“Weeds in the Garden – the growing danger of fraud taking root in the Church”

Weeds in the Garden – the growing danger of fraud taking root in the Church

Verne Hargrave, CPA, CFE

ISBN 0-9705433-9-5

From the preface of the book:  “The purpose of this short book is to help break {the logjam caused by the long list of reasons that prevent local churches from} taking anti-fraud steps.  As you make your way through its pages, please keep three things in mind.  First, it was {the author’s} intent to keep the book short.  Creating a huge manual might scare off time-starved administrators.  Second, the book can be the starting point of a church’s fraud prevention measures; the basis on which to perform a fraud risk assessment.  Third, it is organized in such a way as to take some of the complications out of the process.  After two chapters which define and describe fraud, come ten chapters, each represented by a question every church should ask of itself.  Each question represents an important aspect in fraud prevention.”

From my review at Amazon: 

The book is 163 pages long (without the front matter) in a 6” by 9” format.  That is short for a book that covers such a broad range of finance issues.  The chapters are typically 15 pages long.  There are many wonderful finance books around that run 300 or so pages.  You would benefit greatly from reading those resources, but who has time to read something that long?  Your time-strapped finance team would be able to work through a book this short. 

The chapters are:

  • 1 Weeds in the Garden
  • 2 First, Be Sure You Know What You Are Looking For
  • 3 How Strong Is Your Batting Order?
  • 4 Are You a Church Without Walls?
  • 5 Are You a Geek? Maybe You Should Be!
  • 6 Are You Producing Financial Statements or Spin Documents?
  • 7 Are You Playing By the Rules?
  • 8 Do You Have Any Idea How Much Money You Make?
  • 9 Can’t You Control Your Spending?
  • 10 Do You Know Who Your People Are?
  • 11 Is Anyone Watching Over Your Stuff?
  • 12 Have You Taken Any of This to Heart?

Each chapter starts with a story from outside the finance world to get your attention.  Whether discussing the lack of wind during “Pickett’s charge”, the strategy of setting a baseball lineup, or blabber mouth Barney Fife not being able to keep quiet, the stories provide a framework to discuss the points in the chapter.  There are plenty of sanitized “war stories” to provide sad illustrations.

Each chapter ends with five questions that focus on specific issues related to the chapter.  You could use the questions in many different ways.  For example, you could use all the questions together as an overall diagnostic to see where you are and then assess where you need to do the most work.  A governing board could ask one or two questions of the finance team at each meeting to get a general feel for where procedures stand.  You could use the questions as a starting point to drill deep into one area.  In a structured risk assessment, these questions can be the framework for beginning the systematic analysis.  A few examples of the questions:

  • “Has your church written a thorough but concise policy, procedures and processes manual?”
  • “Does the Church have a strong password protection system?”
  • “Is your finance committee presented with a complete set of financial statements including a balance sheet, income statement/budget report and a schedule of restricted funds activity?”
  • “Has your church examined its cash receipt processes and determined that from the time of collection to the time of deposit, cash is never, even for just a few minutes, in the custody of one individual?”
  • “Are your church’s bank reconciliations performed by an individual not involved in the day-to-day check writing and bookkeeping functions?”

The author speaks from his many years of audit experience working with local churches.  The author’s knowledge of local churches and his deep concern for their welfare shows very clearly on every page.  Whether you are a business administrator, Treasurer, or a member of the finance team, you would benefit tremendously from this short book. 

This reviewer also has many years of audit experience with the same type organizations as the author, but at unrelated CPA firms.  I endorse everything he says.

Additional thoughts:  Mr. Hargrave is a partner at the CPA firm of Pickens Snodgrass Koch in Arlington, Texas.  I heard him speak at the 2009 NACBA conference and had the privilege to visit with him.  His extensive experience with local churches shows up throughout the book.  I recommend this book for any church that wants to begin addressing the very real risk of fraud in their organization.  This would be a great place to start.  

The book is available at the NACBA web site  with the specific book here.  Also available at Amazon. (Let me know if the links stop working.)

One Response to “Weeds in the Garden – the growing danger of fraud taking root in the Church”

  1. […] discussed Weeds in the Garden, a superb book on fraud prevention for the local church.  The author, Verne Hargrave, has written […]

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