How to Set Up an Emergency Relief Fund for Your Church

Deacons need a written plan for administering their emergency relief fund, but they also need to know the crucial points that the plan must contain to keep ensure fairness and to help keep the tax man away…

Your church may already have an emergency relief fund set up. A written policy is important for ensuring consistency and reducing confusion when assisting members who need aid. Fairness if most important. The Bible has a lot to say about this:

  • “A perfect and just weight you must have; a perfect and just measure you must have, so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you” (Deut. 25:15).
  • “You must use just scales, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:36).
  • “Yahweh hates scales that are not accurate, but he delights in a precise weight” (Prov. 11:1).

It is also crucial that there be no confusion about how to proceed when need arises. The Bible speaks to this, also:

  • “About the widow and orphan, the foreigner, and the poor person—do not oppress them, and let none of you plot any harm against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:10).
  • “How long will you judge unjustly and show favoritism to the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless; maintain the rights of the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy; take them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:2-4).

A written plan can help eliminate delay in addressing needs that arise in the congregation. The plan should also help protect the church from tax risk.

CPA and consulting firm CapinCrouse has laid out a series of points which every emergency relief plan should address. CapinCrouse, a firm that helps churches and nonprofits, has been in this business for a while. On its website, we read:

Since 1972, the firm has served domestic and international outreach organizations, universities and seminaries, foundations, media ministries, rescue missions, relief and development organizations, churches and denominations, and many others by providing support in the key areas of financial integrity and security. In addition, CapinCrouse members regularly contribute to policy decisions that impact our nation’s nonprofit entities.


An article on the CapinCrouse website lists 10 bullet points to consider:

We recommend the following best practices for church benevolence programs:

– Create and implement a written policy.

– Define what types of contributions will be allowed. To be tax-deductible, contributions must be made to the program, not to a specific individual or family.

– Appoint a committee or personnel to review and approve requests. Avoid giving one person control over fund distribution without adequate oversight and accountability measures.

– Decide what types of need will receive support. Typically, assistance is allowed for basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical.

– Develop adequate criteria for determining individual need.

– Document the need and obtain (and document) external verification before disbursing larger amounts. (More on this below.)

– Include reasonable limits per person during a specified time period. The tax law does not require limits, but larger amounts and longer-term assistance require more investigation and consideration than can be addressed in a policy for routine assistance.

– Make disbursements from a general fund or a benevolence fund, rather than from the collection plate or other sources.

– Pay assistance (rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.) directly to the service provider, rather than to the individual.

– Always keep a written record of all funds disbursed.

For suggestions on Biblical criteria that should govern access to the emergency relief fund, see my article “Biblical Criteria For Emergency Relief“.

I also recommend funding the relief fund as a regular part of the annual budget. This is because the timing of recessions is unpredictable. There are good times, and there are bad times. Joseph’s warning to Pharaoh should also be a warning to us:

“Look, seven years of great abundance will come throughout all the land of Egypt. Seven years of famine will come after them, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will devastate the land. The abundance will not be remembered in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe” (Gen. 41:29-31).

Good times are followed by bad times. So we should store up during the good times:

“Let Pharaoh appoint officials over the land, and let them take a fifth of the crops of Egypt in the seven abundant years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, for food to be used in the cities. They should preserve it. The food will be a supply for the land for the seven years of famine which will be in the land of Egypt. In this way the land will not be devastated by the famine” (vs. 34-36).

For a more detailed look at the ten bullet points, read the full article by clicking here: Important Considerations for Church Benevolence Programs