The church had been planning for over 20 yrs to build housing for widows. Mid 2000's people started giving for fund raising specifically towards the widow housing.
Approx. 2012 the Pastor decided he wanted to renovate the sanctuary to be super fancy, high end. People of the church were not on board and although some funds came in, not near enough came in for the huge renovation project of the sanctuary.
A few weeks ago, the Pastor stood up in a Sunday morning service and announced to the congregation that the church board had granted his request to take money from the widow housing to use for the renovation of the sanctuary. People are not happy that the money that they gave for widows housing is being used for an already suitable sanctuary. What is recourse? Can we demand funds back?
I do not think this is a legal issue. I think the best way to address it might be to call for a church conference to address this matter. If there are enough people with concerns, the Pastor, as well as the board, should at least hear them out. The church probably has its own rules concerning donations. Obviously, situations like this one make it far less likely that people will contribute funds for future projects.
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My church allows for donations to be earmarked in this manner, but it will be difficult to make a accurate assessment of your position without further knowledge of the accounting practices of your church. Are these funds that were donated specifically for that project accounted for in a manner that they are easily identifiable? Can you prove the funds were donated for that specific purpose?
While I do not believe you and your parishioners can get your money back, you may be able to stop the minister from misappropriating the funds for a project they are not intended for. You may also have a recourse with your umbrella church organization for your denomination if you are affiliated with one. I would recommend you meet with an attorney to discuss your options further.
Generally speaking, funds which are designated for a particular purpose by a tax-exempt entity must be used for the purpose identified. Whether this will apply in your instance may depend upon how the money was solicited and how it has been accounted for over the year. If a tax exempt entity attempts to use properly designated funds for other purposes, the donors may have a legal action to recover the amounts donated.
If your church is part of a denomination which has a regional or national oversight / control board, you might contact that board for guidance.
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