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Before You Cut Staff

Eight tips to save money before turning to pink slips

Before churches consider downsizing staff, do all that you can first to reduce operating costs. Since reductions in force don't always yield the dollars that organizations think they will, the following list will help you turn over every rock possible before you make the decision to hand out pink slips. Termination meetings are painful for everyone involved, and a church executive's nightmare, so I know you want to do everything you can to avoid one.

Prior to joining Fairhaven Church, I worked for General Electric's Aircraft Engine Group for 14 years. I understand the trauma that layoffs cause because GE was notorious for reductions in force. Layoffs can create fear, which is toxic to any organization. A creative effort to identify any solutions that can mitigate the need for reducing staff is well worth the effort. Perhaps one of these eight tips might work for you:

  1. Consider reducing hours instead of personnel. Squeezing a handful of positions' hours might create enough resources to offset the need to cut a staff member. Or reduce all positions, or all non-exempt positions, by some margin. Many staff members would rather make minor concessions spread equally across the board than to see a staff member let go.
  2. Freeze existing salaries. Most churches are considering salary freezes this year, given the economic downturn and the potential impact on giving. It won't surprise anyone, especially in light of daily announcements of layoffs. Again, many staff members would willingly forgo a raise rather than see a team member dismissed. In one church, staff members were given several extra days off to be used at their discretion as at least some compensation in light of frozen salaries.
  3. Don't fill vacant positions. One obvious way to reduce personnel costs is to suspend hiring. Clerical, custodial, and ministry support positions (such as a technology specialist) are some positions that might be covered through volunteers, at least in the short term.
  4. Ask for furloughs. Consider asking employees to take an unpaid furlough for an agreed-upon length of time during a period when ministry is slow. You might be surprised at some who would welcome the break, perhaps to care for children, aging parents, or just because the extra income is not a necessity.
  5. Shift staff around. Move employees from jobs slated for downsizing to open positions. This assumes you can provide training to give the employee a reasonable chance for success; if so, it helps keep talented people on board, provides the longevity that creates stability within the organization, and retains the potential for expansion if the environment changes in the future.
  1. Use job sharing. Allowing two part-time employees to share a full-time position potentially reduces benefits costs. We've done this for both clerical and accounting positions with great success. Additionally, if a position must be cut, ask whether another employee would be willing to share their position, allowing the affected employee to at least retain a part-time position. In today's workforce, flexibility is a prime motivator, and so sharing a position can be very attractive.
  2. "Lend" your employees out. Check to see whether another local church might be willing to share an employee as a means of cutting costs. At Fairhaven, we are currently sharing one of our graphic designers with a church a mile away. It allows this person to reach full-time hours, and allows both churches to have the benefits of a talented designer. The same could work for an accountant or custodian.
  3. Restrict overtime. Overtime is mandatory for hourly and non-exempt workers who exceed 40 hours in a week, so manage employee schedules carefully to avoid those extra costs.

Fairhaven, a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, used some of these strategies in early 2008, when indicators suggested a tough year ahead. It also educated staff and volunteers on energy use, which lowered utility bills by 30 percent to 40 percent, and renegotiated leases on office equipment, which netted better prices and newer machinery. The changes shaved $180,000 from the operating budget.

Paul Clark is executive pastor at Fairhaven Church in Dayton, Ohio. You can read more from him at http://www.paulclark.org.

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