Saturday, March 20, 2010

Assuring Trust

In his Wall Street Journal column sum­marizing the past 10 years, Thomas Frank titled his editorial “A Low, Dis­honest Decade.” He goes on to say “Ensuring that the public failed to get it was the common theme of at least three of the decade’s signature the press and politicians were asleep at the switch.” Contrasting this attitude of keeping the public uninformed, ECFA starts its fourth decade of assuring the public’s trust by encouraging Christ-centered churches and parachurch ministries to function at the highest levels of integrity and accountability. Driven by a steady flow of reports of possible wrong­doing, ministries are increasingly under scrutiny by the media and the donor public. It’s an issue of trust. Congress has ramped up its attention on churches and parachurch ministries in the last few years—even implying that some ministries cannot be trusted. While we have enjoyed a brief respite from this attention during the health care reform debate, it is now back to business as usual on Capitol Hill. The recession has impacted most ministries—and the depth and length of the financial trough is still an unknown. When the flow of funds tightens, there is often a temptation to use project-restricted funds for operational purposes or to be less than fully forthright in stewardship appeals—these are paths that will not evoke trust. This all adds up to the ingredients for a perfect storm—high scrutiny by the media and public, additional concerns by Congress, and operating funds in a shorter supply than we have seen in recent years. And the issues generally relate to finances, fund­raising/stewardship, and governance; all three are found in the core of ECFA’s standards. It is a time to be trustworthy in all these areas. What an opportunity for ministries seeking to fulfill the Great Com­mission to be models of integrity and accountability during the swirling turbulence! What a time for givers to open the storehouse doors as Joseph did in times of old and support ministries that take the high ground! What a time to be trustworthy! Accountability to God, to a ministry’s governing body, to its financial supporters, and to the government are all bedrock components of trustworthiness. A ministry may be functioning at the highest level of integrity “in the eyes of the Lord.” But how does a ministry demonstrate it is doing right “in the eyes of men”? How will it demonstrate trustworthiness? This is difficult without independent oversight by an organization like ECFA. Accountability to ECFA’s standards and the commitment of a ministry to annual and special reviews is an important element of building trust in those who support ministries. With hundreds of thousands of churches and tens of thousands of parachurch ministries—and many more being approved each year by the IRS—is it any wonder that many donors are concerned about which ministries they can trust? It is not surprising that nearly two million visits are made to ECFA’s website annually—primarily to determine whether a certain ministry is an ECFA member or not; 35,000 clicks were made by Web users in January 2010 looking for a project in ServantMatch™. Givers want to support ministries they can trust. It should not be surprising that Christ-centered churches and parachurch ministries are fulfilling ECFA’s accreditation requirements at a record pace in a desire to earn the public’s trust. ECFA welcomed 100 or more new organizations into membership in 2008 and again in 2009—a pace unparalleled in the last 20 years! John Wesley said: “Our respon­sibility is to give the world the right impression of God.” ECFA plays a critical role in this process for ministries.