Changing Plans


Question: Several years ago (2009 or 10), Grace Church entered into a building program for a Family Life Center. They set up a designated fund for the project, and after voting on a design and posting it around the church, they started collecting money. There was an early attempt to set the fund as a general building fund, but it was set as the Family Life Center Fund. Some contributions were significant (at least $10,000 dollar gift). The goal was over $850,000 but the plan was to raise $450,000 within a few years and finance the rest.

Currently there is $211,000 in the fund and many people want to either change the plan to a smaller, cheaper building that does not meet the original use ideas and does not match the floor plan voted on or cancel the project altogether. Undesignated receipts haven’t been over $150,000 in the past 20 years. The problem is that most of the money was accepted, but no records were kept as to who donated what.

At a recent called meeting to discuss this, the questions were about what they could do legally about the situation. Can we change the building? Is there any way to cover ourselves if we cancel or change the program but cannot identify most of the contributors? I know what I have always been told, but some of my members insist that the money was given, so they can decide how to use it.

Answer: This is a tough situation with a hard answer but this is the proper way to handle this. Here are the proper steps to follow:

  1. Contact every donor that you know about and ask them to sign a document giving the church permission to use the funds for another purpose or even unrestricted uses (aka, to the ministry budget). After that, move out of this fund all monies you’re given permission to move to whatever purpose the donor permits.
  2. Get the church to formally vote on how the church would like to use the remaining funds. Use paper ballots and retain the ballots in case there is a need to show them later. I strongly encourage you to find a purpose that is as close as possible to the original purpose and get the church to vote on giving the money to that. The reason for doing this is to prove to others what the owners (church members) want to do with the money. Again, the church should appear unanimous in what it wants to do with the money but this vote does NOT permit the church to move the money as it wants. It is merely an indication of what the church wants to do.
  3. Contact the state Attorney General’s office at (804) 786-2071 and use the courts to seek release.Explain to the AG’s office what the story is and what the church wants to do with the money. The AG should take this request to a judge and get a judge to sign off on it. This may be done in the judge’s offices or the judge may want to have a public hearing on this – I don’t know and I suspect that each judge will handle it differently. Hopefully it is a perfunctory process but that is probably only possible if no one in the church squabbles about where to use the money. Always follow the instructions of the AG – that way you’re doing exactly the right thing.

Lead On!