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Financial Transparency—Your Protection

A YWAM leader from a thriving base and ministry visited us in Harpenden many years ago.  After initial greetings, the next thing he said was “Lynn, how much money do you need to do everything you have planned for this property?”  I explained that we had substantial long-term plans and it would run into many millions.  He said he could probably cover that need and the amount was no problem. Then he told me the story of how a very wealthy widow approached him to say that God had told her he was the person to take over the financial empire she had inherited.  

I tried my best to not allow my facial expression to betray my alarm.

Over a lengthy conversation I tried to explain that what he was experiencing had all the signs of fraud, but it appeared to have no effect because he was already 100% subjectively committed to his wealthy future.  He had already received a new luxury car and other gifts from the older woman offering him the position.  I asked if she and her “assistants” had required him to put up any money yet, and he said no.  It was clear that he did not want to continue the conversation with me, but I warned him: “When they ask you for money, then you will know this is a fraud”.  

Within a few months they had asked him for money and he had mortgaged the YWAM properties to get the amount they said they needed.  As you would guess, he lost all the money and the properties were repossessed by the bank.  Naturally he had lost leadership credibility, then his marriage broke up and his faith all but disappeared. 

What a tragedy!  But it would never have happened if he had put some basic protections in place, so let’s look at the subject of financial protection through transparency.

Firstly, that story illustrates the importance of having a knowledgeable and trustworthy Board, then walking in fellowship with peers in YWAM, and most of all being thoroughly transparent with ministry finances.  No healthy Board or group of fellow-leaders would have approved of his decisions.  He was only able to make the series of foolish decisions because he was not accountable to others.  Never put yourself in the position where you can make important financial decisions without the participation of others who have financial experience and wisdom.

Transparency can also protect you against conflict of interest.  Conflict of interest is a concept that is sometimes not understood by YWAM leaders.   Conflict of interest arises when a leader is making a decision from which he or she also benefits personally.  For example, a YWAM base might need more housing for staff or students and the YWAM leader sees a chance to buy a house personally and have the YWAM staff or students pay housing fees that will cover the cost of a mortgage.  That might sound like a good arrangement, but on closer examination could easily be misunderstood.  It could be said that YWAM staff or students ended up paying for a house the leader owns personally.  For that reason, we must always have or more other leaders aware of financial decisions.  

I learned from Loren years ago that a leader should never be the only one who knows the whole financial picture, and the leader should never be able to make financial decisions that no-one else knows about.  Countless ministries have been destroyed as a result of opaque financial practices.  

There is a general rule of thumb:  never make a decision you would not want others to know about.

I have also found that it’s very helpful to have what might be called a comptroller.  By that I mean someone who understands finances very well and who is strong and bold enough to sHYay “no” to you, the leader if you are ever tempted to make an unwise financial decision.  There are, of course, countless routine expenditures and decisions which fall within routine or budgeted expenses, but if you are making non-routine decisions or those which involve large amounts of money, a comptroller should have the responsibility and authority to sign off or question decisions of that nature. 

At this stage of your life, you might be leading a small team, so you could be tempted to think that these suggestions are too complicated for your situation.  Perhaps so, but the general rule is that as a YWAM leader, transparency in financial matters is one of your biggest protections.  Do not neglect this important principle!

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