The IRS and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) offer guidance to churches that run or hope to run a business.
Proper Governancean independent board of no fewer than five members, of which three or more should be non-employees and not personally related to the head of the entity. It should meet three times a year to review the business's policies, performance, and finances.
Accounting ControlsTrust should not replace generally accepted accounting principles. Standards ensure documentation for income and expenses, as well as property and asset maintenance.
TransparencyThe business and church should have nothing to hide and therefore be open to inspection. A tax-exempt organization should file all necessary paperwork. If it joins the ECFA, the organization should document all money going in and coming outeven when the government doesn't require it, such as for a church.
According to the IRS, even tax-exempt organizations may have to pay income on profits over $1,000 from "unrelated business." However, "substantially related" activities don't count. The IRS offers guidance on the definitions of "unrelated" and "substantially related."
The ECFA has more information on its website (ecfa.org), as well as the Church and Nonprofit Tax Guide, by Dan Busby. Church Law & Tax Report and Church Finance Today (formerly Church Treasurer Alert!), both CT sister publications, also provide guidance on legal and accounting issues.
This article accompanies "California Dreams," which is about ministries that run businesses.1
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