As long as we are on the subject of the poor these days (and I am self-conscious about spending most of my time in the library these days and not actually doing much that’s tangible for the poor), here is a list of questions from Beverly Ryskamp is a social worker and an attorney in Grand Rapids, MI: Financial Assistance: Is Your Church Ready?
How can you fine-tune your emergency assistance efforts ahead of time, so as not to depend on rooftop calls? Here are some questions you can consider now to be ready then:
- Who will receive and process emergency requests? When should people submit requests, and when can they expect answers to them?
- What information will the church need? (For example, what efforts have already been made? Is collaboration with other resources possible?) Can a church member with knowledge of local human services help standardize your information-gathering?
- To whom would the church issue a check or other aid? What documentation is necessary to do that? Will the church want applicants to do anything special, such as volunteer, in exchange for help?
- Will some needs take precedence over others? Define your priorities ahead of time: First come, first served? Number of people impacted? Connection to the congregation? Ultimate fallout of crisis, such as threat of children being removed?
- What process and time are needed to approve checks for direct aid? Consider defining a threshold for minor benevolence that can be approved rapidly, without a whole committee. Some churches set aside a modest fund with a single experienced gatekeeper to handle small requests; clear guidelines and a detailed records system can make this work well for urgent needs. If a church desires more checks and balances, consider a phone or e-mail process for approving requests.
- What needs does the church feel most called to assist (e.g., housing, food, utilities, medical)? What special areas of need can you fill? For example, in our area, agencies can help homeless clients with rent but never security deposits. Defining a niche assistance area can be very helpful – the community learns what the church offers, and the church becomes an expert in one area rather than a dabbler in many.
- When requests for money can’t be granted, are there other kinds of support the church wants to offer – transportation, child care, networking from the church community, in-kind supplies like diapers, or gift cards for food or gas?