Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Y BUY 4N?


I just love my new state of Virginia. Here in Virginia, because they are relatively inexpensive, there are a lot of "vanity" plates and I saw one on a Cadillac in my neighborhood that said, "Y BUY 4N". That makes me smile as I spent over twenty years working for an American automaker.


Recently, Ford and GM have been in the papers a lot. Motor Trend magazine editor said that for his entire adult life the American automobile makers have been trying to go out of business and he believes that they have the determination and stamina to make good on that quest.

Most people are unlikely to fully appreciate the complexity of the automotive industry but are usually pretty opinionated on exactly what a company like Ford or GM needs to do to get better. Likely, it's because most of us believe we have invested a small fortune in our vehicles from small little sport cars to fancy SUV's, and it give us at least an informed opinion on what it would take to be a good automobile company.

Roger Simmermaker is the editor of a website that shares the same sentiments as my neighbor who drives the Caddy with the vanity plate. Roger's website is http://www.howtobuyamerican.com/ and is full of information for those people that want to buy American. While I fully appreciate his sentiment, I'm not a fanatic as I'm neither a globalist nor a protectionist. However, I do like to be fully informed of product quality, value and opportunity and often feel I'm a little misinformed.

Roger wrote an article on Ford and GM that attempts to clear up some of the misperceptions that people have regarding the two remaining US automobile makers and I've given the link at the top of this blog for those that are interested in the article. It's a pretty good read.
Roger comments that while Ford and GM have been beating Toyota in quality in study after study, few Americans would be aware of the fact. Nevertheless, JD power & Associates rated both the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan higher than both the Camry and the Honda Accord this past year.

One of the other misperceptions is the greater investment that both Ford and GM have been making in existing US factories, usually with little or no tax breaks. Typically we hear of new Japanese and German investment in America and American companies creating US layoffs. Too bad because it just adds to the confusion and misperception of the investment that the US automakers continue to make in this economy.

The article states that American automotive employees involved in R&D are also much more likely to be working for either Ford or GM. Japanese companies, reports Roger, employ 3,600 American workers in R&D vs. 65,000 similarly skilled employees at Ford and GM.

His closing remarks regarding quality were the best. The recent 2006 J.D. Power 2006 dependability study identified the top five quality brands which were (in order): Lexus, Mercury, Buick, Cadillac and then Toyota. Lincoln and Ford brands were also in the top half of the quality mix, above many foreign brands that have the reputation for quality that may be not totally deserved.

Ford and GM have some work to do on their financial picture and if they follow the same path that got them to some relative success in their strive for quality, they'll make it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Accreditation vs. Watchdog

Part of the prayerful hope in the founding of ECFA was to help good Evangelical charities become great Evangelical charities. Now in its 27th year, the ECFA is comprised of over 1,200 accredited evangelical Christian organizations. The mission statement emphasizes the development and maintenance of standards of accountability and ethical practices.

Recently, a few self-described charity watchdog groups have been gaining popularity, particularly in the press, primarily because of their willingness to rate charities typically based on financial calculations and publish (as well as release to the media) the results. Many also rate the charities on a letter scale (i.e., A to F) or via two, three or four stars, like movies and hotels.

ECFA is not a watchdog group but an accreditation agency and many people likely are unaware of the difference. The ECFA model is an accreditation model which provides a seal of approval to the organization that has met the requirements of accreditation, primarily compliance with the Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship. These standards include an evangelical statement of faith, an independent board of directors, audited financial statements, conforming use of resources, transparency in their finances, avoidance of conflicts of interest and truthfulness in fundraising.

Compliance with the Standards is monitored by ECFA in three ways. First, all ECFA members must annually submit membership review information including audited financial statements, IRS Form 990 (if applicable), salary information, fund-raising appeals, board composition, changes in organizing documents, and much more to verify compliance with the Standards. Second, ECFA conducts on-site field reviews at over 12% of its membership each year. These field reviews verify the information submitted in the annual membership review, confirm compliance with the ECFA Standards, and give support to the member organizations. Third, ECFA responds to complaints against member organizations. All such complaints are investigated thoroughly in order to determine possible noncompliance with the Standards.

Typically charity watchdog groups rate charities based primarily, if not solely, on a mathematical analysis of functional expenses and balance sheet data. The ability to retrieve financial information submitted to the government by charities via the web has provided the data access for the charity watchdog groups to evaluate charities based on the financial information provided to the government annually on Form 990.

The methodology embraced by the watchdog groups as well as their commentary related to their analyses equates the efficiency of the charity (i.e.. how much of their expenses goes to fundraising and general and administrative costs) with the effectiveness of the organization. In their words, because an organization has a low overhead, they are therefore an organization that is worthy of your consideration.

While these watchdog groups may be well-meaning, they are somewhat misguided. Most people that are intimately involved in charitable, philanthropic causes know that a rush to judgment of the integrity and effectiveness of a charity based on simple financial calculations is inappropriate.

Because there are many different charity watchdogs, the same charity may receive a “plus” for certain financial results from one watchdog group while another watchdog would give the same charity a “minus” for the same financial results. Some watchdog groups, for example, approve and give higher scores to charities that have cash reserves (e.g., higher is better) with the idea that the cash reserves provide stability. Other watchdog groups give the lowest scores to charities that have high cash reserves (e.g., lower is better).

While none of the watchdog groups state that charity evaluation is a simple exercise, it can be troubling to charity leaders as well as donors to think that someone or some group is equating charity efficiency (very little spent on fund-raising and administration) with charity effectiveness. If this “efficiency equals effectiveness” premise were true, FEMA’s decision to use $2,000 debit cards to victims of Hurricane Katrina would have been applauded by the general public and national media, while in reality it was scoffed at as another example of a government fiasco and incompetence.

Perhaps this connection between efficiency and effectiveness in rating charities is best articulated by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and recently the monograph to accompany his book entitled, “Good to Great and the Social Sector”. In the very beginning of the book, Jim Collins discusses this confusion between financial inputs and charitable outcomes or outputs:

“I recently opened the pages of a business magazine that rated charities based in part on the percentage of budget spent on management, overhead and fundraising. It’s a well-intentioned idea, but reflects profound confusion between inputs and outputs”. Think about it this way: if you rank collegiate athletic departments based on coaching salaries, you’d find that Stanford University has a higher coaching cost structure as a percentage of total expenses than some other Division I schools. Should we therefore rank Stanford as “less great”? Following the logic of the business magazine, that’s what we might conclude-and our conclusion would be absurd. Stanford won the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Cup for best overall performance for 10 consecutive years, beating out all other major schools, while delivering athlete graduation rates above 80%.”

“The confusion between inputs and outputs stems from one of the primary differences between the business and the social sectors. In business, money is both an input (a resource for achieving greatness) and an output (a measure of greatness). In the social sectors, money is only an input, and not a measure of
greatness.”



Jim Collins book is a great read for everyone involved in chartable work. It is highly recommended to further understand the complexity involved in becoming not just a good charity but a great one. Another interesting read would be “Why ECFA does not rate charities” also found on the ECFA website at www.ecfa.org.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

ECFA accreditation carries clout, financial peace of mind for groups

Winchester
By Lorraine Halsted
The Winchester Star

Serving vast needs with limited funding means faith-based nonprofit organizations must make some tough decisions about how to spend their money. But annual membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in Winchester is one budget item that many Christian organizations won’t skimp on, even though it can be costly.

Most of the expense is invested in an independent financial audit, which members must have on an annual basis to earn accreditation from the ECFA. For modest-sized organizations, an audit can cost $5,000 and up. And for larger outfits, it’s usually much higher, said ECFA President Ken Behr.

What organizations get in return is the ECFA seal of approval that tells donors their accounting books are wide open and donated funds are wisely spent. “I think the main goal is to try to be transparent,” said Vickie Koth, vice president of Christian Freedom International in Front Royal, a 20-year member of ECFA that provides humanitarian aid and advocacy to persecuted Christians around the world. “We want to be good stewards.”

ECFA accreditation has been embraced by the Christian nonprofit community since the council’s inception in 1979. Since then, membership has grown from 150 founding organizations to its current roster of 1,200 parent groups and 800 subsidiaries.

The accreditation carries clout, with membership including some of the nation’s biggest Christian outreach and ministerial groups, such as The 700 Club, Campus Crusade for Christ, Salvation Army, and Focus on the Family.

“We’ve had lots of stories from donors who said they will only give to our members,” Behr said.

Koth has heard similar comments from those who give to CFI. The accreditation, she said, is especially helpful to young organizations trying to build their reputation and attract donors.

“It’s the confidence that ECFA gives donors,” Koth said.


After Congress expressed concerns in the late 1970s about the lack of financial accountability for both religious and secular nonprofits, Mark Hatfield, a former senator from Oregon, encouraged action among Christian leaders that led to the ECFA’s founding. “A hundred and fifty Christian organizations came together and agreed to voluntarily submit to each other — to be accountable to one another,” Behr said.

In addition to the audited financial statement, ECFA developed six other standards for membership that include requirements for the size of the nonprofit’s board, how often it meets, and who can be a board member — for instance, relatives of board members are barred from serving.

Fundraising practices are also monitored. Behr said the ECFA discourages “aggressive” campaigns, such as exaggerated or deceptive statements made by an organization to attract donors. A big part of ECFA’s faith-based mission is to help members who may be in noncompliance with the standards, which could result in being dropped from the membership rolls.

“We try not to do that,” Behr said. “We see what we do as redemptive in nature.”

In the spirit of fiscal prudence, the ECFA gradually moved westward, first to Herndon — where rent at the time was somewhat cheaper than its previous location in Washington — then to Winchester in 1999, after the price for office space started soaring in Northern Virginia.

“We chose Winchester and bought into a business condo,” said Paul Nelson, former ECFA president who passed the baton to Behr this year. “We thought it was a wise investment.”

Before stepping in as ECFA’s president 12 years ago, Nelson served on the council’s board while he was working as executive vice president and chief operating officer for Focus on the Family, a Christian radio ministry based in Colorado.

“I saw an opportunity in ECFA that I though would be a challenge,” said Nelson, who lives in Winchester. “I saw the need for an increased profile for ECFA.”

Under Nelson’s leadership, membership nearly doubled. He also nurtured the development of field review teams, which meet with members on a random basis to double-check reported information and compliance with ECFA’s standards.

“Going out into the field was something that’s been a big undertaking, but that’s one of the hallmarks of the accreditation,” he said.

While field teams were already in place before Nelson came on board as president, he said they became more active as ECFA’s membership continued to grow. Now field teams visit 10 percent of ECFA’s member organizations each year.

“That once seemed like an insurmountable dream,” Nelson said, “but now it’s achievable.”

Nelson was also pleased when ECFA unexpectedly developed relationships with overseas organizations. It started when ECFA officials met with interested parties in China, who were intrigued that a U.S. organization could hold nonprofits financially accountable without government involvement.

Since then, ECFA has become involved with the International Committee on Fundraising Organizations, a board of representatives from various financial accountability groups in other countries that meet yearly to exchange ideas.

As ECFA’s new president, Behr wants to continue raising the organization’s profile within the Christian community.

“In order for our seal to mean something, we need to be larger,” he said.

One way the ECFA will try to do this is by creating a new category of accreditation for nonprofits that cannot afford the required financial audit.

While Behr says smaller organizations could really benefit from an ECFA accreditation, a different category for them would be created to keep the reputation of the original seal intact, since it represents ECFA’s highest standards.

“The value of the seal is that those who have it have done something to earn it,” he said.
Another major component of ECFA’s mission is its educational offerings.

Behr and Vice President Dan Busby travel the country, offering classes on financial management for Christian nonprofits and churches.

“When we are on the road, more than half the people attending our classes are not members,” Behr said.

Reaching those nonmembers is intentional, he added: “This is a ministry for us.”

Travel and instructional expenses are covered by ECFA’s membership fees, which account for 90 percent of the organization’s income. The other 10 percent in ECFA’s $1.5 million annual budget comes from donations and grants.

Busby, a certified public accountant and author of a number of financial management books geared toward Christian nonprofits and church organizations, said ECFA’s educational offerings have tripled in recent years.

When it comes to financial accountability, ECFA doesn’t exclude itself from the fiscal scrutiny of others.

That’s why it has a 15-member board of directors and a 15-member committee charged with reviewing the membership standards. Half of the board and committee members are required to be representatives of nonmember organizations.

Behr said ECFA also makes its budget information readily accessible to the public, a “transparency” that the council tries to instill in its member organizations.

“There’s not a lot of questions people have,” he said, “if the questions are answered.”

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”.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Christian Evangelicals and U.S. Foreign Policy

For those of you that from time to time visit this Blog, (mostly family and friends) you'll notice that I haven't been posting as much as I've been posting mainly on my organizations website (www.ecfa.org).

Here is an interesting article that was published by The Council on Foreign Relations. A think-tank headquartered here in Washington DC.

Introduction

Evangelical Christians are believed to represent the single largest religious group in the United States, and as their numbers have grown, there are signs of increasing activism in U.S. foreign policy. Opinion surveys show evangelicals overwhelmingly supported President George W. Bush's reelection, are among the country's staunchest defenders of Israel, and remain supporters of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq. But experts say it is wrong to think of evangelicals as a monolithic force in lockstep with the Bush administration. A major evangelical group recently issued an appeal for more activism to prevent global warming and fight poverty, and evangelicals have pressed the administration and Congress to adopt a range of humanitarian and human rights initiatives.

What are evangelical Christians?

Evangelicals generally say they accept Jesus Christ as "Lord and savior," they have a personal relationship with Jesus, and they are committed to spreading his message so others can achieve salvation. Many evangelicals share in the belief derived from the Bible known as premillennialism, which holds that Christ's return will come ahead of a thousand-year reign of peace. Derived from the Greek word meaning "good news," the term "evangelical" took on broad significance when it was adopted by followers of Martin Luther after the Protestant Reformation. Evangelical Protestantism was the dominant form of Christianity in the early years of the United States and remained a strong part of American culture into the twentieth century. Many U.S. evangelicals today follow in the tradition of Billy Graham and Carl Henry, leaders who gained prominence in the mid-twentieth century by promoting activism in spreading the faith, as well as engagement with other religions to improve human welfare.

Are they different from fundamentalist Christians?

Experts say a common misperception is to equate evangelicals with fundamentalist Christians. Timothy Samuel Shah, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says both groups share a number of common beliefs, but an important difference is the activism of evangelicals. "Both evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to believe that [biblical] scripture is inerrant, that it is without error, and both tend to read scripture fairly literally and view it as absolutely authoritative from beginning to end," Shah says. "The difference, though, is that fundamentalists tend to be separatists [withdrawing from politics and culture] while evangelicals tend to be activists." Major evangelical denominations in the United States include the Southern Baptist Convention, theAssemblies of God, the National Baptist Convention, and various Pentecostal churches. Their adherents are estimated to range from 40 million to 75 million, a widely varying figure because of the lack of institutional identity, such as that which exists in mainline Protestant denominations or in the Roman Catholic Church.

What has been their traditional role in U.S. foreign policy?

Christian evangelicals have long been fervent backers of an Israeli state, predating its creation in 1948, but their activism on this issue has been most pronounced in recent years. Another issue they have taken a strong interest in for the past twenty-five years is international family planning. Evangelicals are prominent among the groups that have pressed administrations since the Reagan presidency to withhold funding for population programs that permit abortion.

CFR Senior Fellow Walter Russell Mead writes in the latest Foreign Affairs that the worldview of U.S. politicians tended to be dominated by liberal Protestantismduring World War II and the Cold War. Among those coming from this tradition, he says, were presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. But evangelical Christians have become more prominent in recent years. Former President Jimmy Carter is one, and experts say President Bush fits the profile of an evangelical Christian, although Bush doesn't describe himself as such.

How influential are evangelicals on U.S. foreign policy?

Experts say their influence has been notable on human rights issues over the past ten years and is growing. Evangelicals, often working with coalitions that involve other Christian groups, secular liberals, and Jews, among others, have played a prominent role in the following issues:

The end of Sudan's north-south civil war. U.S. efforts to end Africa's longest civil war were a response in part to steady campaigning by evangelicals concerned about reports the government in Khartoum was imposing slavery and Islam on the predominantly Christian south. The 2005 peace deal, brokered by former U.S. senator John Danforth, an ordained Episcopalian minister, still holds, although a separate civil conflict in Darfur rages on. Evangelicals are among a number of groups pressing for international action to end the bloodshed in Darfur.

AIDS/humanitarianism.

During Bush's time in office, U.S. aid to Africa has risen 67 percent, including $15 billion committed over five years for programs to fight HIV and AIDS. The policy has faced criticism from some health advocates who say its emphasis on abstinence at the expense of efforts such as condom distribution has slowed the response to fighting the disease. Delegates from Africa, speaking at an international AIDS conference in Toronto in August 2006, said the administration's strategy has a mixed record so far.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Experts say evangelicals played a key role in the effort to pass legislation making freedom of religion and conscience a top objective of U.S. foreign policy. Under the law, the U.S. State Department set up an agency to advise the government on how countries perform on religious freedom. Countries given poor grades could face economic sanctions and other punitive measures.

The North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 (PDF). This act required Bush to appoint a special envoy for human rights in North Korea and says human rights in the country should be a "key element in future negotiations between the United States, North Korea, and other concerned parties in Northeast Asia."

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (PDF). Passed in 2000, the act aims to deter trafficking, punish traffickers, and protect and rehabilitate victims. New legislation signed by President Bush in January 2006 will provide an estimated $360 million over the next two years to fight human trafficking and offer victim protection.

Nancy E. Roman, CFR vice president and director of its Washington program, says this pattern of activism by evangelicals is likely to intensify. "I think in general the Southern Baptist Convention and other organized groups of evangelicals have decided that really it's important to engage politically and certainly in the foreign policy realm," Roman says. "By sheer dint of the numbers, I think the evangelicals are having more of a measurable impact right now" than other religious groups. "Evangelicals," Mead writes, "have given new energy and support to U.S. humanitarian efforts under President Bush."

What is the evangelical stance on U.S. policy toward Israel?

Evangelicals generally view the Middle East through a biblical prism and thus are staunch supporters of Israel, experts say. Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm, said at a CFR meeting in September 2005 that his group does not "give blind acceptance of everything that the state of Israel does or has done." But he added: "I think it's safe to say that a significant majority of the people who identify themselves as evangelicals believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews ... and that God has said that God blesses those who bless the Jews and God curses those who curse the Jews."

Adds Mead, writing in Foreign Affairs: "Many believe that the promise of [the bible's book of] Genesis still stands and that the God of Abraham will literally bless the United States if the United States blesses Israel." But fundamentalist Christians tend to hold more rigid views on policy matters related to Israel than mainstream evangelicals. Some fundamentalists have raised funds to promote the Israeli settlement of the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Some conservative evangelicals disagree with the Bush administration's support for the "roadmap to peace" because it foresees an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories as part of a compromise with Palestinians. One prominent fundamentalist evangelical, Pat Robertson, said after then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was stricken with a debilitating stroke in January that it was God's punishment for withdrawing from Gaza.

What is the view of evangelicals toward Muslims?

Surveys taken by the Pew Forum (PDF) show that of all Americans, evangelicals have the most negative views of Islam and Muslims. Shah of the Pew Forum says the 9/11 attacks confirmed the view among many evangelicals that Islam is a source of violence in the world. He said evangelicals already equated Islam with the high incidence of religious persecution found in many Muslim states. "In a sense I think many evangelicals see the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the struggle [against] religious persecution as part of a piece, as part of a general foreign policy thrust to challenge radical Islam," Shah said. "I think many evangelical elites see it that way."

Reverend Franklin Graham, a leading evangelist and son of Billy Graham, created a stir when he said after the 9/11 attacks that Islam was a "very evil and a very wicked religion." Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, said at the 2005 CFR meeting that "many evangelicals too easily equate radical Islamic jihadism with Islam" and that his view is that Islam is a "many-splintered thing," much like Christianity. Evangelicals have also supported the Bush administration's campaign to democratize Iraq more consistently than most other domestic groups, according to polls conducted earlier this year by both Pew and Zogby International.

What are some other foreign policy priorities of evangelicals?

Evangelicals have shown an increasing interest in environmental issues, which they call "creation care." In late 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals adopted a platform on civil responsibility that included a section onenvironmentalist activism (PDF). Pursuing the environmental theme further, a group of prominent evangelicals in February 2006 formed the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which they described as a collective effort to encourage action by evangelical Christians and others to make adjustments in their lives to help ease global warming pressures. They released a statement that said human-induced climate change is real, it will disproportionately affect the poor, and that Christians have a moral responsibility to act urgently to address the problem, such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions. CFR's Roman says the new environmental activism, which is challenged by some evangelicals, signals that evangelicals cannot be easily pigeonholed into a political bloc. "The evangelicals do not very neatly align themselves with one policy prescription, there's more diversity than one would think," Roman says.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pension Reform Act not all bad for Charities

The bulk of the Pension Protection Act is intended to compel employers to shore up their pension plans. In addition, it will in many ways encourage more non-defined pension plans including 401K’s and 403B’s in lieu of defined plans. Presently, many pensions are under funded, which means that promised pension benefits would exceed the funds available, leaving pensions short of money. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 "requires most pension plans to become fully funded over a seven-year period" starting in 2008, according to a CCH tax briefing.


According to a press release by Sen. Grassley, the pension bill includes a “good package of charitable giving incentives and loophole closers.” Grassley commented, “It makes sense to tighten areas of abuse while increasing incentives for charitable giving. Americans are very generous with their donations. They deserve to know that their money helps the needy, not the greedy.” Grassley thanked Sen. Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania who he said was especially helpful in developing the giving incentives, and the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, who Grassley said, “represented many of the nation’s charities in a comprehensive effort to study ways to improve the non-profit sector”.


To achieve full pension funding, the new law allows employers to deduct the cost of making additional contributions to fund the pension, provides strict funding guidelines, and imposes a 10% excise tax on companies that fail to correct their funding deficiencies.


Charitable IRA Donations


The good news for charities is that The Pension Protection Act allows taxpayers to donate money to charity directly from their IRA account. The distributions will be tax-free and avoid the penalty on early withdrawals. Taxpayers are allowed to donate up to $100,000 per year from their IRA. Since the distribution will not be included in taxable income, individuals will not be able to claim a tax deduction for the charitable contribution.


Individuals won't get a tax deduction for the contribution. So why should they do it?


At age 70 ½ individuals must start taking a minimum amount of money out of their IRA each year. The Money taken out is added to your adjusted gross income, and is subject to federal and state taxes.


If the same amount is donated to charity, the amount qualifies for a tax deduction but it doesn’t negate the full amount of the tax. That is because the amount of the IRA withdrawn is still in adjusted gross income, which may affect a number of things. The amount many have been enough to place the individual into a higher tax bracket; an increase in adjusted gross income would also reduce the deduction for medical and other expenses and personal exemptions. Likely, the higher adjusted gross income would increase income tax on Social Security benefits.


With the new allowable Charitable IRA donation, a donation of money directly from the IRA to a charity would never show up in the adjusted gross income, eliminating the possibility of higher taxes. Charitable IRA donations also fully qualify as a portion or the entire minimum amount of money required to be withdrawn from IRA’s belonging to individuals age 70 ½ and older.


Stricter Rules on Charitable Donations


The Pension Protection Act toughens the tax laws for charitable donations. Effective in 2007, to qualify as a deductible expense, taxpayers must now keep records of all cash donations. Individuals must show a receipt from the charity, a canceled check, or credit card statement to prove their donation. No tax deduction will be allowed if the taxpayer cannot provide any supporting documentation. Previously, receipts were required if an individual monetary gift was $250 or more.


Taxpayers will not need to mail in the receipts with their tax return. Instead, taxpayers will need to keep receipts and other documentation with their copy of the return in the event of an IRS audit.


The new law also toughens the rules for non-cash donations. Donated items, such as clothing and household goods, must be in good used condition. While the new law does not define “good condition” the law does specify that no tax deduction will be allowed for items in less than good condition. In addition, for non-cash donations in excess of $500, taxpayers will be required to file a qualified appraisal for the donated property.


Future legislation


The “Panel on the Nonprofits” which included ECFA participation along with nineteen other national organizations, reviewed and commented on a number of other charitable provisions of which some are still likely to ultimately become law. Sen. Charles Grassley, mentioned above and the sponsor of the Pension Reform act commented, “I look forward to working with the same individuals to put together more legislative proposals to increase governance, transparency, and accountability in the non-profit sector."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Becoming an Advocate


Being so close to the Washington D.C. area, I’m starting to develop a new and different perspective on how the non-evangelical world looks at evangelicals. For years, I’ve been so involved in my church and ministry, it was easy to not understand how completely different some of our elected officials and others look at not only what we do, but who we are.

One of the first telephone calls I received from the media when I took this position was regarding relief efforts still going on in the hurricane ravaged gulf area and the fact that evangelicals were still there, helping and sharing.

“They are proselytizing you know….trying to get people to become Christians”, was his comment as well as his obvious, but unasked, question.

I tried to help our friend from the press understand that sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is what we do. We are to be motivated by both the Great Commandment ---to love God and neighbor, and the Great Commission -- to share our faith in Jesus Christ.

One of the other things that I’m starting to understand being close to Washington DC, is the increasingly loud call for transparency in our finances; both with respect to our typically donated income as well as our expenses.

ECFA standards of responsible stewardship advocate full financial disclosure (Standard 5 – providing a copy of current audited financial statements when requested) as well as specific communication and truthfulness in communicating with the donors regarding fund-raising. ECFA Accredited Members have taken the lead and not only comply with standards related to financial disclosure but also have agreed to an independent board, to having audited financial statements, to avoiding conflicts of interest, etc.

If you pay attention to what some of our political leaders are saying, the Charitable Community (including our evangelical organizations) are not doing what they should be doing with regard to providing comprehensive and accurate information about their financial activity (typically, income and expenses). While the 1,200+ accredited members of the ECFA lead the way in accountability, it is time that we become advocates for the rest of our evangelical friends including the churches that we attend.

Churches are largely exempt from government regulation because of historical understandings of the First Amendment. However, donor trust as well as government wonder, has much to do with the willingness of our organizations to freely provide financial information and become transparent with regarding to our fund-raising purposes and results.

It’s really time for all of us to become advocates for financial accountability and transparency. Providing simple financial statements and balance sheets on a regular basis to our donors and/or positing financial information on our websites helps answer many questions before they are even asked.

Over the past twenty-seven years, ECFA accredited members have taken the lead on financial accountability and transparency. We now need to become advocates as well for the rest of our evangelical friends in order to maintain the publics’ trust and to clearly show that we have a “higher standard and a higher purpose”

Friday, August 04, 2006

Charitable Tax Incentives included in Senate Pension Bill

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley today won final Senate approval of his bill that broadly reforms pension plans and, like many other House and Senate Bills, contains other legislation that may or not be related to the original intent of the Bill. Included in the Senate Pension Bill are provisions that provide additional tax incentives that should help charities.

Chief among the charitable tax incentives included in the pension reform bill (H.R. 4) is an IRA rollover provision that allows individuals age 70 ½ and older to make charitable donations up to $100,000 from an IRA without having to count the donation as taxable income. This provision, while highly contested, has broad applicablity for two years, allowing the charitable community to demonstrate its value as an incentive for increased giving that could be either eliminated or expanded in the future. The bill also provides expanded tax deductions for contributions of book and food inventory and qualified conservation contributions. The bill does not include a charitable deduction for taxpayers who do not itemize.

The IRA rollover provision, as well as other recommendations were identified by work accomplished in part by ECFA involvement in the "Panel on the Nonprofit Sector". The Panel was an independent effort by charities and foundations that included twenty top executives and national leaders including ECFA President Emeritus, Paul Nelson.

The work of the Panel was welcomed and encouraged by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the Chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee. The reforms were part of comprehensive legislation Grassley also helped to draft that will shore up the nation’s pension funding for workers nationwide.

The bill is considered by many to be the most comprehensive reform of pension funding laws since 1974. Developed in large part through the Senate Finance Committee, which Grassley chairs, it contains a number of reforms to shore up pension funding. A major change includes changing the formula companies must use to contribute to their pension plans. The bill also increases the amount of fees companies must pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which guarantees pension funding if companies can no longer afford their contributions.

The Senate passed the bill by a 93 to 5 vote. It now goes to President Bush for his signature.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

America's Fastest Growing Churches


Outreach Magazine has published an annual report on America’s fastest growing churches the past few years and are now known as the provider of the "Top 100 Largest and Fastest-Growing Churches in America". The data is self-provided and all the reports are provided by Dr. John N. Vaughan, president and founder of Church Growth Today, who specializes in research related to megachurches both domestically and globally.

Click on the link for the entire list but here is a sampling of just the top 10

  1. Lakewood Church (Houston, TX) +12,000
  2. Park Cities Presbyterian (Dallas, TX) +5,108
  3. New Birth Missionary Baptist (Lithonia, GA) +3,500
  4. Salem Baptist (Chicago, IL) +3,366
  5. Without Walls International Church (Tampa, FL) +3,330
  6. Asbury United Methodist (Tulsa, OK) +3,240
  7. St. Luke Community UMC (Dallas, TX) +3,037
  8. Willow Creek Community (Chicago, IL) +2,900
  9. Grove City Church of the Nazarene (Grove City, OH) +2,861
  10. Community Bible Church (San Antonio, TX) +2,858

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Elders Want Audit of Church Finances under Ousted Pastor

A popular church in Bellevue that recently ousted its pastor is auditing some of its financial records after concerns about the church's bookkeeping, a spokesman for the church elders said.

The audit of documents at Bellevue Community Church is of records directly involving former pastor David Foster, spokesman and elder Richard McKinney said Tuesday.

He would not elaborate on exactly what records were being audited. He said elders met with an attorney Monday who recommended they hire a "forensic auditor" to review the records.

McKinney said the elders discovered some of the issues more than a year ago and confronted Foster about them and the problems stopped.

However, as elders are facing a revolt among church regulars over their decision last week to fire the charismatic pastor, they have called in an accountant to review the books.

"It did not follow standard accounting practices," McKinney said of the records. "It did not have the normal checks and balances you'd expect in an organization this size. We're having an accountant review it to see if there's anything untoward."

Foster said he does not know what McKinney and the other elders are talking about. He said he didn't handle the church's books or its money — that fell to an office administrator and the elders.

Foster said he believes the elders are picking out issues to pile on him in the wake of an unpopular decision to fire him and his wife, Paula Foster, who was the head of the nondenominational church's youth ministries.

"In all the 13 months we've had discussions and meetings, I've never heard that brought up," Foster said. "I have nothing to do with the finances. I don't sign the checks. I don't count money."

McKinney said the financial issues have been a concern for elders, but the chief issue that led to Foster's ouster was his style and bullying of staff.

"His personality and his unwillingness to be anything but the boss, period," McKinney said. "In any work setting, but in a church particularly, you have to have a congenial work environment.
You cannot have someone bullied."

Foster has acknowledged that he has not always acted as he would like in dealing with the staff, but he said it was more a matter of his "passion" for doing the job right than any effort to mistreat the staff.

McKinney said the flare-up that led to Thursday's firing started in June 2005 after an elder approached Foster about two of the pastor's daughters being on the church payroll. Foster blew up at the issue being raised, McKinney said, and the concerns of the elders quickly shifted to what they describe as Foster's explosive temper.

"He just blew up, and he said, 'I've had it,' " McKinney said. That episode sped up a process of elders looking to hire a head pastor and move Foster into a founding-pastor role.

Foster disputes McKinney's version of the discussion regarding his daughters being on the payroll. He said he never quit, but he does not wish to battle the elders on their decision to fire him.

"It's over," he said. "They've fired me. I accept it. I accept that my wife and I have been fired"

Source: www.tennessean.com staff writer: BRAD SCHRADE

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Former Arizona foundation executives convicted of fraud, await sentencing

PHOENIX (ABP) -- In what has been described as the largest case of fraud targeting a religious group, the former top executive and legal counsel for the Baptist Foundation of Arizona were convicted on multiple fraud-related counts July 24.

A Maricopa County, Ariz., Superior Court jury convicted former foundation President William Crotts and Thomas Grabinski, the group's former top lawyer, each on three counts of defrauding investors and one count of knowingly operating an illegal operation. The jury also acquitted two of 23 counts of theft. Jurors reportedly determined that Crotts and Grabinski did not personally gain financially from the scheme.

Because the convictions require mandatory jail time, according to the Arizona Republic, the two were immediately handcuffed and taken into custody. They will be sentenced in September.

The convictions are the result of a 10-month trial that came nearly seven years after the foundation collapsed and the fraud allegations first came to light, shocking the non-profit world.

The foundation, controlled by the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, declared bankruptcy in 1999 after state regulators ordered it to stop selling securities. About 11,000 investors -- many of them elderly members of Baptist churches in Arizona and elsewhere -- lost more than $550 million.

Prosecutors said Crotts, Grabinski and other foundation employees marketed the charitable fund to individuals interested in investing in a fund that would support Baptist and other Christian ministries. Bible-quoting foundation representatives claimed the investments would deliver above-average returns while helping "to do the Lord's work," the Republic reported.

However, the prosecutors said, the foundation's investments were actually losing money. The executives created "off-the-books" corporations to hide the losses while touting strong returns to sell the foundation to new investors to cover those losses -- essentially creating a non-profit pyramid scheme.

Defense attorneys countered that the foundation would eventually have been able to pay off investors if it had been able to wait out a bad real-estate market, but state officials shut the foundation down too soon. The jurors rejected that argument.

"They got caught up in something they couldn't get out of," the Republic quoted juror Nathan Redmond as saying.

Five other foundation officials have already cooperated with prosecutors in the case, pleading guilty and testifying against Crotts and Grabinski. A sixth is reportedly too sick to stand trial.

The accounting firm Arthur Andersen -- which also was connected to the massive Enron fraud scandal -- in 2002 paid a record $217 million to Arizona to settle a lawsuit involving the Baptist case. Andersen served as the foundation's accounting firm.

Steve Bass, the chief executive officer of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, expressed optimism in reaction to the verdicts in a July 24 entry on his weblog.

"Many in our Arizona Southern Baptist family are ready to close this chapter of our life together and move on," he wrote. "As I visit our churches and hear our people, the BFA issue is no longer the 'hot topic.' It appears that our people have moved on to our greatest passion: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with our world."

As a caveat, though, he added: "Arizona is now watching us. Will we remain humble? Will we seek to forgive and to reconcile? Will we invest the kind of evangelism energy in what God has taught us through this experience as Kingdom Children? We must. For whatever we think of Bill and Tom, their trial is now over and ours is just beginning."

By Robert Marus
ABPnews.com
Published July 25, 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006

Church Salary Report


From Leadership Network: an E-publication of the Resource Network.

LN's Salary Survey

Since their inception, Leadership Network forums have been a place where peers are able to share mutual strengths, concerns and solutions. In many of the forums that I have attended over the years, we conducted informal salary surveys of the participants. This was usually done in a crude way, such as passing a blank pad around the room with various forum groups recording slightly differing information.Even with this crude methodology of collection, many participants considered this data to be invaluable when compared to other compensation surveys. Why?
  1. It came from a group of churches they considered peers. In other surveys, they felt that the data, even though from a larger sample, gave too much weight to churches that were not growing.
  2. The forum group of churches had similar needs when it came to facility and ministry expansion that affects staffing levels and other ministries.
  3. The data came from churches they wanted to be like and so they wanted to know in detail how they compared with each other.

In late 2001 and early 2002, we gathered compensation data from a very select group of churches with more intentionality than in previous years. We hand selected a representative sample of churches that we considered to be some of the best in the country. We tried to balance the sample by denominational background, regions of the country and context within their region, as well as the tenure of the senior minister.By no means is the data as scientific or statistically valid as an advanced, expensive survey undertaken by a university researcher. Our approach was to gather data from churches with good practices and then create a report from which other churches could learn. To obtain a copy of the complete report contact Leadership Network. The following summary report has some highlights of the findings.

Survey Highlights: Church Size and Income

  • The average church size was 3,700 in weekend worship attendance. The range was from 1,150 to 17,000 and the median size was 3,300.
  • The average church income for regular giving was $4,986,834. Almost all of the churches were over budget last year.
  • The average number of regular weekend worship services was slightly under four.
  • The average for total giving by the congregation was $7.4 million.
Based upon these figures, the average gift per attender for the year was approximately $2,000. In most instances, giving amounts were correlated to church size.

Salary level

The survey asked for cash salary plus housing allowance for various staff roles. It did not include other benefits that are often a part of a minister’s total compensation package. The figures were all over the place and had no correlation to size. The figures below are all averages.

  • Senior Pastor – $124,831 (range was from $74,000 to $210,000)
  • Executive Pastor – $91,846 or approximately 75% of the senior pastor salary average
  • Church Business Administrators – $77,080
  • Worship Pastor - $71,794
  • Small Groups Pastor - $54,449
  • Teaching Pastor, other than Senior Pastor - $59,983
  • Equipping Pastor - $58,748The survey also examined about 20 other roles including part time roles.


Benefits Section

  • All the churches provided medical insurance
  • Two-thirds provided disability insurance
  • Three-fifths provided life insurance and cell phones to staff
  • Slightly over half provided dental insurance
  • Half provided sabbatical leave and book allowances
  • A more complete discussion of benefits is also included in the full report.

    Salary Increases

    We wanted to know what the churches used as a guideline for salary raises within the past year and we asked for the average annual percentage increase given. Please note that this is a highly subjective number due to many factors.

    The average increase for cash salary was 4.3% for all staff. The range for the averages was from 0 to as high as 10%. In addition, approximately 25% of the churches had some bonus structure in place. How should you use these numbers? Use them as a means for comparison and norming when working through your salary and benefits plan. Do not use the survey as the final solution. Regional factors, cost of living factors, as well as experience and tenure must be considered when establishing compensation plans. Several times each year I have telephone conversations with members of governing boards concerning issues of compensation, benefits and the retention of key staff members. Our conversations not only deal with financial compensation, but also with non-financial ways to improve staff morale and well being. Most congregations fail to realize how valuable staff are for accomplishing their congregational mission.

    Christianity Today has a number of good articles on salary and staff compensation at: www.ChristianityToday.com/cgi/texis/webinator/search4/?query=salary+survey

    Other groups that conduct compensation surveys include:
    The National Association of Church Business Administrators www.nacba.net
    The Institute for Church Leadership http://www.iclonline.com/

    Sunday, July 16, 2006

    50 Most influential Churches

    From July 2006, The Church Report www.thechurchreport.com

    The 2006 survey was emailed to leaders of more than 2,000 of the largest non-Catholic congregations in the nation by Church Growth Today in April and May. A small selected group of smaller churches were also invited to recommend churches. Participants were asked to recommend up to 10 churches (vs. 5 last year) they considered to be among the nation’s most infl uential. A total of 83 churches were recommended. A total of 57 percent of all church leader ecommendations named these five churches.

    A summary of all 50 churches reveals: Two of the churches (Saddleback and Fellowship) are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the other three are non-affiliated with a denomination (Willow Creek, North Point and Lakewood). Some are new churches and others date back to the late 1950s. Lakewood Church began in 1959 and is both the oldest of the five top congregations and largest in the nation. North Point is the youngest of the group and began in 1995 with about 1,200 people. Among the other three churches, Willow Creek is the second oldest and began in 1975 with a core of 75 people. Saddleback followed in 1980 with only Rick Warren and his wife Kay initially. Fellowship Church is the second youngest of the five and began in 1990 with 150 people. All five of the churches now average more than 16,000 in weekend attendance and are consistently among the nation’s 15 largest and fastest growing churches each year. Both of the nation’s largest United Methodist congregations – Resurrection United Methodist Church (Leawood, Kan.) and Windsor Village United Methodist Church (Houston, Texas) – were named by other church leaders for this group of churches. Other major Methodist churches include Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church (Montgomery, Ala.) and Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church (Tipp City, Ohio). Other older mainline churches include the Episcopal Trinity Church (Manhattan, N.Y.) and the Presbyterian (PCUSA) Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (Menlo Park, Calif.).

    Several churches are new to our list this year. These 19 churches are from various locations across the nation. Five are from California; two each are from Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Texas; and one each is from Arkansas, Arizona, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. The 2006 survey was emailed to leaders of more than 2,000 of the largest non-Catholic congregations in the nation by Church Growth Today in April and May. A small selected group of smaller churches were also invited to recommend churches. Participants were asked to recommend up to 10 churches (vs. five last year) they considered to be among the nation’s most influential. A total of 83 churches were recommended. A total of 57 percent of all church leader recommendations named these five churches. A summary of all 50 churches reveals: These churches are recommended by other church leaders as congregations that represent the passion and sense of mission mandated in the New Testament. They do not all share the same view of all biblical doctrine, their recognition came from others, and they do not view themselves as better than other churches. Each just considers itself as a church wanting to be pleasing and useful to God and their understanding of His mandates to them. Changes in this years list reflects the rapid change and diversity of ministry across the nation from year to year. It appears to also affirm the new expressions of ministry by emerging churches while also affirming the best of churches that endure through eras of dramatic change. We look forward to the churches that you will be recommending next year. Thanks to you who took the time to share in this year’s survey. CR

    Note: To see the complete list, please click on the link on the masthead. (kb)

    Saturday, July 15, 2006

    Entertaining People on a Spiritual Level


    George Barna is hitting the ground running. Yesterday we reported about Barna's new position at Good News Holdings; today he announced a partnership with Tyndale House to produce books for an upcoming horror film/book series. Here's the press release...

    Los Angeles, CA—July 11, 2006—Los Angeles-based multimedia company Good News Holdings and Wheaton, Illinois-based Tyndale House Publishers have announced their intent to work together on THE ATTICUS PROJECT, a partnership designed to leverage the power of print media with the magic of film. The project was announced today by George Barna, Chairman of Good News Holdings and Doug Knox, Senior Vice President at Tyndale House Publishers.

    One of their first projects together will be a horror series designed for release both in film and book-form called DUDLEYTOWN, based on a true story concerning the legendary evil that has held Dudleytown, Connecticut in its grip for hundreds of years. Dudleytown has been pronounced by some, including film star Dan Aykroyd, to be “the scariest place on earth.” This venture is expected to yield seven projects targeting a teen audience.

    “Our objective is to be the forerunner in a new genre of multimedia we are calling spiritainment,” says Good News Chairman George Barna. “Our research has shown that people—especially young people—absorb an amazing degree of their values, beliefs and lifestyle practices from the media content to which they are exposed. Our desire is to raise spiritual questions and draw people closer to God and His truths.”

    “THE ATTICUS PROJECT is the first attempt to deliberately produce stories in one medium for the purpose of transferring the story into another,” says David Kirkpatrick, former Paramount Picture President and co-founder of Good News. “Over the last three years, 85% of the movie box office was generated from films that happened to be previously franchised in another medium. THE ATTICUS PROJECT will now do that intentionally.”

    Tyndale will contribute as the publishing partner in THE ATTICUS PROJECT. “It has always been our desire to use our significant influence to shape what people read and see,” says Tyndale Senior Vice-President Doug Knox. “Creating stories that will move from the page to the screen will contribute mightily to Tyndale’s mission to entertain people on a spiritual level—it is what Spiritainment is all about.”

    FILED IN: Monday Morning Insights/Posted: 2006-07-13 15:14

    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Calvary Chapel Raises $103 million



    Reprint from James D. Davis Religion Editor Posted May 1 2006 "Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale receives $103 million in pledges for expansion"


    Applause built up in waves as the numbers grew on the overhead screens: $50 million … $75 million … $90 million.Finally the worshipers leapt to their feet and cheered at the final sum: a staggering $103 million in donation pledges for the next round of expansion at Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale.

    The amount, coming after a two-month appeal via sermons and brochures, overshot the $80 million goal, a beaming Pastor Bob Coy reported."Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this," Coy said to his 2,400 listeners on Sunday, the last of four weekend services at the non-denominational evangelical church. "As your pastor, I am so proud of you."

    The money, most of it to be donated over three years, will be used for several projects: A larger sanctuary, covering 360,000 square feet and seating up to 7,000 people.

    The current sanctuary, with 50,000 square feet, will be used partly for an auditorium and children's classrooms.

    Renovation of a youth center, including a cafe, a gym, basketball courts and a skateboard park. A new satellite campus in south Broward, plus remodeling of existing campuses in Boca Raton and Plantation. A four-story "discipleship building," already under construction, which will house adult classes, the church's day school, media and performing arts rooms, children's weekend ministries and a 650-seat theater.

    Part of the building is scheduled to open in December.Coy stressed that the buildings and equipment were part of a "24/7 ministry," not just for weekends. Besides worship services, Calvary Chapel runs classes in parenting and finances, a foster care service, a counseling service, a feeding program, a radio station and other projects.

    The funds will likely spur even more growth for Calvary Chapel, already the largest church in South Florida. Total weekly attendance at all three worship sites tops 20,000, according to executive minister Mark Davis.

    He said the $103 million total is the most ever pledged by a church in America. The closest was $84 million, raised in 2005 by Second Baptist Church of Houston, Davis said.

    George de Leon of Pembroke Pines, an avionics salesman, said he appreciated the church's openness in spelling out the fund-raising goals. "Some churches just tell you how much to give. Here, they show you the whole program and where the money is going. I'm treated like family and I can give willingly."

    Sunday, June 04, 2006

    Getting Back to Basics: Rediscovering your Ministry

    Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou star in The Da Vinci Code, the latest and most publicized attack on Biblical Christianity. The obvious errors in Dan Brown’s work (both book and now movie) and his even more obvious religious agenda will in many ways challenge and have some impact on many believers and ministries. The movie just opened this month and a search recently of “Da Vinci” on our church bookstore website resulted in 49 matches. I’m not about to get into an apologetic debate; this is not the appropriate forum even if I wanted to. However, I do want to make a comment to Mr. Brown. Dear Mr. Brown, it’s “Leonardo” (his name) not “Da Vinci” (his town). There, my Art History Professor would be proud.

    The reason I start this column with remarks about The Da Vinci Code is because I have noticed that the release of the book, and now the movie, has required that many pastors, church leaders and ministries get back to the very basics of Christianity. These include basic questions about the origins of Christianity and the divinity of Jesus, His crucifixion and resurrection, the early disciples and the authority of the Bible. Many churches that were very busy with their own teaching series, upcoming activities, events and programs needed to refocus for a brief time to answer questions and preach and teach the very basic elements of the gospel.

    In like manner, Christ-centered organizations from time to time need to get back to basics. Just as churches needed to focus on the very basics of the gospel, every organization is built on some basic building blocks: The mission (usually expressed as a mission or a purpose statement, the organization (including paid staff and volunteers), the revenue plan (organizations raise money through donations, the sale of products or services or possibly memberships), a leadership team (senior leadership and a board of directors) and a development or marketing plan (organizations typically need to grow or they will die). Re-focusing on the basics will help an organization reload, recalibrate and reinvigorate its ministry.

    The Mission:

    If the mission is important to organizations in general, it’s essential in Christ-centered ministries. In a book that I have referenced a number of times in other venues, “Jesus on Leadership”, author C. Gene Wilkes makes the case for Servant Leadership. This is a crucial concept for those of us that are involved in ministry because serving is the heart of what we do. For leaders of organizations, Pastor Wilkes helps them remember that for Jesus, the model of leadership was servanthood. One of the equally important insights in this book is the importance of “The Mission” in our ministry.

    The mission of Jesus was to do the will of His father (John 6:38). Often, when people get involved in ministry, they are encouraged to follow their passion. Passion is good and often an appropriate motivator. For ministry however, the mission is key. Passion can often include our own agenda but if we look at Jesus, we see that his motivation was the mission.

    Most ministries have a stated mission statement. A deliberate but simple exercise of examining that mission statement and either re-discovering the mission or making adjustments to the statement based on new board endorsed policy is something very worthwhile from time to time. All too often, ministries succumb to the temptation of mission creep, allowing other influences to dictate over time where their limited energy and resources are directed. These other influences could be pet projects of board or staff members, or perhaps well-intentioned donors who have an interest in directing the ministry through their restricted funds.

    The Organization

    By organization, I’m referring to the organic stuff that guides, directs, plans and provides for the services of the organization. We are talking people and when we are taking people we are talking about work habits and relationships that get out of sync from time to time. Getting back to basics includes making sure you have the right people in the right jobs. Balancing work load is also important from time to time as job content and daily responsibilities change and the head of the organization is the person primarily responsible to make sure that the organization is staffed appropriately.

    Ministries have two other important organizational components that are key and they include non-paid (volunteer) staff and the board (also likely volunteer). It’s easy to love these people as they understand that God wants them to be good stewards of their Time, Talents and the Treasure and they often serve in very key areas in ministry. Volunteers also need to be appropriately placed in the organization and all volunteers need to have a serving attitude towards their individual ministry. Making the more-difficult but more-correct decisions to re-deploy individuals in areas where they can better use their gift mix and can serve with the appropriate attitude is an important part of getting back to basics.

    The Revenue Plan:

    Fortunately, there are a variety of revenue models that successfully fund ministries. To the novice, it may appear that non-profit ministries can be defined as non-profit because they receive money in the form of cash donations. This is not true, and ministries actually have very few limitations on how they can generate revenues. Ministries are complex organizations that provide a number of different services and many have found very creative ways of raising funds to underwrite their operations.

    All ministries need to develop a strategic plan that should identify financial targets (income and expenses) and elemental break-even analysis when it comes to services provided. Just as for-profit companies find the need to offer “newer”, “improved” or “reformulated” products to adapt to changing consumer desires and increased competition, ministries need to be willing to examine their revenue model and make the tune-up when necessary or even put in a new engine when needed. Like it or not, our ministries need dollars and an organization that understands how it is funded and why that model works for them is better able to plan for the future than organizations that get things done ‘by accident”.

    The Leadership Team:

    Getting back to basics includes an examination of how well the CEO, President, Senior Pastor and/or Directors are doing their jobs. Fortunately for Evangelical organizations, the true head of their ministry is Christ. I don’t mention this casually, for if it is truly believed to be true it makes the leadership team different. Our Evangelical organizations are extensions of the universal church and as such, after submitting to Christ as the head of the church, the leaders and directors need to have the same qualifications as Elders found in 1st Timothy and Titus.

    The Bible says that our leaders are to be blameless, not motivated by money but selfless in ministry. These and other general qualities of holiness lead to a reputation that is unblemished and that which is uniquely but specifically required for leadership in ministry. Along with the moral prerequisites for ministry, competency and the right work ethic are critical. The secular, for-profit organizations would do well to also aspire to find leaders who are morally blameless but often feel the need to find key individuals with qualities best suited to bottom-line results despite obvious moral flaws.

    All too often, ministry boards and senior leaders are too accommodating and allow some of their peers to fall far short of expected productivity and usefulness. They essentially allow some to retire on the job. To avoid this expensive mistake, periodic and objective performance evaluations , along with helpful 360 degree evaluations from peers and subordinates , can help ministry boards and the senior leaders in evaluating the leadership team. Coaching and counseling some of the non and under-performing team members will often help, but in some cases, more drastic changes will be necessary to better steward the resources.

    Development and Marketing Plan

    Fortunately, most Evangelical organizations have embraced modern and professional marketing tools that help communicate their message effectively. Recent breakthroughs in printing, in graphics and in web technology have reduced the cost of doing things professionally. Getting back to basics for ministries includes a look at all of their marketing and promotional materials to ensure that they are hitting the target and up-to-date in their message.

    The message itself is very important. Flourishing organizations have found that their mission, their purpose in life, is more likely to be successfully received when quality time and effort is spent in developing the plan that gets the word out. Jesus gave us the “Great Commission” so now go, and communicate the good news of the gospel and your particular ministry to the whole world.

    Thursday, March 02, 2006

    Joy at Work: Core Values


    I have had this book (Joy at Work by Dennis W. Bakke) on my nightstand for several months. I know that at least one of my colleagues has used this book as a text in one of his MBA classes. This is an interesting read because the author proposes some radical ideas about work from a Christian point of view. The most fascinating part of the book to me is the postscript. But before discussing the “philosophical underpinnings” of Joy at Work, I thought we’d take a lightning-fast tour through the book itself. In fact, I only plan to relate to you those items of the book I highlighted as I read.

    Here goes.

    “My passion is to make work exciting, rewarding, stimulating, and enjoyable, “states the author. Bakke argues that the workplace should be fun (by the way, “fun” is defined to mean rewarding, exciting, creative, and successful) and fulfilling. He also argues that the ultimate aim of any enterprise is not economic success. The primary goal is to work according to “timeless, true, and transcendent values and principles.” Financial goals take a backseat to this. In other words, we do what we do because it is right, not because it works. For example, “There is a real difference between saying to your workers, ‘We care about your welfare because we do,’ and saying, ‘We care about your welfare because that will make you work harder for us.’”

    Thus, our motivation(s) come into play. Which reminds me, have you ever noticed how much more difficult the “why” questions are to answer than the “what” and “how” questions? Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:13-15, “…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss…” What determines the quality of my work or your work in this context? One study Bible I referred to on this passage offers this interpretation: “All that which has been accomplished in His power and for His glory will survive.” That is a humbling thought—and brings me back to the point about motivation.

    Why did God call me to start DayStar Consulting, Inc. Why did he call you to start your business or work in your chosen field? What was my motivation then? What is my motivation today? These are convicting questions to me and one that I wrestle with through a non-profit organization I founded (Leaders Serving Beaver County; http://www.ls-bc.org/). Having the proper motivation (from God’s point of view) is critical—let’s leave it at that for now.

    Bakke’s company (AES) promoted the following values:
    • To act with integrity
    • To be fair
    • To have fun
    • To be socially responsible

    Now these shared values or core values are, at “face value,” not too different from those I’ve seen promoted within other organizations. However, here is the difference, and I’ll quote from Joy at Work:


    “AES believes that earning a fair profit is an important result of providing a quality product to its customers. However, if the Company perceives a conflict between these values and profits, the Company will try to adhere to its values—even though doing so might result in diminished profits or foregone opportunities. Moreover, the Company seeks to adhere to these values not as a means to achieve economic success, but because adherence is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.”

    Do you see what he’s saying? Profits are important—but profits do not “trump” our core values. According to the author, the question is not whether we have values, but which values and principles really guide our behavior. Values and principles mean something only when they affect everything we do, every day of the week.


    How many organizations do you know that follow their core values—even when doing so harms them economically? How many companies do you know where the core values are more “caught than taught” just by watching the behavior of the owners, executives, managers, supervisors, and individual contributors? In your organization and mine, the shared values are not necessarily what is written on paper, posted on walls and promoted in company speeches. The real core values are demonstrated daily in the behavior of those who manage and run the organization.


    Bakke was committed to leading an organization that “walked the talk” of its shared values. That is not an easy thing to do.


    Personal Application


    Why not take a few minutes this week and take stock of your organization and its core values? Pretend you are an outsider visiting your company. Listen closely. Watch closely. Notice the how and the why behind decisions. How are people interacting with one another? Write down what you observe. At week’s end, review your observations and think about what an outsider would say your company’s shared values are based upon what you have observed and heard. Compare what you’ve written with the official core values of your company? Are there any disconnects? Are there any conflicts?


    James 1:7 warns of the result of being a “double minded man”—the result is instability “in all his ways.” I understand that the context requires an interpretation of having one’s mind and heart divided between God and the world. But I also think there is an application that can be made within the context of our discussion on company core values.


    Do you?

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    The Ministry of Administration

    Sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield, I get no respect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the kind of person that really doesn’t crave a lot of encouragement and I certainly don’t need cheerleaders on this highway of life. God has blessed me in all things and has provided for me in so many ways that I really don’t need special accolades, awards or remarks about how valuable I am to the organization.

    At the same time however, a feeling of "no respect" is not uncommon and I’m aware that many of my fellow laborers in Christ are feeling significantly under appreciated. It is very likely that this feeling is likely affecting their attitude, their altitude and their aptitude.

    My passion has been, and I think will always be, to be an encourager. One of the assignments I have enjoyed is to encourage organizations and their leaders to become successful. There are all kinds of ways to measure success and while one of the metrics I use is financial, the other is quality and excellence in ministry.

    Both measurements of success really go hand in hand as it’s difficult to have quality and excellence in ministry without the proper financial metric so that bills are paid and that employees are well compensated.

    The skills that need to be acquired in an organization in order to have the bills paid promptly and the appropriate compensation for the employees are also the same skills that are needed in almost very organization which are the skills of Administration.

    Administration is really just another name for management to which people tend to pay a little more attention. Management is really become a science and it has been determined that there are four basic functions of Management, which include Planning, Organizing, Leading and Controlling. These four functions are identified as such to represent the totality of management. While some new college textbooks will offer up a fifth or sixth function such as leadership or communication, typically these functions fit quite nicely in one of the other four functions.

    What is interesting in a church or other not-for-profit organization is that administration and management is often considered as an after-thought, and not one of the primary enablers of success in ministry. This can be a costly and avoidable mistake. While it is true that most seminaries don’t offer a lot of classes in management or require students to attend lectures on various administrative responsibilities, the Apostle Paul was not so remise.

    The Apostle Paul listed the gift of Administration in the gifts of the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 12:28 he writes, “And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, administration, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues”. In Romans 12:8 Paul also encourages a similar gift when he writes, "If it is leadership, let him govern diligently."

    This gift of governing, administering, and managing a church or other ministry is an extremely important gift in the body of Christ. I have found that the vast majority of the skills that I acquired in 25 years of experience in for-profit organizations are directly transferable to not-for-profit organizations as well.
    For example, some HR skill comes in handy as "who" organizations hire becomes problematic as soon as the second employee is hired. In addition, it can be said that how to compensate employees and the method that is used to measure their accomplishments is critical if an organization wants to attain and retain talented individuals. Further, the method and process that delegates authority down from the senior leader, whether that leader is called the senior pastor or CEO, enables the organization to grow and adapt to change. Finally, financial matters are recognized as significant the first time the organization fails to meet a payroll or needs to borrow funds for expansion.

    So, to my friends in ministry, be encouraged. The gift of administration that has been given to you is a God-given gift that you need to use. While many may not recognize how critical the gift is in sustaining the ministry, use your gift to propel the ministry onto excellence; excellence in Planning, Organizing, Directing and Controlling the organization.

    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’.      ...