Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Discuss questions around local unit policies for budgeting, reconciling, etc. This forum should not contain specific financial or membership information.
mdungan09
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Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby mdungan09 » Tue Jun 09, 2020 8:42 am

My ward has been using the YM and YW budget to purchase $10 gift cards for the youth on their birthdays and to celebrate high school graduations. I am new to the calling but have searched the handbook and this forum for info about using church funds to buy gift cards. My conclusion is that is behavior is not approved- but I wanted to double-check before I bring this before the Bishopric.

Thank you for your help and time-

-M

eblood66
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby eblood66 » Tue Jun 09, 2020 10:30 am

I don't know of any policy that prohibits buying gift cards as gifts using budget funds. The only applicable statement I could find in the handbook is in section 34.7.2.2:

Stake presidents and bishops make sure budget allowance funds are spent wisely. Funds should be used to bless people and to further gospel purposes. Leaders also ensure that all expenditures are within the allowance.


It's up to the stake president and bishop to decide whether this purpose is appropriate under those guidelines.

Now, buying gift cards using Fast Offering funds and giving them to a fast offering recipient for expenses is not appropriate under the rule the fast offerings expenses should generally be paid to providers and not recipients. But that's different than what you're describing.

What other handbook statements have you looked at?

BrianEdwards
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby BrianEdwards » Wed Jun 10, 2020 10:14 am

is not appropriate under the rule the fast offerings expenses should generally be paid to providers and not recipients
Sorry to take this off-topic from the OP, but I would have thought that gift cards for Fast Offering recipients would be ok under what you cite, given that the provider (gas station, etc) receives the money upfront, and the recipient doesn't receive any funds. I understand having a 'stash' of gift cards ready to be used isn't correct (since Fast Offering expenditures need to be specific to a recipient). And also that many people equate gift cards to cash gifts to members. To me, buying a gift card for a specific member situation where the gift card requires use for a specific item like gas seems ok. I guess I'm trying to determine if there's any specific policy against the latter, or if a Bishop can use discretion as long as they understand the general policy.

eblood66
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby eblood66 » Wed Jun 10, 2020 10:40 am

BrianEdwards wrote:
is not appropriate under the rule the fast offerings expenses should generally be paid to providers and not recipients
Sorry to take this off-topic from the OP, but I would have thought that gift cards for Fast Offering recipients would be ok under what you cite, given that the provider (gas station, etc) receives the money upfront, and the recipient doesn't receive any funds. I understand having a 'stash' of gift cards ready to be used isn't correct (since Fast Offering expenditures need to be specific to a recipient). And also that many people equate gift cards to cash gifts to members. To me, buying a gift card for a specific member situation where the gift card requires use for a specific item like gas seems ok. I guess I'm trying to determine if there's any specific policy against the latter, or if a Bishop can use discretion as long as they understand the general policy.

If the gift card is actually given to the recipient then that seems to violate the general policy because there is no way to verify that the funds were used for the authorized purpose. It's only slightly better than giving cash directly. Perhaps a one-time credit card might be better if the ward can get a statement of the actual transactions incurred.

In my experience if a recipient needs help with gas or similar then the bishop has asked a someone else (usually a councilor) to go with them and pay and ask for a reimbursement.

Note that the policy isn't quite absolute (Handbook section 22.6.4.5):

When possible, make payments to providers of goods and services rather than to the person being assisted or to other individuals.


So a bishop does have some latitude but if my bishop asked I would recommend trying very hard to avoid it and if it seemed necessary I would recommend asking all involved to provide as much paperwork about actual purchases as possible.

drepouille
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby drepouille » Wed Jun 10, 2020 10:51 am

The mantra I like to repeat often in bishopric and ward council meetings is, "We need a paper trail." Any scammer knows that gift cards are as fungible as cash, and in many ways are better than cash, since they can be used for online purchases. Limited-use debit cards are only slightly better. You might be able to see a purchase on a statement, but you don't know exactly what was purchased without an itemized receipt.
Dana Repouille, Plattsmouth, Nebraska

russellhltn
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby russellhltn » Wed Jun 10, 2020 11:17 am

drepouille wrote:Any scammer knows that gift cards are as fungible as cash,

They can easily be re-sold on the black market. It's a lot harder to sell a tank of gas or an actual meal.

What's interesting is to watch the recipient's reaction when you're about to give them what they're asking for instead of something they can trade. You'll learn real fast if you're being conned or not.
Have you searched the Help Center? Try doing a Google search and adding "site:churchofjesuschrist.org/help" to the search criteria.

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brown67
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby brown67 » Sat Jun 13, 2020 12:54 pm

We were told by our Stake never to buy gift cards and hand them out. Too easy to commit fraud is what we were told. We will hand them out if they are donated at Christmas, but no funds can be used to purchase gift cards.

eblood66
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby eblood66 » Wed Jul 08, 2020 4:01 pm

Our stake was recently told by our assistant area auditor that they had asked the church Auditing Department about gift cards (from questions raised in previous audits--not in response to this thread) and that they confirmed the church doesn't have a specific written policy on gift cards but said that gift cards should be treated like a cash advance. We still need to get receipts and documentation for the final purchases and we need to account for the entire amount. Receipts for the gift cards are not sufficient.

This was in relation to using gift cards for fast offering assistance and normal budget expenses. The original question was about using gift cards as gifts so it's a bit different. But I think the idea that a gift card is same as cash would still apply. If the bishop (and stake) is comfortable giving cash for these gifts then gift cards are probably fine. But if the bishop is hesitant to give cash, it's probably a bad idea to give gift cards.

waltbristow
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Re: Gift Cards Reimbursement Queston

Postby waltbristow » Sun Aug 09, 2020 12:29 pm

The idea of handing out gift cards for birthdays or graduations strikes me as strange - though I'm not sure I can adequately explain why. Maybe it's because I would not be comfortable cashing a church check and handing a youth a $10 bill for a birthday. Maybe it's a concern about Handbook 34.7.2 that says budget funds should be used "to pay for the activities and programs" of Church units. Would I be comfortable saying a birthday gift is an activity or program? Maybe I could convince myself. Or not. Maybe I struggle to understand the difference between buying a small gift for Mother's Day and a birthday gift. But the idea still causes a rumbling somewhere inside - and that causes discomfort. That discomfort extends beyond this specific situation.


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