A certain prominent Christian nonprofit organization offers food, clothing, and a place to worship for prostitutes and the poor. This same ministry covers housing for its ministry leader and family members, consisting of five homes valued at $4 million.

Financial integrity is not just a question for the Enrons and Martha Stewarts of this world. Because Christian ministries are subject to the same temptations as big business, they need to be monitored as well. Fortunately, donors have two organizations to help them sort out the trustworthiness of Christian nonprofits.

The first, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), began 25 years ago in order to restore public confidence in the financial integrity of ministries. For the most part, it has succeeded.

Each of the ECFA's 1,100 member organizations voluntarily adheres to seven standards: (1) have an evangelical doctrinal statement; (2) have an independent, responsible board of directors that reviews the organization's books; (3) obtain an annual financial audit; (4) exercise management and financial controls so that donor resources are used in accord with the organization's tax-exempt purposes; (5) provide copies of audited financial statements upon request; (6) avoid conflicts of interest; and (7) engage in ethical fundraising.

Wall Watchers, the other prominent organization that keeps an eye on ministry finances, emphasizes other criteria. On its website six-year-old Wall Watchers provides ratings and detailed analyses of the financial and doctrinal particulars of more than 500 Christian ministries. When Wall Watchers detects problems, it issues donor alerts, suggesting that people "prayerfully consider withholding contributions."

One example of the difference ...

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May 2004

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