by Jim Reapsome
Final accountability rests with the board of directors.
In the wake of Jim Bakker’s problems at his PTL ministry, mission board directors rushed into print with assurances that their agencies were dean. The financial accountability flag waved atop their corporate flag poles. Missions-supporting people needed to know how honestly their gifts were being used, because suddenly one scandal had made everyone suspect.
Generally, these givers have been trustful, if not, in some cases, naive and gullible. They send their checks to the mission agencies month after month without suspecting fraud or mismanagement. They also believe their gifts are being used for the purposes for which they are being given.
With this great reservoir of trust and goodwill, mission agencies prior to the Bakker episode did not have to proclaim their financial integrity. Now they do.
But their responsibility goes far beyond saying we’re clean. Ultimately, every board member of every agency must be fully persuaded that there are no loopholes. Bakker’s case proved that having one of the country’s best auditing firms is no safeguard. People wrote checks simply on a secretary’s say-so. The PTL board justified policies and practices because they loved Jim and Tammy.
Conscientious board members (their number is increasing since the PTL revelations) find it difficult to wade through a plethora of financial data. They have to fall back on trusting the good people in the mission office. Those people, in turn, trust the people scattered all over the world, who write checks drawn on hundreds of special accounts. The system is fraught with danger.
Huge amounts of money ($1.3 billion for overseas ministry in 1985) move in and out of mission accounts. The question is: How tight are our financial controls all down the line? Do we really know how the funds are being used in every mission account? Who authorizes the expenditure of funds at all levels? Who keeps the books? Are the books of every field department and institution regularly audited?
Home board members need to know the answers to these and other questions. What used to seem like awkward matters to discuss at board meetings now are high on the agenda. No one need be embarrassed to press for facts, for details, for tighter controls.
Final accountability rests with the board of directors. Executives must do more than assuage the public’s fears. They must promote candor and invite the strictest scrutiny from their boards.
Power and wealth invite disaster. As our mission agencies grow bigger, stronger, and wealthier, temptations to misappropriate money also grow. Not just the temptation to embezzle funds, or juggle accounts, but also the temptation gradually to assume the accoutrements of money and power common to the corporate world.
Beyond striving for honesty and integrity, mission agencies must also apply Kingdom economics. Every project and every person must be justified according to both cost effectiveness and strategic planning. Where is the agency going? How is it going to get there? What will it cost? Could the money be more effectively used some other way? Too often we assume that something is okay to do because we can get the money.
Effective board members will insist on knowing who spends what and why. They will also demand both annual and five-year plans. Good ideas that don’t fit the agency’s stated purpose and its plans must be rejected, even though someone might be able to raise the money. Only then will we have financial accountability in the fullest sense and in the most needful ways.
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