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Ask what the giver intended

28 September 2012

For a year now, we have been planning to reorder our church in order to improve facilities and install chairs. We have just received our quinquennial inspection report, however, and it shows significant repairs that must be done soon. Some of us want to use the money in our reordering fund for the repairs, and then go back to the reordering later; others want the opposite. Can we use our reordering funds for repairs?

THIS is partly a legal question, and the answer is based on the way in which the money was accumulated. My guess is that you have several sources, each of which has a different understanding of what the money was being saved up for.

Look at the gifts and contributions, and sort them out by the intention of the donor or contributor. If you encouraged direct donations for the reordering of the church, namely, the renewed facilities, and the donor understood that this was the case, then the money can be spent only on those renewed facilities.

If you have asked trusts and foundations for money for the reordering, then their grants can be spent only on the specific works covered by your application to them.

Money from fund-raising events - sales, concerts, and so on - may be the most difficult to clarify. If your publicity said that "all profits go to the church's building fund", then you can spend the money on any building works. Similarly, if you detailed the church improvements and did not mention repairs, again, only church reordering may benefit.

Money that has been raised in the general funds of the church through stewardship can normally, at the discretion of the PCC, be allocated to an all-purpose building fund, and be spent as the PCC directs.

If your repairs are of a scale that means you will apply for a Listed Places of Worship Repair Grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, be prepared to explain what money is available for your repairs.

Here is how those categories are described legally: money given to the church for specific works or tasks is "restricted", and may be spent only on those specific works and tasks; any money from general funds and stewardship that the PCC, at its discretion, has decided to set aside in various building funds is classified as "designated". And, at the PCC's discretion, that money can be redesignated to the repairs on the church.

I could say, then, that in your case everyone is right; it is only when you examine the sources of your savings and the intentions of your donors that you will know how you can spend the money.

There is a great pressure in some churches to fudge this issue, and try to slide money into convenient categories. Remember that honesty and integrity need to be our financial principles, and that everything must stand up to inspection. It is not enough to do things right because you may be caught out; integrity means that you do it right because that is who we are as God's people - even if it is uncomfortable and inconvenient at times.

You may find less temptation to slide money around if everything in your fund-raising programme states clearly that "money will go into the building fund for urgent repairs and renewed facilities", leaving the actual allocation to the discretion of the PCC.

Send your issues and questions to: maggiedurran@virginmedia.com

 

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