By R.N White
Change is a gradual process in many churches. Turnover in leadership, growth or decline of membership, and shifts in organization and policies tend to be evolutionary changes. The gradual nature of change and its cumulative impacts in a church are the prime reasons for conducting an administrative audit to identify needs for improvement. In this chapter let’s look at what an administrative audit is, what it can do to help, and how it should be carried out.
What Is an Administrative Audit?
An administrative audit is a periodic examination of the managerial effectiveness of the church. In specific terms, a typical audit should embrace the following areas:
1. The objectives of the church. Are these spelled out? Do they include both long-term and short-term objectives? Do the appropriate committees know of and refer to the objectives? Do the objectives still fit with the current directions and intentions of the church?
2. Current policies. What are the policies of the church-the statements of how things will be done to work toward the church’s objectives? Are the policies written down or simply taken for granted? Do the appropriate people have knowledge of the pertinent policies? Do the written policies make sense in the light of what’s actually going on, and what should be going on, in the church’s programs?
3. Current programs. Does each program have its own objectives and timetables? Are program responsibilities clearly spelled out? Is there a reasonable allocation of resources to ensure accomplishment of programs? Are desired results being achieved?
4. Is there a reasonable linkage between church objectives and current programs? An experienced consultant will always look for this linkage and frequently find the lack of it to be a basic cause of managerial ineffectiveness. Programs have changed direction; new programs have been established, and resources (people, money) are now being allocated on a basis that simply does not match with the overall objectives of the church. Rather, programs and resources are responsive to the interests and influence of particular individuals. Another problem arises when one program is difficult to accomplish and another easier, and the easier one gets the effort.
5. Organization relationships-who’s responsible for what? Even a small church can suffer the problem of unclear responsibility and authority. Shifts of volunteer personnel, overloaded paid staff, and changing priorities as crises arise-all these contribute to abnormal pressures on organizational relationships within a church. Since the church is people, this factor is of critical importance in the audit.
6. Work loads. Having a reasonable work load is of concern to every person on a payroll and to those in a volunteer role as well. Work load analysis gets into the “nitty-gritty” of evaluating how long it ought to take to do things normally and evaluating whether the package of duties assigned to each person reflects a practical and reasonable expectation of output.
7. Methods of processing data. Personalized ways of getting the job done aren’t always the most efficient. The church secretary’s filing system, the treasurer’s billing methods, the music director’s control of inventories of hymnals and choir robes-these are all examples of areas where simple improvements can make everybody’s job easier. Very often the issue is not money but time, or perhaps just eliminating frustration by doings jobs in an orderly, systematic way.
8. Financial controls. It is just good sense to check on the procedures for managing revenues and expenditures. Are the funds moving rapidly to the designated accounts? Are we getting the best practical interest rate on funds, short-term and long-term? Is the control of expenditures only by authorized individuals being observed? Is money being spent at a rate during the year which assures meeting budget limits by year-end?
An administrative audit needs to be planned carefully right from the outset. It’s important to delineate clearly those areas which need examination and those which can be left out or covered only briefly. The latter might include areas in which administrative action has been recently taken, for example, new manuals written, policy recently redefined. An administrative audit does not have to replow ground that has been recently tilled.
Who Should Do the Audit?
Normally the people who should be directly involved are the pastor and the governing board of the church, possibly through an audit committee set up temporarily to focus on this task. A consultant might be employed, but this is expensive and probably necessary only where the organization is sufficiently large and the administration problems so complex as to warrant the expense. A medium-sized church that audits itself administratively-say, every five years-and takes action to correct problems noted does not need to bring in a consultant.
Method of Conducting Administrative Audit
The first step in the audit, following initial planning of scope, is to explain the purpose, benefits, and methods of the audit to all paid and volunteer staff. Apprehensions need to be allayed; questions should be encouraged and answered frankly. The pastor should stress the need for cooperation in giving information and help. The schedule for the audit should be explained.
The next step is to assemble and review pertinent written materials dealing with administration of the church.
These are likely to include budgets, job descriptions, the personnel policy manual, memos outlining administrative policy and procedures, publications documenting the objectives and role
of church committees, and the like. How much written material is available will depend on how formalized administrative practices in the organization are. The lack of such documentation may in
itself signal possible problem areas.
The next step is interviewing administrative personnel. Because of the relatively small size of church organizations, the rule of thumb would be to interview all administrative personnel, including both paid staff and key committee people.
Normally starting interviews at the top of the organization makes sense in order to develop a consistent and informed “overview” of the administrative process. While the pastor and the chairpersons of the governing board may not know the details, they do see administration as a series of processes designed to fulfill certain objectives of the organization.
It is important to develop that perspective at the outset.
It may well be that subsequent interviews “down the line” will change those perceptions. But comparison of what is taking place administratively against what is supposed to be taking place can
highlight causes of administrative inefficiencies.
How long should the interviews take? Properly planned, an interview with a “management” person is likely to require one to two hours. Interviews with people who perform clerical, maintenance, and other routine functions will take less time.
“Properly planned” is the key to effective use of interview time. For each person interviewed the interviewer should be prepared with key questions pertaining to that position. This technique is important in ensuring that interviews cover the topics that need to be covered, cover them in the appropriate depth, and that needed information is, in fact, gathered.
Interviews should take place at some reasonably quiet location, preferably away from the interviewee’s telephone or other interruptions. At the beginning of the interview the interviewee should be put at ease by reminding him or her of the purposes and benefits of the administrative audit. While an administrative audit is focused on procedures, policies, and processes, the factors of personality and emotions inevitably come into the picture. After all, those conducting the administrative audit are specifically looking for problem areas.
Those being interviewed will sometimes seize on the interview as an opportunity to vent their feelings about individuals. This situation needs to be dealt with sympathetically but firmly,
making it clear that the audit is not a “witch hunt” and that personal frictions will be noted but are not the main issue. One needs to be careful to keep the discussion as objective as possible.
With respect to confidentiality of discussion, assurance can and should be given by the interviewer at the outset. It is important that the interviewer in possession of confidential data of any sort not disclose its source in talking with others. Furthermore, the final report of the administration audit does not identify any single source of comments on problems.
Following each interview the interviewer should follow the practice of writing up notes. Depending on memory simply won’t do the job. The interview notes are the raw material from which the findings of the administrative audit are to be drawn.
As the interview process continues, there is often a need to modify interview guides either to probe certain problems that seem to be emerging or to seek out particular hard-to-get data, In some instances call-back interviews will be necessary to supplement or verify information gathered in interviews subsequent to the initial one. However, carefully planned interviews will keep this practice to a minimum.
Up to this point we have talked about two sources of administrative audit information: (1) published manuals, policy and procedure statements, etc. , and (2) interviews with people involved in the administrative process of the church.
A third possible source of input to the administrative audit is an agency within the denominational organization that deals with church administration. Of course, where policy and procedure guidelines have been provided by such an agency to your church , these would normally be picked up in reviewing published policies. However, it may also be desirable for the administrative audit person to contact the denominational agency to see about practices followed by other churches, experience with particular problems, services that might be available, and the like. All too often small churches, particularly, do not realize the wealth of useful services and information on administrative processes that may be available through the denomination.
Analyzing the Data
Now the next key stage of the administrative audit is at hand-that of analyzing the data. Here are some tips from a management consultant :
1. First review all the notes from the published data-from interviews and other sources-and establish some broad categories by which to classify the findings. These headings might include:
staffing, compensation, financial controls, organization, objectives, facilities, maintenance-just to mention some basic categories.
2. Organize all the collected data according to these categories.
3. Identify and describe the problems that emerge from analysis of the data thus classified.
Problem identification is the key to an effective administrative audit. It has been truly said that “a problem identified clearly is a problem half-solved.”
It is undeniably true that people involved in the administrative process, whether leadership or workers, tend to intermingle and confuse symptoms of problems, causes of problems, and the problems themselves. This is one of the reasons for having administrative audits done by a person or persons not directly involved administratively. The “fresh look” is often most valuable in the problem-definition stage.
The important issue to stress is the need for reviewing the data carefully and objectively and thoughtfully asking these questions : “What are the key problems here? Which are symptoms
or evidences of problems? What are the real problems and their causes?” If there is an administrative audit committee, this is the point at which committee judgments very often can be useful
in analysis of the data. Such judgment applied at this stage provides a better basis for eventual recommendations.
And now recommendations are in order. The administrative audit is not completed until specific, clear, and corrective recommendations are developed. Here are some guidelines for dealing with these:
1. Do the recommendations, in fact, address themselves to the problems as defined?
2. Will the recommendations, if implemented, solve the problem effectively?
3. Are the recommendations practical and realistic? Can they be put into effect with present resources, using present people, without unreasonable disruption of the organization?
4. What are the other impacts of recommendations in terms of changes in policies, procedures, authorities and responsibilities, organization? Can we live with these?
The final result of the administrative audit is the written report. After all, it is necessary to communicate findings and recommendations to members of the church staff and to the appropriate members of the congregation. In fact, some kind of summary report may be desirable for the entire congregation to give them a sense of participation in what is taking place.
The final report need not be a lengthy document. It may be sufficient simply to set forth in writing the following:
1. The purposes and method of the administrative audit with brief detail on the information-gathering process.
2. A summary of key problems.
3. A description of the recommendations agreed upon and the plan for their implementation.
The report identifies what can be done in the short term and what needs to take place over the long term. The report should document schedules for follow-up actions. It should also specify who will be responsible for taking these actions. The report of the administrative audit is in itself a plan of action.
Implementation of recommendations normally involves such tasks as these:
1. Rewriting job descriptions to reflect changes in authority, responsibilities, and procedures.
2. Preparing, or redrafting, manuals of policy and procedure in appropriate areas. Or if a manual isn’t needed, memorandums from the leadership to the appropriate persons on the staff can be written.
3. Developing or redesigning forms for processing and recording data.
The job of implementing approved recommendations from the administrative audit would normally be done by the pastor, by the pertinent committees whose programs are affected by the recommendations, and/or by appropriate staff personnel of the church. In other words, these recommendations are acted upon by the regular administrative mechanism within the church, not by some special committee.
Longer-term actions are worked into the long-term plan of the church to ensure that they are incorporated in a schedule of implementation and followed up to see that they do take place. These are the logical steps for “tucking in the loose ends” of the administrative audit process.
One points needs re-emphasis at this stage. The whole process of improving administrative effectiveness can bog down unless the people who need to change are willing to change. This
attitude needs to be developed right from the start. The initial explanation of the purposes and benefit of the administrative audit starts this process. The manner in which interviews are
conducted, opinions are sought, confidential information is handled, and problems are verified can all contribute to a cooperative attitude on the part of administrative personnel.
The final step in the administrative audit process is to disband the committee. This may seem so obvious as not to warrant comment. But in accordance with the general tenet of sound administration that organizations be kept as lean as possible, any committee which has served its purpose should be dissolved. Doing this officially affords an opportunity for recognition and thanks to its members for their good job.
When should the process be repeated? If one administrative audit turns out to have been a very good thing, is another equally good? In principle the answer is “yes.” But an administrative audit is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time. It should not be repeated every two or three years.
Problems of an administrative nature warranting an audit don’t develop that fast. It probably is a good idea to schedule an administrative audit on the order of every five years in an
organization that is on a reasonable path of growth and change.