The ECFA proves its viablity and tests its clout.

After three years of existence, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) appears to have won a permanent role in promoting uniform accountability and full disclosure of financial information among Christian organizations that solicit contributions from the public.

Over the last year, member organizations increased from 90 to 181, their combined incomes totaling $706 million. And ECFA’s fund deficit last year of $18,000 has been erased. The ECFA member seal has become a familiar sight. (One group that recently sent out a promotional mailing with only the ECFA emblem appearing on the envelope was admonished to include its own name as well.)

But although the fledgling entity’s acceptance seems assured, it is still staking out its turf between secular watchdog groups on the one hand, and certain religious trade associations on the other.

Most prominent among the former is the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The CBBB traditionally has concentrated on consumer fraud complaints. But about a decade ago, it got into oversight of charities because of many public inquiries seeking to learn whether fund raisers were legitimate.

Christian organizations critical of the CBBB complain that while the council says it does not evaluate the purposes of groups or even their operating standards, its publications give the impression of blacklisting. The CBBB Philanthropic Advisory Service issues a pamphlet, “Give, but Give Wisely,” that lists organizations that do and do not meet its standards for charitable solicitations. Organizations, for instance, that have more than 25 percent of their board of directors on their staff will be rejected right along with groups that refuse ...

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