January 7, 2011
ECFA to Lead Independent Commission on Major Accountability and Policy Issues for Churches and Other Religious Organizations
Sen. Grassley asks Accreditation Organization to Obtain Input, Provide Feedback
WASHINGTON, D.C. – ECFA, a national accreditation organization for churches and other religious organizations, has been asked by U.S. Senate Finance Committee member Charles Grassley (R-IA) to lead an independent, national effort to review and provide input on major accountability and policy issues affecting such organizations.
Grassley’s request was made in conjunction with his release of a staff report on the results of his three-year inquiry into the financial practices of six media-based Christian ministries. Grassley is known for his focus on the financial practices of high-profile nonprofit organizations.
In response to Grassley’s request, ECFA has created the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations (www.ECFA.org/Commission). The commission will address some of the most challenging tax and policy issues involving religious organizations. They include: whether churches should file the same highly-detailed annual information return that other nonprofits must file (Form 990); whether legislation is needed to curb abuses of the clergy housing allowance exclusion; whether the current prohibition against political campaign intervention by churches and other nonprofits should be repealed or modified; and whether legislation is needed to clarify tax rules covering “love offerings” received by some clergy.
In a Jan. 5, 2011, letter to ECFA, Grassley asked the accreditation organization for “input on how to address these issues and to help facilitate discussion on whether these issues can be addressed without legislation.” He said, “ECFA has a proven track record of accountability with its member organizations and is uniquely situated to work with representatives from the religious and broader nonprofit community.”
Michael Batts, a CPA with extensive experience in board governance, financial reporting and tax compliance issues for nonprofit organizations, has been appointed by ECFA’s board to chair the commission. Batts is managing shareholder of Batts Morrison Wales & Lee, PA, an Orlando-based accounting firm dedicated exclusively to serving nonprofit organizations. He is also former chair of the board of ECFA and is currently a member of ECFA’s board and executive committee.
Batts previously served on the Legal Framework Workgroup of the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, an independent legislative advisory group convened at Grassley’s request to address previous legislative proposals related to the nonprofit sector.
Batts will work closely with ECFA president, Dan Busby, who also will serve on the commission. Busby is a CPA and is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in tax and finance issues for clergy, churches and other nonprofit organizations.
Other commission members will be announced in the days ahead. ECFA officials have indicated they expect the commission to consist of seven to nine members.
“ECFA is honored and humbled to be asked by Sen. Grassley to lead the independent effort to obtain input from the religious and nonprofit community on these issues,” said Batts. “The conversation that will ensue in the coming months will focus on the significance of the issues raised by the senator’s staff and effective ways to address them. It is our hope, as well as the senator’s, that solutions will be found without the need for burdensome legislation that creates excessive entanglement between the church and the government. One obvious area that will be explored carefully is the concept of self-regulation.”
“That’s what ECFA is all about – self-regulation and accountability,” said Batts. “Its model has worked very well for more than 30 years. More and more people are realizing that it means something for an organization to be accredited by ECFA. We will need to explore how that concept can be applied on a larger scale.”
Batts said a variety of groups will be consulted in the work of the commission. The commission has not yet determined a timetable for the completion of its work.
ECFA plans a briefing for the public on the senator’s staff report and its implications on Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. EST. Details about the briefing are available on ECFA’s web site.
ECFA, founded in 1979, provides accreditation to religious organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with ECFA standards pertaining to financial accountability, fundraising and board governance. For more information about ECFA, including membership requirements and a listing of accredited members, visit www.ECFA.org or call (800) 323-9473.
To schedule an interview with Michael Batts or Dan Busby, contact Ty Mays at (770) 256-8710 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Ellen Olson at (714) 267-5378 / email@example.com.