Sample Short-Term Mission Trip and Mission Field Visit Assessment Policy

Many ministries sponsor short-term mission trips and encourage their constituents to participate in the trips. Additionally, ministries may send representatives to a mission field to assess certain field-specific issues before the ministry begins to support a particular field or as a qualifying event contingent on a ministry’s continuing to support a field.

Sample Policy

ABC Ministry occasionally sponsors short-term mission trips. While these trips may provide essential ministry services and encouragement on the field, the visits are primarily intended to introduce trip participants to missions.

Additionally, it is occasionally desirable for ministry staff and/or volunteers to visit a supported missionary (national or expatriate) in the field, assess a possible field of service for potential future missionary support, or assess a possible field of service for a future short-term mission trip. Visits to missionaries currently supported by the ministry are to (1) demonstrate the ministry’s commitment to their ministry, (2) provide face-to-face encouragement, and (3) assess the effectiveness of the ministry.

The ministry desires that God will be honored in every aspect of these trips. Therefore, this policy has been developed and adopted by the ministry governing board to provide general guidance for these trips.

Trip approval. All short-term mission trips and field assessment visits are recommended by the ministry governing board to be considered under these policies. (Note: The trip approval process will vary based on the governance structure of a particular ministry. In some instances, for example, the governing board may delegate trip approval responsibility to the CEO.)

Approval, training, supervision and assignment of trip participants. Potential nonstaff trip members will be screened according to qualifications established by the ministry and trip participants are given meaningful training and adequately supervised.

Non-staff trip participants are assigned to programs and project locations based on the assessment of ministry leaders of each individual’s skills and training.

Funding trips. Based on the funding method approved by the ministry governing board for a particular trip, the following funding approaches may be used:

  1. Trip expenses may be fully or partially funded by the ministry. Funds from the missions or other budget line items may be identified for this purpose.
  2. Trip expenses may be fully or partially funded from resources raised by the trip participants. Funding may be raised to cover direct and indirect trip costs, based on the approval by the ministry board of the funding plan. While the ministry will accept gifts preferenced for the trip of a particular participant, the ministry will not accept gifts restricted or designated for a particular trip participant. (Reason: gifts restricted or designated for a particular gift participant do not qualify to receive a charitable gift acknowledgment and such gifts are not consistent with the tax-exempt status of the ministry.)

    If trip expenses are fully or partially funded from resources raised by the trip participants, all communication to donors—sample text for letters, websites and blog posting and talking points for verbal communication about the trip—will be approved by the ministry.

    If resources are raised beyond the goal for a particular trip participant, the excess may be used to provide resources for a trip participant that is under-funded and/or carried forward for future mission trips.

    If the resources raised by a trip participant are less than the financial goal established by the ministry, the ministry will determine whether to assign funds sufficient to allow the individual to participate in the trip. The additional funds could come from the ministry’s mission or general funds. Or, the additional funds could come from resources raised beyond the goal to fund other trip participants.

Issuing charitable gift acknowledgments. At the discretion of the ministry, charitable gift acknowledgements will be prepared by the ministry and provided for all gifts that conform with this policy, including gifts from family members and trip participants. However, gifts will not be acknowledged if the trip participant is unable to or for any reason does not plan to significantly perform services to carry out the purposes of the trip (for example, a child of age 3). Charitable gift acknowledgments will not be provided for gifts to fund the trip for a prefereneced individual.

The ministry will determine the appropriateness of issuing charitable gift acknowledgments when trip participants pay their own expenses for a ministry-sponsored trip. No charitable gift acknowledgments will be issued for short-term mission trips that have not been approved by the ministry.

Charitable gift acknowledgments issued by the ministry will include the following wording:

  • An indication the ministry has discretion and control over the gifts.
  • A statement indicating “no goods or services were provided in exchange for the gifts,” if this is true.

In determining whether a gift is preferenced or restricted for a potential trip participant, the ministry will use the following principles for guidance:

  • A preferenced gift merely comes with a preference or a desire that the gift be used to support the trip expenses of a particular trip participant.

    Preferenced gifts generally may be accepted with a gift acknowledgment provided.
  • An earmarked gift is a transfer that is intended to benefit an individual, not the ministry. It is a transfer over which the ministry does not have sufficient discretion and control. For example, if accepted, the ministry would not have the freedom to use the funds for a trip participant who fell short of the financial goal for the trip.

    Earmarked gifts generally should not be accepted; therefore, a gift acknowledgment is a moot issue.

Refunding of gifts related to trips. Gifts prefereneced for particular gift recipients will not be refunded to donors except in unusual circumstances, such as the cancellation of a trip. Funds preferenced for the trip of a particular participant could be carried forward for a future trip at the discretion of the ministry.

Discretion and control over gifts. All gifts given to support trips are the property of the ministry and will be expended under the discretion and control of the ministry.

Accounting records. The ministry will separately record revenue and expense related to each short-term mission trip.

Determining accountable expenses related to trips. Expenses will be reimbursed under the ministry’s accountable expense reimbursement plan. Allowable volunteer expenses include transportation expenses and reasonable expenses for meals and lodging incurred while away from home. Expenses will not be reimbursed for individuals who only have nominal duties relating to the performance of services for the ministry or who for significant portions of the trip are not required to render services (in other words, where there is a significant element of personal pleasure).

While “a significant element of personal pleasure” is not defined by the tax code or regulations, the current edition of IRS publication 526 provides the following guidance:

Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. This applies whether you pay for the expenses directly or indirectly. You are paying the expenses indirectly if you make a payment to the charitable organization and the organization pays for your travel expenses.

The deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. Even if you enjoy the trip, you can take a charitable contribution deduction for your travel expenses if you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip. However, if you have only nominal duties, or if for significant parts of the trip you do not have any duties, you cannot deduct your travel expenses.

To prove the extent and duration of services, each trip participant will keep an hour-by-hour itinerary of the entire trip. The itinerary should separate those times when the trip participant is on duty for the ministry from those times when the participant is free to choose his or her own activities.

Ministry staff participation in trips. Ministry staff are encouraged to participate in mission trips by providing them with one week of paid time for one trip per year subject to approval from the staff member’s supervisor. (Note: Your ministry may determine it is appropriate for staff to have more paid time for trips; e.g., two weeks of paid time for up to two trips per year.)

Staff members are responsible to raise the same financial support as other trip participants (Note: Your ministry may determine it is appropriate for a staff member who is leading a team to raise support for the team as a whole, whereby the funding for the leader is paid from the overall trip budget).

If a staff participant is a non-exempt employee for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the mission trip responsibilities are not clearly outside the scope of their position description, the ministry will define the hours on and off-duty during the trip to clearly determine any overtime hours (Note: Your ministry may determine staff members participating outside the scope of their position description must use leave time instead of receiving their regular pay).

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This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.