The Treasurer

Richard H. Ryder, 2018

Money makes the world go around and like it or not it is required to operate your Lodge.  As such, the stewardship of lodge operating funds should be placed into the hands of a competent, dedicated, and trustworthy member.  The work of the Treasurer is done mostly outside the lodge room – he has just a small piece of ritual and does no floor work.  But, don’t let this fool you into thinking it is just a token position – it’s not.  Without an effective Treasurer working behind the scenes the functioning of the lodge will suffer and the Master will have one less person to help fulfill his goals for the year.

Like the Lodge Secretary, the Lodge Treasurer position requires the right person with the right experience and the right disposition.  It requires someone with financial, technical, and interpersonal skills. Ideally, it requires a man experienced in the Craft. As such, this is not an entry level officer position.

This article describes the experience of preparing for and serving as the Treasurer, as told from a variety of sources, including Wor. Brother Michael Slyman (12 years as Treasurer of Rabboni Lodge, Westwood, MA) and Wor. Brother Robert P. Shedd (18 years as Treasurer of West Roxbury – Dorchester Lodge, Westwood, MA).  It also describes the skillset and personal traits one must have to be effective.

This article does not, however, discuss all topics that may be of interest to some Treasurers, such as investments, insurance, and payroll.  Nor does it discuss in detail all the associated roles and responsibilities, although a dynamic list exists on MasonicMaven.com. Please note that a thorough explanation of Treasurer roles and responsibilities is available through training provided by The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts.

Lastly, although not always explicitly stated, this article also applies to the Assistant-Treasurer.

Carefully Filling the Position

Like the Secretary, a member may suddenly find himself the Treasurer of his lodge when, for a variety of reasons, the position suddenly becomes vacant.  During these times an Assistant-Lodge Treasurer should be able to seamlessly move into the position.  If your lodge does not have an Assistant-Lodge Treasurer, you should seriously consider filling this position.

Given the Treasurer role is best filled with someone with a financial background, it may be difficult for some lodges to fill the position with a qualified person. If this is true, then those lodges should request guidance from Grand Lodge. However, if a man is adept at learning new material, he can learn the financial concepts required to fulfill the role. This may take time, which is why lodges should have a succession plan in place. Lodges should fill the Assistant-Treasurer position with either a qualified man or someone who can effectively learn the required financial concepts.

Skills and Traits

The following material describes some skills and traits to consider for those seeking to be the Treasurer or for a nominating committee to reference when filling the office. 

Honesty, Integrity, and Ethics

Above all else, the Treasurer MUST be a man of the highest honesty, integrity, and ethics, given he is entrusted with protecting the financial well-being of lodge operating funds.  His duty, per his obligation, is “to take charge of the stock and other property of the Lodge, receive all moneys, keep a just and true account of the same, and pay them out by order of the Worshipful Master and consent of the Lodge”. He is vetted by the nominating committee and voted on by the lodge.  As such he has won the approval of the lodge and they expect him to be a man of the utmost character and the faithful steward of lodge funds.  Violating this trust is a serious matter and should not to be taken lightly.  Serious infractions can subject someone to charges of fraud or embezzlement, complete with all the associated legal ramifications and possible suspension from all the rights and benefits of Freemasonry. Any man who has the least bit of doubt as to his personal character, that may in the slightest way compromise the lodge’s trust, should not assume the role of Lodge Treasurer or any other position involving lodge finances…period.

Accounting Fundamentals

Some people are not good with numbers and that’s okay.  They may find other suitable roles in the lodge. With that said, you don’t need to be a CPA, an accountant, a banker or a financial planner to serve as treasurer; but you do need a basic or working knowledge of accounting.  Balancing a check book, debits and credits, “T” accounts, balance sheet, and profit and loss statement should not be foreign terms.  Although there are software packages to streamline the treasurer’s work, he needs to understand what is fundamentally happening behind the scenes. There are plenty of resources to reference if you would like to strengthen your understanding of accounting, including books, seminars, formal classes and online material.

Accuracy and Attention to Detail

Accuracy and attention to detail are two key traits of an effective and competent Treasurer.  Simple mistakes can have a negative impact that cause confusion and may impact the successful operation of the lodge. This is especially true for lodges that are not blessed with a hefty checkbook balance.  The Master’s budget impacts programming and errors in managing and accounting for receipts and disbursements may cause the Master to cancel or significantly change a given activity.  Most importantly, repetitive errors contribute to the lodge members losing confidence in the careful stewardship of lodge finances.

Organization

Along with the Master and Secretary, the Treasurer must be organized.  He must keep track of receipts, invoices, vouchers, tax forms, reports, etc.  Doing so helps him stay on top of all the work that crosses his desk.  Doing so facilitates a lodge audit and streamlines Grand Lodge and tax reporting.  Doing so helps the Master measure his progress in running the lodge.  Everyone has their own organization system; no one size fits all.  It is important to find a system that works best for you.

Software applications take the drudgery out of common accounting and reporting activities. However, they won’t automate every step, thus requiring a reliable set of personal organization skills.  To acquire these skills, get a good book or check online for useful information.

Timely Recordkeeping, Audit Trails, and Reporting

The Treasurer is responsible for not only maintaining timely records that accurately reflect the financial operations of the lodge, but also for providing an accurate audit trail.

Another entity is typically responsible for investments, which may very well provide the operating income under the Treasurer’s management.  Although the treasurer may be an ex-officio member of that entity, his primarily concern is fundamental – the well-managed daily financial operations of the lodge.  As such, his activities include, but are not limited to, paying bills; signing checks; making deposits; and processing associated paperwork like receipts, invoices, and bank statements.

As you can see, a significant amount of data must be managed and reported, and it is the Treasurer’s responsibility to do so. Therefore, a software package like Quicken or QuickBooks, or a simple spreadsheet, are key recordkeeping tools.  However, using a software accounting package or spreadsheet application may not be intuitive for everyone, so personal or formal training may be necessary.  If so, the time taken to learn at least the basics of these tools will reap dividends downstream, especially during the lodge annual meeting, tax reporting season, and lodge audits.  These are over and above the benefits the Master derives out of knowing, month to month, how he is performing against his budget.

Understand Checks and Balances

When it comes to money, no one person should handle everything; there needs to be a process of checks and balances. For example, the Secretary receives requests for payment from vendors and members.  This is in the form a bill or invoice, either of which should be accompanied by a voucher. The Finance Committee (often comprised of at least the Master and Wardens) approves the request and signs the voucher.  Then, the proposed payment is voted on by the lodge.  Lastly, assuming approval by the lodge, the Treasurer cuts a check and forwards payment.  By incorporating a pre-defined and approved process of internal controls, the lodge is following generally accepted accounting principles adhered to by every reputable company and organization. It’s easy to cut corners, with the Treasurer being pressured into making a quick payment without proper authorization.  This is risky on several different levels.  Better to work with the Master and vendors to anticipate expenses and have the proper paperwork at the ready to provide a thorough audit trail and to support a sound process.

Conflict of Interest

Under no circumstances should there be a hint of conflict of interest on the part of anyone handling funds on behalf of the lodge.  For example, two or more members of the same family should not be part of the approval process. Also, employees of a financial institution, depending on their position and company, should think twice about serving as the Lodge Treasurer. In fact, some major financial firms require employees to divulge their outside associations to prevent the perception that in fulfilling their outside role they somehow represent the financial firm. When in doubt, be extra cautious.

Tax Compliance

There must be an awareness of the lodge tax requirements, the required reporting timeframe, and the requisite forms.  One such filing is IRS Form 990, filed annually by an organization exempt from income tax. This article will not delve into the recordkeeping and filing of this form; Grand Lodge can provide the necessary guidance.  Another consideration is the tax implications of compensating certain lodge officers for their time.  Lastly, there may be local and federal tax implications associated with ownership of a building by a building association.

The Lodge Secretary should be well-versed in all the above areas. If he lacks the necessary understanding, then he needs to educate himself. As indicated, he should start by contacting Grand Lodge for guidance. Another option is for the lodge to retain the services of an accredited CPA.

Budget Process

Based on training and experience the effective Secretary can provide valuable input into the budgeting process. This is especially valuable when the presiding Master is inexperienced in creating a budget to support his activities for the year.  Experience will allow you to better serve the Master and lodge by allowing you to look ahead at possible recurring events, lodge history, and lodge traditions.  Doing so will help ensure funding is available in a timely fashion.

Time Management

Effective time management is a skill that is professionally and personally transferable.  As the Lodge Treasurer you must be aware of the time sensitive nature of the role.  You can’t afford, for example, to pay bills past the due date or to reimburse members after their credit card payment is due; the former can be costly and the later is rude.

Also, the government and Grand Lodge are strict when it comes to submission of annual returns (reference the Grand Constitutions Sections 351 and 352), reports, payments, and forms.

Effectively managing time can be a challenge and if that is true for you it is wise to seek ways to acquire and implement sound management skills.  Once again, consult a friend, a well-written book, take a seminar, or check online for a process that works for you.

Interpersonal Skills

Managing someone else’s money requires the ability to calmly discuss sensitive issues and problems.  Maybe it is working with the Master on his budget and trying to make ends meet.  Maybe the Lodge Treasurer is not doing his job, causing you to miss timely payment of bills.  Maybe one of the members has real concerns about how lodge money is spent and comes to you for answers.  Each of these situations require tact, patience, and flexibility.  When deciding if being the Secretary is right for you, consider your ability to work with others to meet the needs of the lodge.

In Closing

Serving as a Lodge Treasurer is a fulfilling role for the qualified person.  He supports the lodge and the Master, in that order, by serving as a reliable and trustworthy steward of lodges operating finances.  This article provides points to consider by those seeking to serve his lodge in this capacity.  In addition to expanding one’s knowledge and skillset through mentors, books, classes, and online, Grand Lodge also offers treasurer training and a Lodge Treasurer online portal. As early as possible, take advantage of all resources at your disposal to increase your effectiveness in office.

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