National City Christian Church
"...confidence that there are proper checks and balances"
Few churches in America are as steeped in history as the National City Christian Church, established in Washington, DC in 1843. President James A. Garfield preached there, and the Garfield family pew is still displayed adjacent to the sanctuary located on Washington’s Thomas Circle. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson worshiped there and mingled regularly with other parishioners in Fellowship Hall after services; their daughter Lynda Bird Johnson Robb recently sent the church an unsolicited contribution to help repair minor damage sustained in the August, 2011 earthquake.
As the showcase “national church” of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) headquartered in Indianapolis, National City Christian Church has not only a legacy of history but also a complexity of bookkeeping. “We have to have two boards and two sets of financial systems, each with its own bank and budget and processes for dealing with finances,” explains Pastor Stephen Gentle. With one set of records related to congregational life and the local church’s ministry, and one for the national board of trustees concerned with the property and endowment, accurate coordination is essential. “Your Part-Time Controller has helped us to keep these two systems working together and have the proper separation so that each board can have confidence that there are proper checks and balances, and have confidence that we are doing the things that we have been entrusted to do.
“Our main reason for turning to Your Part-Time Controller was because we couldn’t find temporary accountants that we could entrust with our business and our ministry,” says Gentle. In the past the church relied on volunteer members to provide accounting and bookkeeping services. “But life and accounting have become much more complicated,” he notes. “Certainly the checks and balances and the systems that need to be put in place, as well as the need for accountability, are much more complicated.”
The church’s finance person had been a pastoral staff person with financial background who was called to a congregation on the West Coast in May, 2011, and the church leadership was examining its options. “We had heard early on about Your Part-Time Controller and honestly thought they would be too expensive for us. So we put together a search committee and began interviewing accountants and temporary employment services. We did some background checks and found things that were troubling. We really became frustrated with that process,” he recalls.
After three interviews, it became apparent that the process wasn’t working. “We could have continued with the three other candidates, but at that point I said, let’s take another look at Your Part-Time Controller. And that’s what we did.
“We sat down with Eric Fraint and said, ‘We really need to get somebody in here instantly because our financial officer was leaving and we need to find someone to work with the transition.’ Eric turned it around very fast for us and by the next week we had associate Mark Westfield working with our staff member. Mark jumped in and began collecting information and helped us make that transition as smooth as possible.”
Gentle appreciates YPTC’s emphasis on quick response. “That’s probably one of the keys to Eric’s successes, because most nonprofits are always under the gun, and they’re always dealing with cash flow issues. I don’t know any nonprofit that doesn’t struggle with cash flow from time to time.”
In addition to quick response, YPTC also excels in providing accurate, timely information that board members can use, and David Walker, Chair of Budget and Finance for the congregation, is similarly appreciative. “The congregation’s three financial statements for Jan. 1 – June 30, 2011, provided by Mark Westfield, are the first such financial statements in generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) format that I have ever been privy to in 33 years. If any individual is deserving of having a brass plaque erected in his honor, Mark Westfield is that person,” says Walker.
Gentle notes that outsourcing the accounting frees up his volunteers’ time for the duties that volunteers do best. In addition, there is a more professional segregation of duties so no one person is collecting and depositing checks from Sunday services, reconciling bank statements, writing checks and having them signed, and distributing the checks.
“Your Part-Time Controller has helped us to focus on the reconciliation of our bank statements, the preparing of checks, the monitoring of our cash flow and in making sure we have proper reports to all our fiduciary partners – our board members. And then we’re able to let volunteers do what volunteers do very well.
“Having an accountant like Mark Westfield has been very, very good. He’s been very organized, very systematic, very transparent, and very helpful in the places where we need help. And then Eric has been a really great manager so we don’t have to manage Mark as much as just look to him to provide services. We can make sure we’re going in the right course, and if there are some gaps there then we can shore them up . We want to make sure that our financial procedures are following best practices.
“The nonprofit element is special because nonprofits are unusual institutions, and churches even more so perhaps, but we all have the same kind of unusual way of operating because we use so many volunteers and rely so much on contributions,” Gentle says. “So having a group like Your Part-Time Controller that really understands nonprofits, and for us really understands churches, makes a huge difference.”