COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. • About a third of the $373 billion that Americans donated to alms aftermost year went to religious organizations.
The $119 billion that was accustomed to churches, religious charities and parachurch ministries is added than went to groups that specialize in education, animal casework or any added category, according to a address by Giving USA.
But the cost-effectiveness of the religious recipients varies greatly, as does the accuracy of their finances.
“Donors should admit they accept a austere albatross to accord as wisely as they can, as it is not their money they are giving but the Lord’s,” said Rusty Leonard, architect and CEO of MinistryWatch, an accountability group.
The final months of the year can accomplish a division or added of a ministry’s anniversary donations. So how can -to-be donors attractive to abutment Christian organizations amount out which ones bear the best “ministry per dollar”?
Expenses and aerial costs can vary, depending on the organization’s mission, authoritative costs and the amount of accomplishing business in the areas area they work.
Leonard says donors should do assay and “ask boxy questions.”
“The apple of Christian admiral is agilely regulated,” he said, acquainted that the Evangelical Council for Banking Accountability “exists primarily to advice the ministries, not donors. So, afterwards alive donor involvement, it is accessible for a admiral to go astray.”
With abutment from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, RNS looked at 33 above nonprofit Christian ministries to acquisition out:
• What allotment of their budgets do ministries absorb on their amount admiral programs?
• How cellophane are ministries in administering their banking information?
• And how do alms babysitter agencies amount assorted ministries?
Some ministries accomplish it accessible for donors to admission their audited banking statements online. Compassion International, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Prison Fellowship all action abounding banking letters on their websites.
Others action websites and anniversary letters that abridgement abundant banking abstracts or battle with absolute spending.
Some charities, including the about $3 billion Salvation Army USA, beneath to accommodate abundant banking advice for this article.
Not all of America’s million-plus charities and foundations are created equal, as reporters for CBS News and The New York Times apparent aftermost year back they advised the Wounded Warrior Project.
That nonprofit spent alone 60 percent of its assets caring for aggressive veterans; the blow went to overhead, salaries, business and fundraising.
In the apple of Christian ministries, the Evangelical Council for Banking Accountability was founded in 1979 afterwards a alternation of religious fundraising scandals involving high-rolling televangelists and a Catholic group, the Pallotine Fathers, who spent alone two-and-a-half cents per donor dollar on admiral programs.
ECFA’s associates accommodate added than 2,100 abbey and parachurch ministries that accept about $16 billion a year.
The council’s accuracy guidelines crave affiliate organizations to accommodate audited banking statements “upon accounting request.” ECFA says such banking accuracy is both a amount of “moral integrity” and “a action of connected ECFA accreditation in acceptable standing.”
However, four of ECFA’s accepted associates — The Navigators, David C Cook, Reach Beyond and Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk — beneath initially to accommodate audited banking statements admitting assorted requests.
They did alone afterwards the EFCA, contacted for this article, stepped in and apprenticed them to be forthcoming.
So how do donors adjudge which alms deserves their money? In accession to MinistryWatch, which focuses on evangelical nonprofits, Consumer Letters afresh accent three of the best accepted and reliable watchdogs: Alms Navigator; Alms Watch; and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.
Charity Navigator (whose rankings are acclimated on the accompanying chart) provides absolute assay of added than 8,000 charities, application its own different criteria.
“Donors charge to booty the time to bang the tires and attending beneath the awning afore they about-face over their hard-earned money,” said Alms Navigator Vice President Sandra Miniutti.
The babysitter gave InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Young Life its coveted 4-star rating.
MinistryWatch uses its own metrics to assay ministries, some of which are not ranked by Alms Navigator. MinistryWatch gave its accomplished award, 5 stars, to Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing and Every Home for Christ, and gave its everyman rating, 1 star, to MOPS International and Prison Fellowship.
Transparency may be alike harder to appear by as ministries and parachurch groups attending to be classified as churches. Miniutti said that if a alms qualifies as one, “then it is alike added arduous for the donor to admission banking and babyminding information.”
That’s because such groups are absolved from filing IRS Anatomy 990, a acknowledgment anatomy that is generally the alone antecedent of advice on tax-exempt organizations.
Last year, the IRS accustomed the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s appeal to change the 66-year-old ministry’s tax status, from a nonprofit appropriate to book anniversary 990 letters with the IRS to an affiliation of churches that is not appropriate to book 990s.
Franklin Graham, who runs both BGEA (annual assets of $107 million) and Samaritan’s Purse ($599 million), cited two factors in the change: the “onerous” assignment appropriate to adapt the 990; and “religious liberty” apropos about the IRS aggression its bounds.
“I accept that addition in the (Obama) administering was targeting and attempting to alarm us,” Graham claimed, afterwards the ministries were audited in 2013. “This is about amiss and unethical.”
Ministries including the Navigators, Pioneers USA and Every Home for Christ authorize as associations of churches and are not appropriate to book 990s.
Leonard, of Admiral Watch, does not abutment ministries alteration their tax status. “I see no acumen for ministries to be listed as churches back they are acutely not a church, as the alone allurement for accomplishing so is to be beneath cellophane with donors,” he said.
Meanwhile, new legislation seeks to annul the decades-old restrictions on churches accommodating in politics, such as the Johnson Amendment, which Donald Trump apprenticed to annul during his campaign.
The deductions the IRS gives to America’s churches, religious charities and donors absolute added than $71 billion a year, according to a 2012 appraisal in Free Inquiry magazine. The acknowledged cachet of these deductions may be a hot political affair for years to come.
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