Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Making a Difference

I recently had the opportunity to attend my first large nonprofit conference which was an assemblage of approximately 800 or so leaders of various non profit charitable organizations, foundations and assorted interests. The three-day event was full of interesting forums and discussions on various topics of curiosity to those assembled but I had the interesting viewpoint of being one of the few evangelicals or conservatives present. I don’t assume to know the true religious conviction of all of those present but from a political perspective, it was obvious that most had entered the building from one of the doors on the “left”. If I was a better story-teller, I may describe it as an out-of-body experience.

Despite my feelings of being in a small minority, one of the hopes that I came away with, that I also pray was a common aspiration for most of the leaders in attendance, is that we are making a difference. Christian charities spend over $90 billion annually making a difference: we collectively provide food to those that are hungry and shelter to those that are homeless; we provide medicine, education and training for literally millions of individuals both here in the United States and even more significantly abroad in those nations that are still developing and also in distress; we provide emergency assistance and relief in draught and famine, in natural disasters and in war ravaged areas. Most importantly, we provide hope and the offer of an eternal relationship with the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of all mankind.

Organizations like ECFA are also making a difference. We have mentioned before the very active role that ECFA took in the deliberations these past two years in Washington DC on the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector. The Panel and the meetings have run their course, significantly impacting the breadth and outcome of legislation that was passed and signed into law in August of this year. Interestingly, final recommendations coming out of the Panel addressed how our elected representatives and the IRS may encourage integrity and ethics within our nonprofits, both secular and religious. These recommendations featured prominently the impact of accreditation agencies like the ECFA.

The Panel found that while about half of the large nonprofit organizations (those with revenues of $1 million or more) are covered by one or more of the accreditation agencies, most of these agencies have differing standards--some activity based and some donor based. Some of these accreditation agencies carry the ‘weight-of-law” while others, like ECFA are voluntary and have primarily the impact of membership and reputation.

One of the primary recommendations of the Panel was to encourage accreditation groups to embrace governance, transparency and financial accountability standards. While most accreditation agencies are primarily focused on a narrow segment or activity (i.e. education, health care, child care), very few included what I consider to be the “dna” of ECFA accreditation, which is the integrity of our finances, and transparency in our fund raising. My prayer is that ECFA accreditation may increase in influence and together we may call more and more of our Evangelical charities including our churches to a “higher standard and a higher purpose”.

WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?

Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.      ...