'Overkill may kill off the goose that laid the golden egg' is a statement a growing number of Christian leaders are expressing in some righteous concern over the unstated pressures placed upon them for 'unnecessary fiscal multiple oversight' (UFMO).
Many mission and charity groups are beginning to wonder whether their life is now singularly focused on such processes (UFMO) rather than getting on with the job at hand. It wasn't that long ago that the Australian Taxation Office were checking on charities - what percentage of donations were spent on administration
The media regularly highlights these 'blitz' – one year it's the taxi drivers, the next year it's the tradies, another year it's the entertainment industry, so over a number of years each and every sector gets an ATO focus. So too it was the charity sector one year.
Back in 1998 I was the Public Officer for such a charity and we were called upon to give an account. One of the issues the tax office gentleman was checking were the motor vehicles with the then 'sales tax' exemptions (this was 5 years before the GST). The information required was provided, it was checked and ticked.
That particular charity had a bookkeeper, an accountant, an auditor, the accounts were audited on a monthly basis (suited the auditor who was doing several charities honourarily), the annual accounts were presented to the Department of Fair Trading and as required as described above, to the ATO.
Most charities and missions function much the same way. In a charity I am now involved, I notice the accounts are presented in such a way there are four double checks for each invoice and expenditure. Everything is numbered and can be cross checked whether it's the GST list (BAS), invoice or receipt – all have a matching number circled on it. It is all entered in two different places. Although a little cumbersome with a monthly audit, from what I have understood, this is much the norm today.
Strange, it's not good enough
I am one who is a little puzzled why the ATO is obviously deemed not good enough for since 2012 there is now the ACNC (Australian Charities and Non-For-Profit Commission). I attended one of their ACNC seminars on the Gold Coast and afterwards spoke to the CEO and the concern I expressed was acknowledged and has been acknowledged elsewhere.
Last year at the 40th anniversary of the Australasian Religious Press Association's annual conference in Canberra, one of the seminar speakers addressed the issues associated with charities, missions and the law.
The ACNC inevitably came up. Although the ACNC is now what it is, one never knows whether it will move from information gathering to becoming a millstone and incrementally become a direct investigative body – ie, this is code for evangelical groups being unjustly targeted.
I have yet to meet an evangelical who does not have such concerns, that over time the focus will have such tendencies.
Even this is not enough - UFMO
I'm a friend of the Christian Management Association. Their conferences have been helpful to many. Somehow they too have moved towards providing a certain type of approval – accreditation (call it what you will). The mantra seems to be, join us, do our thing, get checked by us, then we'll give you 'the good-oil of some sort' to say everything you do is in order. My question becomes, what for? How many checks do you need. How much time is this taking. UFMO.
The overarching body is not the CMA, or NCNC, rather its the Australian Taxation Office. Their blitz as described above was tackling this very thing, the monies that should be directed to 'servicing' - gobbled in 'over the top' administration. CMA is not the only one offering such additional services of bonafide. What I'm hearing is that it's all becoming 'way too much' and I kind of see their point. UFMO!
This year a CMA Standards Council has been established and their 27 June Email reads (extracts) as follows.
- The CMA Standards Council WILL lift the standards of governance in Christian churches, schools and ministries. (Not 'Could' - WILL!)
- The CMA Standards Council WILL increase transparency in the operations of these organisations.
- The CMA Standards Council WILL reduce the risk of fraud and financial mismanagement in these organisations.
- The CMA Standards Council WILL provide Australia's first Christian Donor-Research Portal
- The CMA Standards Council WILL implement standards to reduce the incidence of child sexual abuse perpetrated when ministry policies and procedures are neglected
It went on -
" .... will contribute to and develop research, resources, training and mentoring to create an ongoing, upwards pressure on the levels of excellence and effectiveness in the Christian sector in Australia."
Sign up for $95 and be a member.
I don't think I would find anyone in the charity missions sector that would deny these are laudable aims. There have been similar secular bodies that do a similar thing, so this idea is not new.
Why not join mine
But it gives rise to whether I too should establish one of these 'checks and balances' bodies – perhaps I'll call mine the "Quadruple Double Check Your Okay Standards" - give the QDCYOS good oil to whoever wants it - the NCNC, the ATO - and they'll never check you out as the QDCYOS has already done it for them!
My annual fee might only be $75 undercutting CMA and others secular such bodies, off I go hot foot into the business of UFMO and my QDCYOS has credibility as I have been through a successful ATO audit, I have ministry credential (Australian cricket team chaplain 17 years) and I have one daughter an accountant, another daughter a lawyer, son a bank manager and another daughter in psychology – QDCYOS has all the hallmarks of becoming a multiple - multiple service provider ...... UFMO eat your heart out.
Has it ever dawned upon anyone that those people working in the NCNC or the ATO have legislative responsibilities and a job to keep. They won't be throwing their career or salary (which feeds and houses their families) out the window because an outside body provides them the good oil from a QDCYOS (or any such body).
The charity I am engagement received an Email from the ATO recently inviting the charity to consult on the ATO website and ways to improve it. It was passed to the charity's accountant who responded positively and was keen to be involved. The ATO itself is kind of cutting out QDCYOS type entities.
Is all this necessary?
I realise the above is a bit tongue in check, but nonetheless it requires some considerations. Is all this extra checking by outside bodies necessary? Some say yes. They cite the crooks in the sector. My answer to that the white collar crooks dupe the corporate sector and the banking / finance industry - their multi-million dollar systems are geared to protect them. No charity checking apparatus will stop such crooks either.
Some say they feel pressured to be part of all this 'standards criteria'. That's true enough, but it is necessary? Each charity / mission needs to determine that. Some may well seek help on appropriate governance. That's good! But they quite rightly fear – another more highly specialist credentialed bodies may pop up. That means additional checks. It becomes compounding UFMO.
For me, having been a charity Public Officer as described above, and undertaken an ATO charity audit, I wonder, I just wonder (as now a retired Baptist minister), with so many charities / missions with so many double - quadruple checks, whether all this super-imposed 'checking' is a bit over the top. The ATO will do their own checks and balances in any case.
It appears to me that the clear undeniably perception is if you work / minister in this area, even with all the double quadruple checking, you're immediately deemed 'someone who needs to have their shoulder looked over' (ie, a propensity to be a crook) until proven otherwise by some outside body.
That premise should be challenged.
Indeed, overkill may kill off the goose that laid the golden egg.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html