I evaluated GFA's leadership, strategy, finances, and impact as a philanthropic advisor to wealthy Christians in 2010. After comparing 7 church-planting ministries in India, GFA came out on the bottom for many reasons, starting with no internal accountability. Our philanthropic advisory firm Excellence in Giving has directed all philanthropy clients away from GFA since our first evaluation of their work.
GFA Lawsuit is an Indictment Against ECFA
For the past decade, GFA has had serious organizational problems. But they proudly displayed the ECFA seal up until last year. ECFA missed the issues at GFA for years because their seal of approval is virtually worthless for an international ministry. How can I make such a bold statement when ECFA discovered GFA's financial mismanagement in 2015 and revoked their membership before the lawsuit? Let me explain what ECFA does and does not check when they sell their seal to a ministry.
"ECFA does not check if your donations are spent overseas on what you were told your money would support."
The moral of the GFA lawsuit story is not just "don't trust GFA's financial practices" but "don't trust ECFA's seal for any international ministry." Remember, ECFA gets paid by each member. ECFA is financially incentivized to get new members and keep old members as long as they can. That's a conflict of interest.
ECFA membership fees create a conflict of interest but are not sufficient to cover the cost of serious due diligence. So I understand why their "seal of trust" has limited value. It takes serious money to do serious analysis. Checking the U.S. financials for a ministry that spends all its money in another country is not serious due diligence. ECFA has no idea what happens to that money because no receipts are reviewed to prove the money was spent on the items for which it was designated.
If you want to build "trust" in an international ministry, don't look for a seal. Don't check a free rating online. Sorry, it's not that easy. I work for months on end evaluating organizations for my clients. When you do the homework up front and monitor organizational health indicators annually, you can avoid giving to $100 million ministries like GFA who waste your money. None of our clients have been fooled by an accountability or efficiency seal, and you don't have to be either.
NOTE: I welcome any response from ECFA about the precise value of their seal for international ministries. They have more to explain after being named as a co-conspirator (not a defendant) in a new lawsuit against Mark Driscoll's church. The lawsuit states, "ECFA’s accreditation of churches is, at best, a rubber stamp."