Parish Financial Health and Cash Flow

So, I want to turn my attention back to Pleasanton now. For those of you keeping the box score it has been 10 days since my requests were sent to their parish council, with no response.

But before I review Pleasanton a primer on cash flow and Parish financial matters is in order.

The All Important Flow of Cash

Here I must turn to cash flows which is really, in my opinion the quickest way to look at the overall health of parish finances. Cash flows are just what one would think the words mean: cash flows in; cash flows out and we hope that more cash flows in by the end of the measurement period than went out. Simple. The hidden component here is time, basically the “when” of cash coming in or out. When we spend money (cash going out) matters a lot. If, for example, we choose to defer an expense for a month or a quarter or longer, we can make the periodic numbers look better than they actually are. For example, suppose we know our church needs a new roof that will cost $100K to fix. If the Pastor decides that December (the end of his church fiscal year) is the time to have the roof fixed he will show a -$100K (reduction)as he writes the check to fix the roof in that calendar year. But if he just waits a couple of days and writes the check in January, that -$100K will show up in the following year. If your church is not publishing their numbers regularly, you, the parishioner (the one ultimately paying) would never know. Perhaps in the bigger picture it doesn’t matter. Or does it? Maybe without that -$100K showing up the Pastor can tell all of you with a straight face “we had a great year last year”, knowing that he has a full year to try to make up for the hole made by the roof fix costs in January. Would it change your giving if you knew that cash flow pattern? It would mine, because as a Pastor makes day to day financial decisions he is telling you where his heart is.

The simple fact of parish life (if you don’t have a school attached to your church) is that “income” is primarily “the Sunday Plate” that is collections at mass by the churchgoers and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine — Sunday school to you and I (nowadays they like to call CCD “Faith Formation”). Cash flows in come from you and I. Cash flows out are the sole province of the Pastor.

What about Finance Councils?

But what about the parish finance council you say? Yes, your parish has one, it must. The parish finance council is the only canon law mandated layperson body in your parish, a parish council is not mandated. That’s how important finances are to the church. The key fact though is that the finance council is a consultative body only: it simply advises. The entire finance council could vote against something and the Pastor could still do it the other way. The finance council CANNOT, in fact is forbidden, from making any decisions on its own.

Want to ask a great question in your parish? Ask how often your finance council meets, then ask how many of those meetings your pastor has attended. The ratio should be 100%. You may be surprised what the actual attendance record actually is. Did I mention that this is YOUR MONEY?

The Effect of the Pastor and Attendance On The “Flow”

What this means is that cash inflows are largely out of the Pastor’s hands. I know I’ll get some argument here on that but a great homily or two is not going to substantively change the finances of your church. Parishioners are going to pay whatever fees are set over in faith formation and they are going to put whatever they feel comfortable with in the basket. If Parishioners give more it is likely at the behest of other laypeople, not your Pastor and not the other Priests. Think about it for a moment and you will see that I am right.  Remember, despite all the wonderful things your parish is doing, the vast majority of the income is the Sunday collection and that donation decision came in either one of two spots:

a) when the wallet came out and the parishioner discovered what they brought to church, or

b) when the parishioner left the house, usually in a rush, and brought an envelope

In other words the individual giving decision is usually “spur of the moment” or made before the parishioner even left their home.

No single homily is going to improve those odds. So if your attendance is stable your finances will be flat. If it is going up, income will grow. If people are leaving income will fall. The Sunday plate is almost purely a function of census.

Christmas is usually an outlier for income as those “once a year” Catholics show up and make larger tax-deductible donations at year end.

Cash outflows however are where we learn what a Parish is actually made of. Why? Because the decisions come from one spot only (the Pastor) and are completely discretionary: he controls the timing, the priority and the amount.

With all that as a background we will see tomorrow how this all works in the Catholics of Pleasanton’s parish.