As COVID-19 continues to spread nationwide, many faith-based, charity and community organizations have found themselves impacted in ways they never anticipated. Yet, due to the rapid onset of the virus, many groups don’t have the resources or time to strategically plan for new challenges in the weeks and months ahead.
“There is so much to consider due to COVID-19, and most faith-based, charity and community organizations don't realize the scope of the risk that they're facing right now,” Zachary Kester, Executive Director and Managing Attorney with Charitable Allies, told The Christian Post.
“In the midst of a crisis, it’s important for boards to identify their tripwires, and what necessary steps they need to take, etc,” he continued. “If they decide now, when they’re slightly less emotional, less harried, and less stressed, it will make a tremendous difference in the long-run. Unfortunately, many boards and executive leadership fail to think through these kinds of scenarios in advance.”
Charitable Allies, a charity that provides legal, educational, administrative support, training, and consulting services to nonprofits, is stepping up to help faith-based groups navigate the unique challenges posed by COVID-19 at greatly reduced rates.
“It’s incredibly common, especially in the midst of a crisis, for clients to come to us with one particular issue, and as we dive in, we find there were actually one or two larger issues that caused the symptoms we’re seeing,” he said. “It really just takes us an hour or two to identify the problems we need to address: What are the long-term fixes, and what are the truly urgent needs we need to deal with now?”
“We’re really good at prioritizing those issues in a nonjudgmental way. We understand how ministry works, so we are able to help identify a path through a crisis and prioritize needs in an efficient way so nonprofit leaders can do what they do best.”
Already, the Indiana-based company has helped a number of its non-profit clients resolve crises and find normalcy amid the nationwide pandemic. One way Charitable Allies helps ministries, Kester said, is by helping them understand how various legislation and laws will impact their particular mission and situations.
“We help clients understand what the different requirements are under the Family Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disability Act, the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act, just to name a few,” he said. “We help them understand what benefits are available to them, what obligations they are responsible for, what the duty of care means for them, and the role of the duties of loyalty and obedience.”
A seasoned legal expert and father of two adopted and two biological children, Kester said his passion for helping charities and faith-based organizations thrive stems from his commitment to his Christian faith.
“As a young man, I saw that Christians and Christianity falling out of favor with mainstream culture,” he shared. “I saw that culture was becoming a very hostile place for Christianity here in America in particular. I became very interested in the First Amendment and religious liberty and protections for Christians to allow them to be the hands and feet of Jesus when they feel called to do so.”
Around 2013, Charitable Allies saw a “significant need for attorneys who really understand the nonprofit and faith-based community sectors at a very deep level while simultaneously understanding at depth the legal and accounting issues those organizations face,” he said.
“I became fascinated with the intersection of creating an organization or a ministry that does Gospel work and helping people do that well,” Kester continued. “There’s an element of faith and calling in everything I do, yet I’m extraordinarily realistic. There is absolutely an element of faith in the sense [that] God will meet the needs of ministries as they go along, yet we can’t be imprudent in incurring large amounts of payroll liabilities with no way forward.”
While Charitable Allies is a Christian-led non-profit, the attorneys that make up the group represent a diversity of religious backgrounds, from two ordained ministers with graduate theology degrees, to deeply committed lay leaders in their churches to two with no particular faith.
COVID-19, Kester said, has presented an opportunity for Charitable Allies to step in and help ministries and religious organizations meet their complex, unique needs. He, along with his team, helps their clients make informed, practical decisions regarding tough issues like cash flow, employee layoffs, and how and when to make appropriate insurance claims. He is also helping faith-based clients apply for SBA loans that they have historically been prohibited from accessing.
“We help our clients navigate difficult processes,” Kester said. “Oftentimes, we find that ministries believe that the resources are given to them for the purposes of Kingdom work, and so they do Kingdom work, commonly having only two or four weeks of cash flow on hand and no real line of sight into more. And all of a sudden, when the stock market crashes, people slow their giving and the need skyrockets. With COVID-19, this is all happening within the course of a month.”
“Companies are faced with wanting to be the hands and feet of Christ, but they don’t have money,” he added. “They’re asking, ‘What do we do when we can’t get a paycheck protection loan fast enough? Is it prudent to dip into the line of credit?’ It’s having those conversations early on to really think through those issues and be proactive.”
Thanks to their highly experienced legal, accounting and training personnel, Charitable Allies is able to help clients quickly obtain their state tax exemptions — a process that would typically take weeks to months.
Kester shared how one particular non-profit focused on the manufacturing and distribution of ventilators was able to file with the IRS for recognition of tax-exempt status within just 36 hours of reaching out to Charitable Allies. Typically, he said, that process would take ten weeks.
“Many organizations are trying to expand programming in some instances to help with COVID response, whether it's distributing ventilators and facemasks, doing volunteer work, or whatever it is,” Kester said. “We've helped get things started very quickly.”
With a focus on integrity, stewardship, and faithfulness, Charitable Allies is able to help faith-based, charity and community organizations continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus amid crises while “preserving the integrity of the organization and reducing the liability for individual board members,” Kester stressed.
“It’s important to take some of the emotion out of decisions, and we help clients do that,” he shared. “We look at the effectiveness of your programming and talk about the management of your people in a way that's constructive and forward-looking all while understanding that God is ultimately in control and has a plan.”
The challenges facing Christian non-profits and ministries are just beginning, Kester said, and it’s important for such organizations to strategically plan for the coming weeks and months in light of this reality. Yet, he encouraged believers to rest in the Gospel truth that God is ultimately in control of even the most difficult situations.
“God is still in control,” he said. “He was in control when Daniel was taken as an adolescent to Babylon, He was in control when Esther became a consort to the King, and He is still in control today. As we go about our ministry work, it can seem scary and it can seem bigger than us. But we partner with someone who is bigger than even this problem.”
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