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Inward and upward

Charity | ECFA promotes Dan Busby and looks to the nonprofit world's future

Issue: "On the road again," May 9, 2009

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) ended a nationwide search for a new leader by picking long-time staffer Dan Busby as its new president in March. Busby had served as interim president for the previous 11 months and has been vice president and senior vice president since 1998.

He takes the helm of the ECFA in a time of economic uncertainty for Christian nonprofits. Layoffs at major ECFA members the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Focus on the Family highlight the financial stresses. And Sen. Charles Grassley's investigation of six televangelists has shined a bright light on issues of financial accountability. (Of the six, none were ECFA members when the investigations began. Joyce Meyer Ministries has since made major reforms, has joined the ECFA, and has seen the Grassley investigation come to a satisfactory conclusion.)

Busby's response will be to "build on a 30-year ECFA history of high standards of accountability, and bring out some new tools to help organizations measure themselves against the highest financial standards."

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Of the more than 1 million Christian nonprofits in the country, only 1,400 are ECFA members, so Busby said the organization would also introduce a "new range of member benefits" to keep current members and attract new ones.

The ECFA was founded in 1979 in part to ward off increased government regulation in the wake of the televangelist scandals. Will a resurgent ECFA ward off new regulations a generation later? That's unlikely. Jill Gerber, a spokesperson for Sen. Grassley, said, "It's been 40 years since there has been a significant look at regulations governing nonprofits. The world has changed dramatically since then. Sen. Grassley believes that self-regulation is best. The question is whether it will be enough."

Deduction reduction

Back in February, when President Obama proposed limiting the value of itemized tax deductions, including donations to charity, it was a shot across the bow of many nonprofit ships.

V. Maehara is president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He said, "Not only do charities represent a significant portion of the American work force, they are being asked to provide more services and programs to people in need." He said the net effect on tax collections would be "self-defeating."

Ryan Messmore, of the conservative Heritage Foundation, went one step further, calling it a threat to "civil society."

Less-fevered voices say the impact would be less apocalyptic, but the outcry caused the president to cease fire. An amendment to the Senate's budget resolution by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., would set up a "point of order" (requiring 60 votes to pass) against any bill that would raise revenue by reducing the tax deduction for charitable giving.

What about future years? Thune's amendment passed 94-3, indicating there's strong resistance to the Obama measure, and if the economy improves, it's likely to have even less momentum next year. But the fact that Obama raised it at all was surprising to some. According to Heritage's Messmore: "President Obama speaks articulately and often of the important role charitable institutions play in America. He should send an equally clear message in his policy."

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