ECFA Standard 7.1 – Stewardship of Charitable Gifts – Truthfulness in Communications


"In securing charitable gifts, all representations of fact, descriptions of the financial condition of the organization, or narratives about events must be current, complete, and accurate. References to past activities or events must be appropriately dated. There must be no material omissions or exaggerations of fact, use of misleading photographs, or any other communication which would tend to create a false impression or misunderstanding."

The underlying principle of this standard is that all things done in the name of our Lord should reflect the truthfulness that is in keeping with His character. Placed first among the stewardship of charitable gifts standards, this concept is fundamental to all other stewardship standards.

In deciding whether to support a particular ministry or program, those who donate to Christ-centered organizations may significantly rely on the information the organization provides. Therefore, organizations have the responsibility to represent facts truthfully when communicating with givers.

The relationship between the giver and the organization is one built on trust. That trust is developed and maintained through truthful, honest, reliable, and trustworthy communications. Anything short of that represents a violation of this standard.

The intent of this standard is to insure that all components of a stewardship resource appeal—taken in part and as a whole—communicate the appeal accurately, completely, and truthfully to the prospective giver. After reading or hearing the appeal, the prospective giver’s perception of the appeal should be as close to the actual facts as possible.

In order to accomplish this, the organization preparing the appeal must anticipate how the typical reader will interpret them. The organization should avoid any words, pictures, graphs, or other information that might cause a typical prospective giver to reach an inaccurate conclusion.

The foundation for this standard comes from the biblical teaching that God alone is the source and motivation for joyful, obedient Christian giving.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul states, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:6–8).

If organizations truly trust God for the increase in funding to support their organizations, there will be no room or tolerance for deceptive fundraising practices.

Three key words characterize the expectations of this standard: current, complete, and accurate. Each of these should be understood from the reader’s perspective.

  • Current. An appeal for charitable gifts should only contain information that is specifically relevant to the purpose of the appeal. Using pictures, videos, descriptions, narratives, or other information from prior projects or events—which suggests a misleading relationship with the current appeal—is a violation of this standard. The prospective giver will assume that all of the information presented relates to the specific appeal. It is inappropriate to use “old” information in a current appeal simply because it might bring a “better” response from a giver.

When addressing financial information, the appeal should provide information that is as current and timely as possible. The prospective giver should have access to the most current financial information available. The key criteria is whether or not the information provided gives the prospective giver a true understanding of the relevant financial information as of the date of the appeal.

In some situations it may be appropriate to provide information, pictures, or videos on past projects or events because they help to provide context for the current appeal. However, in such cases, the appeal should clearly indicate that such information is not current, that it relates to prior events, and that it is only intended to illustrate the anticipated results of the current appeal. In the absence of such explanatory comments, the appeal should avoid noncurrent material. This requirement includes that explanatory notations be juxtaposed to the item(s) they explain.

  • Complete. The appeal should include all of the information necessary for the prospective giver to gain a full and total understanding of the facts related to the appeal. Since the giver will be making judgments from the information included in the appeal, it is the organization’s responsibility to insure that all relevant information is available.

    Because space is often limited in an appeal, it may be important to be selective in the information it presented. When selecting such information, the organization should ask, “If certain information is omitted from the appeal, will givers be deprived of any essential information?”  

    When deciding whether the information in the appeal is “complete,” the organization should consider the following:

    1. The purpose(s) for which the funds will be used
    2. The means by which the program goals will be accomplished
    3. The financial need and condition of the member
  • Accurate. All information included in an appeal should be accurate; that is, factual, correct, exact, and precise. The key concern here is that nothing within the appeal (words, pictures, videos, financial data, or other information) misleads the prospective donor into believing something other than the facts as they actually exist. This relates not only to the purpose of the appeal but also to the way in which the funds will actually be used.

Inaccuracies may appear in a number of forms: 1) photographs that do not directly relate to the issue at hand; 2) exaggerations for the sake of persuasion; 3) incomplete information which does not provide a full understanding of the facts; 4) implications which would lead the prospective donor to draw an erroneous conclusion; 5) selective information which presents only the positive while ignoring relevant, negative information, and 6) opinion which is presented as fact. The appeal must avoid any of these inaccuracies used.

Summary.  Before each communication is distributed to prospective donors, ask these three questions:

  • “Will all of the text, photographs, videos, or other information included in this appeal lead the prospective donor to a current, complete, and accurate understanding of the facts surrounding the appeal?”
  • “Does this appeal communicate all of the information I would want to know if I were a prospective donor deciding whether or not to respond to the appeal?”
  • “Does this communication bear witness that we are trusting God to move in the hearts of our supporters, and we are not trying to manipulate their feelings by the way we portray our work or report its outcomes?”