Prospective donors occasionally ask ECFA which member organization is the "best" one to support. Our response is that ECFA does not compare, rate, or rank member organizations, but rather measures each against an independently established benchmark—the ECFA Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™. Attaining and maintaining ECFA membership means an organization measures up to all of ECFA’s Standards.
Through ECFA membership, each ECFA member clearly demonstrates its commitment to accountability and integrity. ECFA annually evaluates its members to confirm their continuing compliance, laying a solid foundation upon which donors may match their ministry choices to their own values and expectations. The disclosure required of ECFA members allows potential donors to assess each organization within the context of their personal vision for ministry.
Since criteria used to compare ministries are often subjective or arbitrary, rating potentially can cultivate division by diminishing each ministry’s uniqueness, as well as contribute to unhealthy competition within the Body of Christ. This clearly contradicts the Christian community’s goal to foster cooperation, encourage mutual respect, and maintain accountability that builds, rather than tears down, our united work for the Kingdom.
When attempting to measure organizational efficiency or performance, ECFA recognizes the differences between the for-profit community and the nonprofit community. The for-profit arena often uses mathematical formulas and calculations for comparison purposes. This is an adequate measuring tool when the primary goal is financial profit or a positive return on investment. However, even in this context, ratings can be misleading if based on anything less than up-to-the-minute accurate data.
In the nonprofit field, measuring the ministry outcomes of an organization can be a valuable exercise. Additionally, measuring a ministry’s own performance for the current year versus a prior period, or for the current year against certain goals, can be very meaningful. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to apply ratios and other numerical performance criteria and expect a fair outcome when comparing one nonprofit ministry to another.
Peter F. Drucker captures this dilemma in a cleverly titled chapter of his book, Managing the Nonprofit Organization: "What is the Bottom Line When There is No ’Bottom Line’?" How can ratios accurately reflect changed lives, transformed minds, and saved souls? When deciding what ministry to support, many donors place great importance on leadership and vision. How can quantitative measurements assess such qualitative characteristics?
In twenty-five years of ministry, ECFA has learned that any number of variables and a host of different ranking criteria can impact the reporting of an organization’s “performance:”
Diversity of mission within the ECFA membership is broad, defying any clear basis for comparison (from youth camps to radio stations, from pregnancy resource centers to rescue missions, just to name a few).
Standing alongside small local organizations are large, multifaceted, international organizations.
Some organizations are relatively self-contained with respect to program, administrative, and fund-raising functions; others outsource a few or many of these functions.
Some ministries are in their formative years, with a small donor base and a need to invest in building credibility and faithful supporters; others are mature organizations with many established donors.
Some organizations have significantly less expensive access to potential donors through radio, television, and various media; others must rely on more conventional and expensive forms of fundraising, such as direct mail and personal contacts.
Some ministries operate with few cultural restraints, openly sharing the results of their ministry efforts. These ministries have a distinct advantage over those which work in cultures that make it prohibitive, even dangerous, to discuss program outcomes.
The revenue of some organizations includes a significant element of gifts-in-kind, which may have a lower per dollar fundraising expense than a sister charity where all, or nearly all, of the revenue is represented by cash donations.
ECFA includes the full spectrum of Christian nonprofit groups: churches of all sizes, parachurch organizations, older, well-established ministries, and fledgling efforts. These ministries differ greatly in the nature and scope of their work, according to their individual calling. While many have similar ministry objectives, they may have different philosophies for realizing those objectives.
Although each ECFA member organization is "one of a kind," fulfilling a unique function within the Body of Christ, they all share a common bond. All are Christ-centered, evangelical, and nonprofit.
The founders of ECFA resolved to form an organization that would promote a positive and collective testimony for accountability and integrity in Christian ministry. In that effort, a membership of nearly 2,000 ministries has emerged over the years. By the grace of God, there is a strong spirit of unity in ECFA. All members hold these common goals:
to honor God by conducting His work with excellence
to practice disclosure and openness for the purpose of building donor confidence
to hold one another accountable
In large part, ECFA does not create measurements to rate or rank its members since, in doing so, donors could be influenced to minimize their personal decision-making responsibility. For as long as Christians have supported God’s work, they have relied on the Holy Spirit to direct them concerning the contribution of their time, talents, and resources. This is a priceless choice that should never be replaced by any form of "Consumer Reports."
So, when you are trying to determine which ministry is "the best," look beyond the percentages. While numbers may be a measure, they should not be the measure. Any good organization should openly define the accomplishment of its mission through accountable reports and financial transparency. Your confidence in a ministry can be secured by its willingness to demonstrate how it is achieving its ministry goals. This responsibility is based on God-given inspiration unique to every person. God’s leading and direction must always prevail. Everyone—donor, ministry, and ECFA—is measured against that benchmark.