Financial Issues

General Comments | Ministry Funding | Financial Accountability
Personal Funds | Benevolent Funds | Foreign Exchange
Credit Cards/ATMs | Traveler's Checks | Duty Free | Uganda Mission Home
Uganda Shillings | Are Short Term Missions worth the Cost?
Money & Ministry

General Comments
There are a number of financial issues that an overseas missionary traveler needs to take into consideration. Trip funding, personal funds (gifts, souvenirs, etc.), using travelers checks and credit cards, and understanding exchange rates when changing from one currency to another.

Obviously the first issue is the raising of Ministry Funding to support the trip. In my opinion, self-funding is the least favorable option. People are more prone to seriously pray for a ministry they have invested their money in. Those who travel to Uganda (or elsewhere) on a mission trip need people to be praying for them. From time to time I have personally been the recipient of an extraordinary measure of grace while in Uganda and upon returning to the states have someone tell me they had fervently prayed for our team at that very time or were awakened in the middle of the night with an urgency to pray for our team.

Additionally, if you pay your own way, there might come a tendency to view the opportunity as "my trip" and I can do my on thing. When you are very aware that others have given, and even sacrificed to help you go, you are much more aware that your trip represents the investment of others and should be spent wisely and covered with prayer.

I would also recommend giving some serious thought about how you will handle benevolent ministry while in Uganda. The needs are very real and very great. You cannot help every single person you see, no matter how much your heart wants to. Therefore, you must distinguish between truly helping someone and just handing out money (or other help) which in fact does not really permanently change anything but creates a cycle of dependency where people are taught to beg help from every foreigner they see. Please see the sections that deal with this under Ministry Issues.

Financial Issues | Uganda Mission Home

Financial Accountability
The Africa Christian Training Institute, ACTI, seeks to demonstrate financial accountability in the following ways:

  1. Governing Board: ACTI officers and board members meet the following:
    1. Are involved in ministry in Uganda so they understand the issues
    2. Serve without remuneration and pay their own transportation, room and board, to attend the annual ACTI board meeting
    3. Review the annual financial report and verify all donated funds dispersed as designated
    4. The only member of our Board who has not been to Uganda is our Treasurer, and his area of exprtise (being a CPA) qualifies him to make a meaningful contribution to the faithfulness of ACTI.
  2. Fund Raising: funds raised by ACTI and ACTI team members are solicited in a straight forward manner without the use of gimmicks and are used as designated by the donor. In the event the funds designated for an individual team member exceeds the amount needed ($3,500) the excess funds are used in the one of the following ways:
    1. Transferred to another member of that same team who is short of necessary funds, or
    2. Used to enhance the ministry opportunities of that team (e.g. grant more scholarships for Ugandanís to attend a conference or seminar), or
    3. Placed in a reserve account for a future trip by that team member
  3. Administrative Costs: slightly less than 3% ($100 of $3,500 raised) is used for ACTI administrative costs and this is to support our staff in Uganda and pay the required fees to wire money from the US to Uganda. All ACTI activities in the United States are handled by volunteers. ACTI team leaders raise their own support. We do not require team members to raise funds beyond their own needs so team leaders can go for free.
  4. Financial Report: each year at our annual meeting (usually the first weekend in December) a complete financial report is received and reviewed by the board. The report is prepared by the ACTI treasurer who is a practicing CPA. Copies of this report are available upon request.
  5. ACTI Mission and Vision: ACTI is a Word and Deed ministry that has worked effectively in Uganda since 1983 with the clear purpose of helping build the Kingdom of God with any group who invites us to minister without restriction in the following areas: evangelism, renewal, discipleship, marriage and family, church planting, and leadership training; and to provide assistance and training in the areas of health, agriculture, business, education, and orphans.

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Personal Funds
Each team member should decide for themselves the amount of personal funds they wish to take with them on the trip. I always take some money to change into Uganda Shillings so I have currency to spend plus I am able to give small amounts as benevolent gifts to people who help you while in Uganda. As a matter of security, you should not keep all your financial assets in one location when traveling or in Uganda. Put some in a wallet, some in a hidden pouch, and some in a fanny pack so that you reduce the risk of losing everything in a single moment when you drop your guard.

I recommend taking nothing smaller than US $20.00 bills but $100s and $50s are best. Exchange services just give a lower rate for smaller bills. This is true of travelers checks as well. Make sure your US $20s, $50s, and $100s are of the newest series and in crisp new condition. See U.S. currency exchange under the Critical Updates Section.

How Foreign Currency Exchanges Work
You will also probably deal with foreign currency in London or other layover city en route to and from Uganda. It might be helpful for you to check the current exchange rate for your layover city your travel schedule includes. Two options for doing so are listed below:

If you do not print out the chart mentioned above, I would suggest at least making some notes on a 3x5 card and taking it with you with exchange rates for Uganda as well as your layover city. It is easy to be fooled sometimes into thinking you are getting a good deal when in reality you are not. You should also note that exchange rates change daily (not usually a great deal) but they do change so make sure you know what you are spending.

Generally, when going through an exchange service, the larger the US bill you change, the better the rate you will get. The exchange rate you see posted is typically for a US $100 oir $50 bills. For smaller bills the rate is less and varies from place to place.

The following table gives a mythical example of how exchange rates work and is based on the Uganda Shilling:

Example of Declining Exchange Rate
Quantity
US Dollars Exchange Rate Uganda Shillings
1
$100 bill
1700
170,000
2
$50 bills
5
$20 bills
1600
160,000
10
$10 bills
1400
140,000
20
$5 bills
1300
130,000
100
$1 bills
1200
120,000

As the example above shows, there is a declining value to the exchange rate between the US $100 bill and smaller bills. You simple get a better rate for a US $100 bill than for one-hundred $1.00 bills. The example above is not based on actual numbers but just an illustration. However, the principle works with Uganda Shillings and other currencies as well. The problem you encounter is if you exchange a US $100 bill and only spend $85 of it, if you took the leftover amount back to the exchange window, they would not give you US $15 back. Therefore, you are either end up effectively paying $100 for what you purchased or take the lower rate of exchange and the effect of that is still an inflated price on what you purchased. (See below for use of credit cards for shopping)

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Credit Cards/ATMs
I also take a credit card and for added security I have a credit card that has my photograph and signature imbedded in the card itself. You will find most foreign businesses will check your id and signature closely when you use a credit card. Most of the ACTI teams have a layover in London or some other European City and you will probably want to shop and bring home a few souvenirs and you will need cash or a credit card for that. My personal view is you should shop using a credit card. If you change US dollars into a foreign currency, it is unlikely you will spend the entire amount and you then end up with a small amount of the foreign currency. If you attempt to re-exchange it back into US dollars, you will find a hand full of change will bring a much lower exchange rate, a fact which effectively inflates the purchase price of whatever your bought. See also the section on Currency Exchange.

Please do not see this as a blanket endorsement of credit card use. Slowly by slowly (the Ugandan equivalent of slowly but surely) credit card and ATM use is growing in Uganda. I have not yet attempted to use a credit card to get shillings from a Ugandan ATM, but I have used a credit card at Mweya Lodge and Entebbe Airport without any problems at all.

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Travelers Checks
The first couple of trips I made to Uganda I took travelers checks with me but found them difficult to cash except in Kampala. The ability that most "first world" travelers are familiar with to go into any commercial establishment and make a purchase with a traveler's check that is accepted "same as cash" is simply not the case in Uganda. Businesses and roadside stands in Uganda want cash (Uganda Shillings) on the spot. Therefore, most of the members on our teams have their U.S. funds exchanged into Uganda Shillings upon arrival in Kampala before heading off to various venues for ministry. The exchange rate you receive outside Kampala is also less. Clearly, the best exchange deal is US $100s or $50s in Kampala.

You should also be aware that traveler's check in smaller amounts ($5, $10 or $20) receive a less favorable exchange rate. If you take traveler's checks, you should take $50s and $100s.

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Duty Free Shopping

All the International Airports I have been through contain shops where you can buy items "Duty Free" that is, without payment of customs fees (taxes). I have purchased a few things in these shops but as a rule the prices are very high. The stores are located in prime real estate -- international airports with thousands of travelers just sitting around waiting with no place to go and nothing to do but shop and eat. At Gatwick I purchased a European style telephone adaptor jack for my laptop computer. It cost me nearly $6.00 US. That same jack is available in "regular" stores for less than $2.00 US.

You should also be aware that while a purchase at a foreign airport is be Duty Free leaving that country, depending on dollar value, might very well be subject to taxes when entering US Customs. I do not know what that amount would be as my purchases have never been more that a couple of hundred dollars. I am sure it would take at least a thousand dollars or more to cross this line. I doubt any mission team traverler would ever find this a problem, but at least you are aware it could be an issue.

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