Accountability for Growth
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), an oversight and accreditation organization that puts members through a rigorous process to prove financial integrity, is expanding to include smaller ministries and churches.
Founded in 1979 as a sort of Christian Better Business Bureau, ECFA now has more than 2,000 fully accredited members. Most report yearly incomes larger than $500,000. But only about 25 percent of Christian ministries, churches included, meet that income level.
The new affiliate membership is for nonprofits with yearly incomes between $100,000 and $1.5 million. They will submit yearly financial statements to ECFA but will not be required to file costly audits, as accredited members do.
The new church division, announced in July, will welcome accredited or affiliate members. Churches that participate will make information about revenue and expenses available to their members. Such transparency helps minimize the risks of mismanagement and reproach, according to the ECFA.
"We would really like [churches] to raise [their] hands for integrity," said Ken Behr, president of ECFA. "It creates a very healthy financial relationship for the church so the church can grow."
Affiliate members will be required to meet the ECFA's standards for accountability: adhering to an evangelical statement of faith, maintaining an independent board of directors, displaying proper use of resources, making reliable financial records available, avoiding conflicts of interest, and exercising ethical fundraising. ECFA employees make random visits to member ministries to ensure that they adhere to standards.
Rusty Leonard, founder and CEO of ministry monitor Wall Watchers, sees the ECFA moves as a "step in the right direction." Still, he expresses a common concern about the new standards.
"There's no question that's a lower level of accountability, [which is] just unavoidable," Leonard said. He also wonders whether ECFA can manage the expansion and still check up on new members.
ECFA sponsors seminars on topics designed specifically for nonprofits or churches, and encourages members to participate. Affiliate members, like accredited members, will be listed on the ECFA website and receive an ECFA seal indicating their status.
"[With these new options] I think ECFA is trying to suggest that if you're doing the right thing and you're transparent and open and you handle your finances right, then your ministry has a better chance of growing faster than the average ministry," Leonard said.
"Any time you [address] the natural, inherent concerns people have about whether or not they're being told the truth about a nonprofit, giving has a better chance of going up."
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Their FAQ section answers questions about the church division.
Other Christianity Today articles on money and business are available online.