How to Choose a Ministry to Support

To help find a ministry to donate to, ask yourself the following questions:

When I give to an organization, how important are factors such as accountability, independent oversight and financial disclosure?

While all organizations believe in accountability, ECFA members and their subsidiaries have acted upon that belief by voluntarily submitting to the ECFA Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, and demonstrating their compliance through an annual review process. The ECFA seal is evidence to donors that these organizations are committed to integrity and excellence in ministry.

Use the ECFA Member Directory link to find any ECFA members.

Accountability, independent oversight and financial disclosure are important to me, but I don’t see my favorite charities listed with ECFA. What can I do to obtain a greater comfort level when giving to them?

If the factors mentioned above are important to you, but you do not see your favorite organization among ECFA’s members, ask them the following suggested questions, and expect a timely, courteous and informative response. ECFA firmly believes that good charities willingly answer tough questions:

  1. Does the organization have a clear and strong commitment to a certain project area?

  2. Is there an independent board that accepts responsibility for the activities of the organization and oversees its operations?

  3. Are the financial records audited annually by certified public accountants?

  4. Is a copy of the financial statements provided to anyone who requests it?

  5. Is information provided to donors about any program that the donors have supported?

  6. How does the organization avoid conflicts of interest?

  7. What are it’s guidelines and standards for fund-raising?

  8. Is there a review procedure to assure compliance with fundraising standards and guidelines?

Use the Donor’s Bill of Rights link to help you to know what may reasonably be expected from organizations seeking your support.

Without unlimited resources, I cannot give to everyone.  How can I narrow my search for one or more ministries to support?

The ECFA Web site offers the ability to search its member list according to primary ministry objectives. There are forty-one ministry categories from which to choose.

On the Member Directory page of this site, follow instructions to search "by ministry type." Select a category that interests you. A list of organizations within ECFA’s membership found in that category will be produced. From that list, you may click on each individual organization to pull up more details.

Do I like the idea of supporting a nationally known organization with an international outreach, or a smaller, local ministry with local or regional outreach?

Many donors like the personal connection and involvement that is afforded when supporting a local ministry. However, larger ministries with a national or even international presence offer opportunities to reach into communities that donors may never see in person, and give donors the ability to affect lives on a global scale.

How involved in the ministry would I like to be? What opportunities to participate beyond financial giving do I desire?

Whenever an individual decides to give to an organization, he or she is establishing a relationship with that organization on some level. Many supporters want only to send in periodic financial support, and receive only minimal information to keep them apprised of ministry efforts and prayer needs. Others like to know the doors are open to participate in a more personal way, visiting outreach centers, volunteering in soup kitchens, or joining short-term mission projects. Many organizations welcome volunteerism and participation of supporters beyond financial support, and they will afford numerous opportunities for them to do so. Other organizations may be less equipped to do so. Identify your own level of desire for relationship and participation with the ministries that interest you, and ask them how well their ministry can accommodate that desire.

What types of ministries have impacted my life, or the lives of others I care about?

Sometimes the best way to determine how God might want you to direct your stewardship is to consider what organizations have significantly and positively influenced your life or the lives of others you know. Did God use a youth ministry or campus outreach to help you grow in your relationship with God? Was there a family member in need due to natural disaster or illness that benefited from the outreach of a particular ministry? Answers to these questions may assist you in making your giving decisions.

How do I know how much of my donation is used for the mission, rather than for "overhead" expenses?

Many people are concerned about how much of their donation actually ends up directly supporting the cause. It is reasonable to expect that every effort be made to maximize the use of donations so that the charity’s ministry objectives are achieved. Financial statements will reflect how much a charity spends on overhead expenses, and how much is spent on ministry.

ECFA members are required to provide a copy of their most recent audited financial statements upon written request. A financial summary is contained on each ECFA Member Profile on this web site. To review a Member Profile, search the ECFA Member Directory using the instructions, and then once a list of organizations appears, select one of them. A profile of that particular organization will appear on the screen.

The financial summary uses the following terms under the Expenses heading: Program Services, General and Administrative, and Fundraising. Program services expenses are those directly related to carrying out the purposes for which the organization exists. In other words, these are ministry-related expenses. The sum of General and Administrative Expenses and Fundraising expenses would be considered “overhead.”

When considering this financial information, keep in mind that in order for ministry objectives to be met, overhead is necessary. Low overhead should not necessarily be considered synonymous with efficiency. See the next question for more information on this topic.

How important is the percentage of overhead expenses vs. program expenses in my giving decisions?

Many people assume that the best organizations to support are those with the highest program expenses and the lowest fundraising and general and administrative expenses. It is an easy calculation, and often used as a quick formula to determine "efficiency." However, ECFA cautions against making judgments about ministry efficiency solely upon the calculation of expense percentages. There are too many factors that affect the reporting of expenses, and many other variables that exist between ministries, which can defy a true "apples to apples" comparison.

For example, an older, well-established ministry with a strong donor base may not have to expend many resources on fundraising, while a younger organization may have to do so in order to build name recognition. Also, accounting rules leave some room for interpretation, so expenses that might be recorded as "overhead" by one organization may well be considered "program" by another. While calculations of financial ratios can be useful and important, they should not be the determining factor in giving decisions. For more discussion of this topic, click below to access an article that examines the subject in more detail.

For more information about this topic, click on The Common Myths about Ministry, Overhead, and Efficiency.

It would be easy to make giving decisions if ECFA would rate its members. Why doesn’t ECFA rate its members?

ECFA believes rating its members against one another to determine, on behalf of donors, the "best" organizations to support is not a responsible means of assisting donors in good stewardship decisions. Rather, each ECFA member is measured against an independently established set of standards, which must be met to maintain membership. Rating systems would have to be based on measurable and objective criteria, and ECFA does not believe that evaluating an organization’s faithfulness to God’s calling can or should be reduced to mere numerical calculations. Measuring changed lives and saved souls is subjective, at best. ECFA’s philosophy encourages donors to establish their own criteria to evaluate ministries, based on their own values and expectations.

To learn more about ECFA’s position on rating ministries, click on Why ECFA Does not Rate Ministries.


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