Financial Transparency: A Trend Worth Following

by Jeff Tanner, ECCU Marketing Vice President
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

I’m intrigued by trends. When data shows an increase or decrease in marketplace behavior, I want to understand why. Is the culture moving? Where? Are people’s needs changing? Are values shifting? What can I learn that will impact my work, my ministry, and the rest of my life?

Some trends start from a meaningful foundation that quickly erodes. Have you noticed, for example, the irony of many popular magazines prominently touting their expanded “green” issue? Well, there’s a recent trend in our culture—financial transparency—that I hope doesn’t wash away quickly, because I think it’s helping to transform the way we live, work, and minister.

From the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to dozens of states providing “open windows” into their budgets to President Obama’s vow to bring transparency into government, we’re seeing the financial transparency trend abound in public and organizational life.

In a recent issue of Forbes magazine, Steve Forbes advocates that transparency “should be the fundamental core of regulatory reform.” His argument is built on a basic premise—that we can trust people to make the right decisions if they are presented with comprehensive information, understand what it means, and take responsibility to act on it.

Here at ECCU we’ve heard from many churches and ministries like yours that this premise isn’t isolated to public life. Members and donors have proven to be responsive to information about the financial health of their ministries. One example is Life Bible Fellowship Church’s leadership identifying a growing budget gap and opening up a dialogue with the congregation that led to some unanticipated benefits. Another is Crossroads Christian Church facing financial disaster but having the courage to lay the situation bare before the congregation, which resulted in them rallying together to erase deficits and even build their cash reserves.

The leaders of these churches could have hidden the financial facts from their members. In fact, that’s what Crossroads did until a new pastor entered the picture. Unfortunately, many churches do the same thing out of embarrassment, ignorance, or stress-induced myopia. What’s even more unfortunate is that if the body of Christ isn’t aware of a trend and its implications, then they aren’t equipped with the vision to actively engage with their time, talent, and treasure.

So, in today’s economy, what can ministries learn from the trend toward financial transparency? In short, practice it. Make financial data available to members and help them understand what it means.

At ECCU, we’ve been challenged with this as well. This year, in addition to publishing the annual report on this website, we’ve started updating our financial statement online each month so that you, our members, can see the health of your financial cooperative. We’ve also been publishing updates about the impact that changes in the financial industry are having on this organization; they appear in the “News” section of the home page.

We’ve significantly increased our financial transparency, but we have more to do, and we’re inviting you join the trend. As we each play our part in clearly communicating the financial health of our respective ministries, we’ll be giving our members the opportunity to increase their engagement in the collective mission of the Church. Now that’s a trend worth following.

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