We love to use the word stewardship; it connotes a biblical vision for how we manage the resources of our organizations in a God-honoring way. As leaders in the religious world, much of our work depends on the generosity of donors and the careful management of legacy funds and endowments. If we have faith and hope in a God-held future, and we take seriously our responsibility to manage what we have today so God can multiply it for his use tomorrow.
A call to be good stewards also extends to those working for our organizations. Many of us do a good job providing spiritual support, but we often neglect these same principles when it comes to helping staff manage their financial resources.
Studies show that the level of debt among American workers is dangerously high and the level of savings is dangerously low. Our own experience at MMBB Financial Services demonstrates that this applies to many working for Christian organizations.
The need for personal financial stewardship using Christian principles is also important because many of us will face decades of retirement. As the TV commercial asks: How old is the oldest person you know — 90? 95? Even 100? We may not think we will live that long, but if you ask the people who reached those advanced ages, most of them never thought they would either.
Money is a very personal issue, so what role should a Christian organization play in assisting employees to deal with financial issues? Good leaders recognize that those who work for them are whole people and that the stress people bear in their personal lives affects their ability to function professionally. Our salaries are lower than those paid for comparable work in the for-profit world, so helping our employees plan successfully for their own financial future really amounts to being good stewards of our greatest resource, our people.
Here are three things we can do as leaders to support our people:
1. Offer benefits that get staff started building a sound financial plan that leverages tax advantages.
If you offer a benefit, you are immediately saying to your staff, “This is important.” There are distinct tax advantages to employer-provided benefits such as medical insurance, retirement savings, life insurance, and disability insurance. Most of these benefits receive favorable tax treatment, even if the premiums are paid by employees through salary deferral. Group plans also typically provide for lower premium rates than individual plans
The most important thing for which people need to plan is retirement. It is important for employers to offer 401(k) and 403(b) retirement savings plans. These plans allow for staff to contribute more than they can to individual IRAs. They also allow you, as the employer, to make tax-deferred contributions to staff retirement savings. Even if your budget restricts your ability to make contributions on behalf of your employees, making a plan available for employee contributions is a significant benefit.
2. Educate your employees as an added bonus.
Regardless of what financial benefits you offer, you can provide access to resources that encourage personal financial stewardship. Start by exploring the educational resources that your current benefit providers can make available. Also consider looking at outside resources and possibly hosting lunch-time learning opportunities by bringing in a Certified Financial Planner™ professional from your community to lead a series of workshops. Many planners will charge a flat or hourly fee for these services that is very reasonable.
3. Encourage your staff to contribute to a retirement investment account.
If you have a retirement plan, talk to your provider about the level of participation by your employees. Is it is low? Develop goals with your provider and ask them to lead seminars on saving and planning for retirement. If you do not yet offer a retirement plan to which your staff can contribute, set one up. Many providers will not charge a fee for establishing a plan for you. They will also partner with you to educate staff on the importance of starting a retirement plan early and the tax benefits they gain by making contributions.
Encouraging financial health among our staff not only promotes personal stewardship, it also makes us better stewards of our organizations.
Louis Barbarin, CPA, is the executive director of MMBB Financial Services, a ministry that provides retirement and insurance benefits for churches and Christian ministries. MMBB helps employers and their employees navigate a successful journey to and through retirement. This is an excerpt from his article from the 2014 Summer edition of Outcomes Magazine.