Friday, December 12, 2008

Exercise Faith, Not Fear

“Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24, NIV)

Tough economic times build character. It causes Christians to balance faith with wisdom, without falling into fear. Christians must understand that a massive component of the message of Christmas is the message to “fear not.” It is human nature to fall into the fear trap. I know God, and He is capable of handling the world’s economy. In fact, I believe God is helping all of us more clearly understand the weakness of the god of materialism.

With that said, God expects us to use wisdom in managing his ministries. As leaders, we need to be talking to those closest to us and seeking broad input of wisdom and experience. If you are a pastor or CEO of a nonprofit, talk to your Trustees, finance teams, etc. and have a clear knowledge of the state of your ministry. Make sure your organization has covered the practical necessities.

Know your credit rating. If it is weak, look for ways to strengthen it. If it is strong, you can benefit from this with negotiating interest rates on loans and credit cards.

Give priority to paying bills on time. Develop a list of every vendor that charges a late fee and make sure these vendors are paid on time to avoid late fees. These fees add up and create an unnecessary expense for nonprofit ministries. Consider paying online, as this can also reduce cost and ensures quicker receipt of payments to avoid late fees.

Practice good debt management. Having unnecessary lines of credit with high limits can cause you to pay higher interest rates. Look for places to reduce expenses and debt.

Evaluate all operating procedures. Ask the hard questions. Is this a necessity? Is this a negotiable agreement (contract)? Is this the most efficient method? Is there a better more cost efficient way to accomplish the same goal?

If your ministry invoices members/clients, look for ways to streamline your invoices (even pledges). Most invoices can be sent electronically. If you invoice for services, offer a small percentage discount for early payment.

As contracts come up for renewals, take 3-5 bids and negotiate hard for the services you need at the smallest cost. Be willing to consider competitors of your current vendors and let them know you are seeking other bids; tell them up front that they must continue to earn your business. One word of caution, make sure you have all vendors bidding on the same apple. Some vendors use a technique of offering a slightly different bid based on one or two items they feel to be superior to their competitors, thus justifying a higher bid. You do your homework, determine the spec sheet, and have all vendors bidding on the exact same bid. Recently, I negotiated a $70,000 savings for an organization on a project using this method.

Collection is essential to your success. Whether you are talking about an offering plate or about collecting accounts, you must be able to keep the cash flowing.

Do not stand around like a deer in the headlights waiting for the economy to run you over. Lead in faith, be proactive, and soar with the eagles!

Prayer: “Lord, help me to avoid the fear trap. Help me to keep my eyes firmly upon you and to keep clearly focused on the mission and purpose of the ministry you have given me to lead. Help me to lead responsibly in faith, not through fear. Amen.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Economic Meltdown is Not an Obstacle

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me.” (Philippians 4:13, KJV)

The economy continues to worsen. The same government officers who created the mess are now trying to fix it. Like calling the arson that set the fire to help put out the fire, our elected leaders are throwing everything they can think up at resolving the meltdown. The price of the global bailout is now at $8.5 trillion in commitments by the U.S. and other governments. Many financial experts expect the final bill worldwide will be between $20 and $40 trillion, and even the experts don’t know if the bailouts will work.

The reality is that Pastors and leaders of nonprofit Christian ministries must recognize the economic meltdown. Simply to ignore it and go on as if nothing is happening will surely bring problems for your ministry.

Having a “can do” attitude and convinced that with Christ we can do all, I believe this is a time to move forward with determination and optimism. Yet, I am at my core a realist. So, how do we recognize the economic meltdown and move forward with determination and optimism?

First, keep your long-term goals in sight, but impose strategies in the short-term that will strengthen ties and deepen relationships with your constituents. This is not a time to alienate any of your supporters. Find ways to thank them for believing in the mission and purpose of your ministry.

Second, keep in mind that since 1967, philanthropic giving has steadily increased, although slower during economic slowdowns. So don’t panic. You do not have immediately to begin to slash your budget, but you do have to stay on top of your cash flow trends.

Finally, view this as an opportunity of character building. While we cannot control the economy, we can control how we react to the recession. Keep you chin up. Keep your friends close. Accept that these are challenging times, but be positive and confident. Be a good listener, but tell the positives of giving. Remember that with Jesus, we can do all things.

Prayer: “Jesus, help me to view the economic meltdown as a chance for you to build my character, and not as an obstacle to the mission you have given me. Help me to stay positive and focused on the long-term goals of the vision.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

God's Test of Leadership

“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (First Corinthians 4:1-2NIV)

The global financial meltdown will impact every church and nonprofit Christian ministry. This downturn is deeper and more widespread than most adults have experienced in their lifetime. Ministries that make wise decisions will weather the storm, but ministries with weak boards and Pastors or CEOs may not. I urge every pastor, CEO, and board to be proactive. The “deer in the headlight” approach will not work.

The Bible teaches us that the steward or guardian must one day give an account of his ministry. Pastors and leaders of nonprofits are not only accountable to the donors and recipients of the ministry, but each is ultimately accountable to God. Therefore, I feel led of God to share with you what God has shared with me from His Word related to the current economic downturn. If churches and nonprofit Christian ministries are to survive the recession, the Pastor or CEO must begin to take steps. The deer in the headlight approach will surely spell doom. All indicators point to donations lessening over the weeks and months ahead, and churches and nonprofits will need to make quick budget cuts.

However, not everything is negative, and the Seminary leadership and I want to help you know how to weather this global economic storm. Over the coming months, we will see some nonprofits fail while others thrive, and the same will be true with churches. I hope to share with you a greater understanding of financial management to help ease the pain. The key to continuing a worthwhile and thriving ministry is leadership. If you are a pastor or CEO, or a trustee of a nonprofit ministry, you are God’s guardian for that ministry and you will give an account to Him of your faithfulness.

Prayer: "Lord, help me to understand the meaning of being a true guardian of all you have entrusted to me, and give me the wisdom and courage to lead all you have entrusted to me through this global economic storm. Amen."