There has been an immense amount of talk and commentary on ‘the cost of living crisis’. As we move into 2023, some of the practical implications of the issues will become more evident.
The December statistics from The Money Charity make sobering reading generally. Two of them particularly struck me:
- 42% of UK adults have had to borrow money this year in the face of rising costs.
- 54% of UK adults have reported feeling either anxious, depressed, filled with dread, unable to cope or a combination of these emotions due to concerns about their finances.
Our churches and faith ministry charities may be in some ways less susceptible to short term issues than many (as one major charity executive said to me in the past, “You are probably OK, as Christians tend to give out of income rather than surplus”), but it is good to go into 2023 with our ‘eyes open’ but also with our ‘hearts open’ as well; to those we are supporting, to those supporting us and to our own organisation.
The Charity Commission
The Charity Commission recognises that many charities are facing difficult circumstances resulting from rapidly increasing costs. Read more here.
In their guidance to charities, they say, “This may include their own cashflow but also concern for those they serve and for their own staff facing cost of living pressures. Some charities are also experiencing increased demand, particularly charities providing services to people in need. Donors may also be feeling financial constraints, leading to reduced income for some charities.
These financial challenges can have a major effect on charities and those who depend on them. This guidance is for trustees, especially trustees of smaller charities, who may need help when facing difficult decisions about their charity’s financial position.”
I would commend their guidance; it gives insight and links to useful information on issues you may well face.
I think there are several practical steps that I would suggest church/charity leaders, managers and Trustees may want to keep in mind during 2023:
Keep monitoring your organisation’s financial position. It may not change dramatically, but you may find there are trends developing; possibly regular giving dropping, one-off gifts being more sporadic, or grants from local or national organisations not being renewed. Plans are normally better when they are thought about, rather than making hasty knee-jerk reactions.
- Considering risk
When finance is tight there are more risks around: for example, debts owed to you may not be paid (customers or loans), future events may need to be cancelled, rent commitments may need to be thought about in case the cost becomes excessive, etc.
- Options (Plan A, B and C)
In times of uncertainty, it is wise to not just to have ‘a budget’, but to have a ‘Plan B budget’ in case the finances aren’t working out as hoped. Sometimes, in higher risk situations, it is worth having a (normally back of envelope) ‘Plan C’, which may involve having to research some alternatives (e.g. getting legal input into whether restricted funds can be repurposed).
4. Asking well
We may need to ask our supporters for extra giving. If so, I suggest remembering how the Apostle Paul handled the offering for the poor in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8 and 9); recognising that (when done well and in relationship) even in the midst of ‘severe trial’ and ‘extreme poverty’ (8 vs 2) there was the strong desire (8 vs 4) to have ‘the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people’. It is a recurring theme of both old and new testament writing that support for ‘those in need’ were priorities of the people of God.
We also need to be very aware and acutely sensitive to the pressures that our supporters are themselves under; and so Paul made sure that he communicated that guilt and pressure were not good motivators, but being focussed on the faithful character of God was the best foundation (9 vs 7-15).
- Looking after our own
We should also remember to look after our own church/charity workers. They may well be among the 54% of UK adults who reported they were “anxious, depressed, filled with dread or unable to cope” as mentioned in the introduction. We have a separate blog The Cost of Living Crisis – Looking after our people on this.
- Energy bills, VAT and business rates
Finally, a couple of minor tax points. Don’t forget that as charities you are most likely able to have VAT charged at the lower rate of 5%, and not the normal non-domestic rate of 20%. Do check you are not being incorrectly charged the higher VAT rate: Read the energy guide.
Similarly, churches and charities very likely should be getting all or most of their business rates discounted. Some don’t seem to know and are paying more than needed. Read more.
There is more opportunity and need in 2023 for churches and Christian ministries to ‘do good to all people’ than for many years. Let us be those that make the most of these times by being intentional in our plans and thoughtful in our approach.
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