The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability provides guidelines for governance which member organizations must follow. One important feature is independence which is defined as follows:
Board independence. The organization should take care to maintain the reality, not just the appearance of independent board governance. Requiring the predominance of independent board members helps ensure the board will take official action without partiality, undue influence, or conflict of interest.
To assess the reality of board independence, ECFA looks beyond the majority of independent board members on the board roster. ECFA is just as concerned about the reality of board independence as with the mathematical determination of a majority of independent board members.
ECFA defines independent board members as:
Persons who are not employees or staff members of the organization.
Persons who may not individually dictate the operations of the organization similar to an employee or staff member. A person who is an uncompensated CEO, for instance, is not independent.
Persons who are not related by blood or marriage to staff members or other board members. Blood or marriage relationships are defined for the purposes of the standard as being his or her spouse, ancestors, brothers and sisters (whether whole- or half-blood), children (whether natural or adopted), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and spouses of brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Persons who do not report to, or are not subordinate to, employees or staff members of the organization.
Persons who do not report to, or are not subordinate to, other board members.
Persons who do not receive a significant amount for consulting or speaking, or any other remuneration from the organization.
Persons who do not have relationships with firms that have significant financial dealings with the organization, officers, directors or key employees.
Persons who are not the paid legal counsel, related by blood or marriage to the paid legal counsel (see definition of blood or marriage in #3 above), or are employed by the firm that is the paid legal counsel of the organization.
Persons who are not the auditors, related by blood or marriage to the auditors (see definition of blood or marriage in #3 above), or are employed by the auditing firm of the organization.
Gospel for Asia provided Guidestar with the names of 2015 board members as of April*:
Looking at this board, it is reasonable to question the independence of a majority of members. K.P. Yohannan is President, his son is Vice President (Daniel Punnose), and his wife is a volunteer (Gisela Punnose). Chuck Zink is a major donor to GFA and his son and daughter-in-law are employees of GFA. Yohannan is also employed by GFA (#1), Daniel Punnose is employed by GFA (#1) and is a family member as is Yohannan’s wife (#3). As mentioned, Chuck Zink’s son and daughter-in-law are employed by GFA (#3). That is four out of seven.
A case could be made that Gayle Erwin’s independence has been compromised by his reliance of K.P. Yohannan and Gospel for Asia for promotion of his book, Jesus Style, and speaking engagements. According to Yohannan, GFA has translated the book into multiple languages.
In any case, it seems misleading to have “No Affiliation” by Zink’s and Erwin’s names. It is also misleading for Yohannan’s wife and son to use their Indian last name while Yohannan reverses the order for his name.
The ECFA claims that the guideline is not met by simple appearance of independence. According to Christian Today, the ECFA is reviewing GFA. I wonder if board independence is one of the items under review.
*There was a rumor that Francis Chan joined the board but as usual GFA won’t confirm this.