Community Discussion: Handling Financial Aid Requests
Money can make things awkward. Naturally, churches should aim to meet needs in their communities and provide programs for outreach. Sometimes, families in need reach out to churches and ask for financial support. It starts with a simple inquiry and evolves into conversations about their situation and background. Through these conversations, church can learn about the families and assess what kind of help they need.
Of course, when people ask someone for money, it puts them in a tough position. So what if you receive a request (quite possibly through social media) from someone in your community asking for financial help?
Rachel Stover experienced this and petitioned the Church Communications Facebook group for advice. She asked,
“How would you respond via Facebook to someone asking if the church can pay for their utilities? It’s so awkward.”
Her post got a lot of attention, so we decided to feature some of the most helpful answers below:
“Simple, we would love to talk to you more about your need and how we may or may not be able to help. Give us a call at X number (pastor on call, the office that could route to a pastor that could discuss and bring leadership the issue). Doesn’t mean a decision is made over the phone, but it can be used to establish the next steps like an in-person meeting. Just gets them connected quick, shows you are open to community needs.” – JT Trombly
“We have a benevolence policy in place, so I respond with an invitation to speak with one of our pastors about receiving help from the benevolence fund. In our case, we require that they come in to meet in person with a minister on staff.” – Sarah Rosie Hester
“We ask them to come in-person to fill out a benevolence request. It’s the same answer no matter how they request help.” – Hannah Speaker Myers
“I agree with what the others say: a face to face interaction or a phone call. I know a lot of times we are not able to help ourselves and I have a resource guide that has different contacts around our city that I can refer people to. If you know of any, you can give those contacts.” – Katie Geraghty Binns
“My church assists residents with shut-offs and evictions. I would respond by asking them to call the church office to discuss the details. I know all churches handle personal care calls differently. But I would never engage in a Facebook discussion about it.” – Gail Lienau Adams
“Whenever we get these types of messages, we forward the info to our benevolence ministry/counseling ministry and respond to the person with the phone number to call to chat with someone on staff (from that department)” – Dalton Mosher
“Our church has a slightly different policy… We don’t give financial assistance to anyone who isn’t an active member of our community. We get these requests 5-10 times a week, usually by phone. I simply say, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any financial assistance programs available at this time.” That typically ends the conversation pretty quickly. We do provide a list of local resources though that have other various ministries throughout the city, including food banks, clothes drives, abuse hotlines, etc. where I can direct them to if they sound legit.” – Rachel Evelyn Woolard
“We partner financially with a local agency (Love, INC) and use them to screen almost all of our benevolence requests. So when we get calls or requests through email/Facebook, etc. we refer them there. Unless we know them personally, then we have a staff member who will personally connect with them to determine the specifics of the need.” – Lori Fast
“We only work through agencies. Even if the debt itself is real, only a social worker can assess the person’s entire financial situation. Why can’t they pay the utility? Will they just be in the same hole in a couple of months? You need a holistic view. Often we find that they were turned down by an agency because they actually have the resources, but resisted making the tough choices to budget well for their needs.” – Richard Hong
“Would not do anything but tell them that they would have to come in and go through channels. We are in a small town and somewhat rural. We had some individuals that were abusing the system, so they were hitting one church up, then another. A number of years ago, the churches got together with the town, and parish (county if you are not in Louisiana) and there is an organization that serves as a clearinghouse those needing aids have to go through. It prevents the double and triple-dipping that used to go on. We help with rent, utilities, and some other expenses, and we also have a community food bank and clothes closet, both of which were started by our church but are now a community volunteer effort.” – Bill Catchings
“This is so real for us right now. We get stuff non-stop and are currently trying to develop policies and practice, including a list of who we have helped and when so we know when they ask next time. Our end goal is always to connect them to something in the community for continuing care to solve the problem instead of providing temporary relief or enable them for a time.” – Josiah Petermann
“Usually, when we receive these kinds of facebook requests they are spam (from an account that is obviously not local, probably not even a real person). If we determine them to be a legitimate request, we direct them to the proper channel (we have a direct phone number that takes these requests as they were taking up SO MUCH of the secretary’s time each day). Make sure you very quickly direct them elsewhere or you WILL read their entire life story (something I try not to do as I personally am not involved with the ministry and can’t help).” – Caroline Walls
In conclusion, use discernment. Direct the request to someone who can practically assess the situation face-to-face. This will help protect your church from scams. Also, look into partnering with local organizations that can certify the legitimacy and justification of the need. Churches should always seek to help those in need, but we do not want to be taken advantage of. Be aware of the situations in your community and proceed accordingly.