks.
- No cash or checks are given to an individual directly. All distributed funds are made payable to an agency or a company.
- We do not pay for hotel bills, as we are responsible for the condition of the hotel room once the person leaves.
- We do not pay for cell phone bills or bus tickets. In past experiences, we have not determined these to be a good use for our funds.
- We keep all applications on file.
- We do have gas cards that we distribute in appropriate situations.
Note: In such cases where staff or close family are requesting benevolence, the Pastor may determine to go outside of the procedural guidelines.
Click here to view the form that we use for benevolence requests, which is just for church members. We have a lot of outside requests, but we only give to those people if we feel led to do so, and that is typically with our own money. The form is a Word document so that anyone can use it if they like. Our church name only appears in a couple of places, so it would be very easy to change.
Our policy for benevolence requires people to fill out a special request form and the following are requirements they must consider:
- Must be an active member of this body.
- Show proof of active financial participation to this church or any non-profit organization.
- All benevolence is subject to approval from authorizing committee.
- It takes up to 5 business days for approval or denial.
- We will only make payment to authorized financial institutions. No monies will be disbursed directly to the applicant.
- They may be required to receive financial counsel or submit a monthly budget.
- The following bills will not be considered for financial aid: home phone, cell phone, or car payments or credit cards.
- Form must be completely filled out to be considered for financial aid.
- If all 8 points are not met, do not proceed any further.
They must agree to the policies and promise that the information they have provided is true and correct to the best of their ability. They must list, type of benevolence, marital status, number of children, financial & occupational information, amount of other income, housing information, church information reference, and personal reference.
Many times we take up a special offering for one that has a critical medical need or if a family or person has had a house fire and lost everything. We will respond to any emergency need of such.
We are in a small community close to a major interstate. We have many transits that request help as well as local families that have benevolent needs.
Our head usher has a simple form he has them fill out that captures basic information: name, license number, and personal reference. We also ask what their immediate need is. After this information is received, he checks with the local police department for any warrants. Sometimes we may give cash, but often times we get them food or fill the car with gas.
Local Benevolent Needs
Generally, they are referred to the local police department. The minister alliance has a fund set up that is used if their police record is clear.
Church Member Benevolent Needs
We have no formal way of handling these situations. Very seldom do we give cash, and I may take up a food offering. If we do that, then I personally deliver the food. If people bring their electric bill, gas bill, etc., we would pay directly to the company.
Hope this helps.