By Steve Kerr
Ever bought a car? What about a house? Or even an expensive pair of shoes? The chances are that when you did, you checked it out before you bought it.
For a car, that may have meant taking it for a test drive, or having a mechanic examine it and give you a report. For a house, you will have inspected it and likely asked a builder or architect to provide you with the inspection. For those fancy shoes, you will have checked out the brand with friends and tried them on yourself.
This evaluation process is what accountants and lawyers call “doing due diligence”. It’s a smart idea — after all, who wants to buy something only to find out later they have wasted their money?
Related to giving, how do you and I, as ordinary people, evaluate a church or a charity to whom we plan to give money? After all, it’s harder to do due diligence for giving, as we don’t actually get something in return that we can see and touch.
Well, there are some simple ways we can do due diligence on churches and charities. For example, almost all have a website on which we can form a view about what they do. Many charities must (and some churches choose to) lodge annual accounts with a regulating body. In Australia, that’s the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. There are also laws which regulate charities. And many charities produce regular reports that not just measure where the money has gone, but what results have been achieved with the financial gifts they received.
A Biblical Example
The first Christian fundraising appeal took place in the first century AD, when a great drought in Palestine caused famine in Jerusalem and its surroundings. The Apostle Paul wrote to the churches across the ancient Mediterranean world directing them to give him money so that he could send it to the church elders in Jerusalem to distribute to the poor and hungry.
The early Christians weren’t any different from you and me — they would have wanted to know that their money was going to be used wisely and well.
To give them assurance, Paul did three noteworthy things in this appeal (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9):
- He directed churches to identify approved or credentialed couriers who could be trusted to deliver the money.
- He set up honest and transparent procedures for how the money was to be collected to preserve the honor of God’s name.
- He instructed everyone to give generously, according to their ability, from what they had received from God.
In doing this, Paul set the benchmark for how churches and charities should operate. But how does this translate for us today into the 21st century?
Firstly, it means we make sure trusted voices vouch for the honesty and integrity of the churches and charities we wish to support.
Secondly, it leads us to look for churches and charities that have sound and responsible procedures, and behaviour that lines up with what they say. This isn’t just about complying with legal requirements (although that is essential), but about preserving God’s reputation. It’s His name that is dragged through the mud when a church or charity mismanages finances.
We may know a faithful pastor, board member, or administrator at the church or charity to which we desire to give. If so, then we can tick the first two boxes. But if you don’t, look for the independent Christian accountability organisation in your country that accredits churches and charities to verify compliance with biblically-based standards for governance, transparency, and accountability. In Australia, that organization is CMASC, in the United States, it’s ECFA, in the Philippines, it’s CCTA, in Kenya, serving pan-Africa, its AfCAA.
Thirdly, now that we’ve ticked off the boxes, we can give like the early church Christians, confidently and generously, according to our ability.
In the end, it’s all about trust. Checking that the church or charity to which we are planning to give God’s resources is trustworthy is a great way to do our due diligence. We know that our giving will be used wisely and properly. But there’s something even greater that takes place. Following these steps also preserves God’s reputation, which builds trust in others to participate with us in God’s work.
This article was first published by ChristianSuper.