Gospel for Asia and Compliance with ECFA’s Standards: The 2015 Letter, Part 5

In CEO and founder K.P. Yohannan’s recent “exclusive personal response” to the fraud lawsuit settlement involving Gospel for Asia, Yohannan traces GFA’s problems to a “confidential letter from a financial standards association we were part of, and of which we were a charter member.” That letter was from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and outlined 17 potential violations of ECFA financial standards. In October 2015, ECFA evicted GFA from membership. To help donors understand the nature of the concerns ECFA had about GFA, I am posting one of the concerns each day. You can read all of the posts by clicking this link.

Read the entire ECFA letter on GFA’s compliance issues here.

From that letter, here is the fifth compliance issue:

5. Lack of discretion and control over funds granted to foreign entities. During our review on June 3, ECFA staff raised questions regarding GFA’s oversight and control of funds sent to foreign field partners. GFA’s staff indicated that the foreign field partners are completely independent organizations and therefore GFA did not exercise any direct control over field partners. GFA staff also indicated that they did not have a foreign grant process in place to oversee the use of funds.

Given legal requirements on tax-exempt entities to have appropriate discretion and control over the use of funds sent to foreign entities, ECFA staff indicated that GFA’s lack of a grant process appears to violate ECFA Standard 4’s requirement to follow applicable laws.

Subsequent to these conversations, on August 21, GFA staff indicated a new foreign grant process was developed with the assistance of its new audit firm and will be in effect as of September 1, 2015.

Our review of the board minutes did not indicate the GFA board had approved, or even been notified, of GFA’s minimal oversight of funds provided to field partners.

For reasons I cannot explain, GFA has publicly claimed no control over what happens with donations in Asia. K.P. Yohannon has repeatedly claimed that he is not on any boards in Asia. As recently as last month, he told Francis Chan, he has no more control over Believers’ Church than the other Bishops.

This claim was thrown into doubt during the fraud lawsuit due to discovery of an email from Chief Operating Officer David Carroll to K.P. Yohannan. In it, Carroll said to Yohannan:

We can say all we want that we don’t have anything to do with the Believers Church or the field and that you are only the spiritual head of the church and that finances are handled by others but you, but as a practical matter, that will not hold up.

The Believers’ Church constitution makes it clear that Yohannan is the final and supreme authority in temporal and spiritual matters. Perhaps GFA didn’t want to own up to the level of control Yohannan possesses.

In any case, the claim that Believers Church and GFA-India (now known as Ayana Charitable Trust) had no input from Yohannan seems implausible. At this time, both charities in India are barred from accepting foreign funds since their registration as charities was revoked in 2017.  GFA-USA is sending funds to NGOs which act as shell organizations for the purpose of funneling money to Believers’ Church.

Donors should know that funds given to GFA don’t go directly to GFA in India.  Some funds go to other nations in Asia but most goes to entities in India that have no operational presence in the country. They exist to receive funds and give them to Believers’ Church or some other BC controlled entity. I have asked various authorities if this is allowed but have not received an answer as yet.

Next post: 6. GFA solicits funds for narrower purposes than the eventual expenditure of the funds.

 

Gospel for Asia and Compliance with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s Standards: The 2015 Letter, Part 3

In CEO and founder K.P. Yohannan’s recent “exclusive personal response” to the fraud lawsuit settlement involving Gospel for Asia, Yohannan traces GFA’s problems to a “confidential letter from a financial standards association we were part of, and of which we were a charter member.” That letter was from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and outlined 17 potential violations of ECFA financial standards. In October 2015, ECFA evicted GFA from membership. To help donors understand the nature of the concerns ECFA had about GFA, I am posting one of the concerns each day. You can read all of the posts by clicking this link.

Read the entire ECFA letter on GFA’s violations here.

From that letter, here is the third compliance issue:

3. Delay in sending funds to the field. It was not until the meeting on August 12 that we learned that $47,898,342, or approximately 82%, of gifts received by GFA in 2014 designated for India were not sent to the field until the last two days of the calendar year.

To be clear, nearly $50 million of gifts were raised from January to December, with only modest amounts sent to the field until the end of the year. ECFA staff expressed concern over failing to send gifts to the field on a timely basis, raising compliance issues under ECFA Standards 4, 7.1, and 7.2, particularly given the urgent nature of many GFA gift solicitations. Subsequent to this discovery, GFA staff indicated that field partners requested the delay of sending the funds to the field due to challenges in transmitting funds into India. ECFA could not confirm if the delay in transferring the funds was justified.

Based on ECFA’s review of GFA’s internal financial statements as of June 30, 2015, GFA had a cash balance of $28,338,841 in funds designated for foreign field partners, or more than the total of all funds received for the field in the first half of 2015. In other words, the practice of sending funds to the field on a significantly delayed basis was not only followed for 2014 but also during the first half of 2015.

GFA staff informed ECFA on August 12 that part of the cash balances held by GFA on June 30 were transferred to field partners during the month of July. On August 21, GFA staff indicated there is now a plan to send funds to field partners on the 15th of each month.

When ECFA staff asked if the board was apprised of the delays in transferring funds to the field, GFA staff indicated the board was informed of this fact because the board received periodic financial statements. However, the internal financial statements erroneously reflected field funds as a liability and as an expense immediately upon receiving the funds. Thus, it would have been very difficult for the board to learn of the delays in sending funds to the field because the interim financial statements indicated the funds had been sent to the field when they had not. Therefore, ECFA found no indication that the board had approved, or even been clearly informed of the questionable practice of delaying sending funds to the field.

One of the reasons former GFA board member Gayle Erwin resigned related to his realization that he was being kept in the dark about how funds were spent. In this case, funds were being held from the field. Even though GFA representatives urgently solicited donations, the funds were not sent until near the end of the year.

There was no problem in submitting funds to India. However, the field partner Believers Church (K.P. Yohannan is the head of that church as well as CEO of GFA) may not have liked the scrutiny of the Indian government. Spacing out donations might have been part of their plan to manage foreign contributions. However, it is still unclear to me why GFA held back so much money.

In any case, GFA raised millions and held it for several years all the while begging for funds. The next post will deal with that problem directly.

Next post: 4. The level of urgency communicated in GFA donor appeals contrasted with reserves held by foreign field partners and delays in sending funds to the field.

Gospel for Asia Class Action Suit Claims Process is Now Open

I just saw the following notice which is relevant to donors to Gospel for Asia. The claims process for the $37 million settlement in Murphy v. GFA is now open.

Pursuant to the proposed class action settlement with Gospel for Asia (and the individual defendants), the claims process is now open. Class members should have received individual notice by mail and/or email from the Settlement Administrator, Heffler Claims Group.

Filing a claim is simple – either:
1. Complete and return the Official Claim Form included with the Notice; or
2. File your claim online at www.gfaclassaction.us

Both ask you to agree or disagree with the list of donations (provided to the Settlement Administrator from GFA) on the website. To review the list, click on the “Donations List” tab on the website and insert your Class Member ID (found on your claim form). If you cannot find your Class Member ID, you may contact the Settlement Administrator using the appropriate prompts on the website.

Importantly, the claim deadline is July 11, 2019.

Should you have any questions, you may contact the Settlement Administrator at (844) 367-8894.

Funds may be recovered via this action and donated to another organization. If you need a reminder of the problems at GFA, please see this post (and this one) and re-read the report of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Remember that the ECFA removed GFA from membership in October 2015 due to multiple violations of financial standards. GFA promised to seek reinstatement. However, it is now 2019 and GFA still has not done so.

ECFA Removes Harvest Bible Chapel from Membership

After disclosing that Harvest Bible Chapel was under investigation, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability finally removed the megachurch from membership due to violations of four standards of financial integrity. Earlier today the following statement was posted on the ECFA website.

WINCHESTER, Va., April 17, 2019—The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) board voted today to update the membership status for Harvest Bible Chapel (Elgin, IL) from suspension to termination due to significant violations of four of ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™. Based on new information obtained by ECFA from the church while under suspension, ECFA determined that the church was not in compliance with Standards 2, 3, 4 and 6, which pertain to Governance, Financial Oversight, Use of Resources and Compliance with Laws, and Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.

“ECFA continues to champion integrity in God’s Kingdom,” said Dan Busby, ECFA president. We are committed to applying our standards rigorously and consistently.”

ECFA’s investigation of Harvest Bible Chapel began on November 28, 2018. After a thorough review of documents made available at that time as well as an on-site visit with church officials, ECFA reported on December 10, 2018 that the church was in good standing. This statement would not have been made if Harvest Bible Chapel had shared all crucial information with ECFA.

As part of the ongoing review of the church’s compliance with ECFA’s standards, on March 11, 2019, the church shared new information that indicated possible violations of ECFA standards. Based on this new information, ECFA’s board responded accordingly and suspended Harvest Bible Chapel’s membership on March 14, 2019 and launched a further investigation, that has remained ongoing.

On April 15, 2019, ECFA obtained pertinent information from the church, providing evidence that validated significant violations of Standards 2, 3, 4, and 6. The ECFA board determined that restoration to full membership was not a viable option under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, Julie Roys published an article detailing more damaging allegations regarding financial dealings at HBC and James MacDonald’s ministry Walk in the Word.

HBC now joins Gospel for Asia as an organization kicked out of the ECFA due to public revelations generated by bloggers and news reporting. The ECFA’s process missed all of the violations. However, after investigative reporting brought issues to light, the ECFA acted.

Does the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Benefit Donors? (UPDATED)

Yesterday morning, Christianity Today announced that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability suspended Harvest Bible Chapel for potential violation of four of seven financial integrity standards. ECFA’s president Dan Busby told CT that ECFA is trying to find out if the church is or is not in compliance. Although it has been obvious for some time, at least the ECFA has given the public some indication that all may not be right at HBC.

ECFA’s renewed investigation appears to be a response to Julie Roys’ indefatigable investigation of HBC and pointed questions in print for ECFA about HBC’s financial practices. Roys’ work is like deja vu all over again. ECFA also said Gospel for Asia and Mars Hill Church were meeting standards until it was learned that the organizations weren’t as they seemed. In light of the current HBC debacle, I thought of this 2014 article about ECFA’s benefit to donors and am reprinting it here.

Without the work of whistleblowers, bloggers, and journalists (mostly bloggers in these cases), would we ever have known any of what we know now about MHC, GFA, and HBC? (If a former board member had not leaked the ECFA report about GFA to a blogger, the public would never have known the extent of the financial issues with that mission giant.) ECFA membership gave those organizations a seal of approval which helped convince people to part with their money. I hope these glaring situations prompt some changes at ECFA and perhaps even some additional regulation of non-profits.

…………………………………

August 6, 2014

The mission statement of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is “Enhancing Trust in Christ-Centered Churches and Ministries.” A primary means of pursuing their mission is through promotion of their seven standards of stewardship. The ECFA website states that the standards are “are fundamental to operating with integrity.” The ECFA tells the public that organizations who voluntarily agree to adhere to the standards “must comply with all of the standards, all of the time.”

But what happens when an ECFA member does not adhere to “all of the standards, all of the time?” What does the ECFA do to alert the public when non-compliance is discovered? The disappointing answer for donors is that the ECFA may do nothing to alert the public when an organization is or was out of compliance. In contrast to former years when the ECFA publicly suspended organizations, now the ECFA conducts a private review if there is concern over compliance with standards. Michael Martin, Director of Legal Services and Legal Counsel for the EFCA told me, “When standards-related issues are under review with respect to a particular member, ECFA does not comment on our review.”

I have written numerous emails and left phone messages with the ECFA regarding the Mars Hill Global Fund since May, 2014. I am aware that former members of Mars Hill Church have also contacted ECFA about the use of donations to the Mars Hill Global Fund from 2012-2014. In response to one of those former member emails, Michael Martin replied:

We are aware of the issues you mention and are in communication with leaders of Mars Hill concerning matters which relate to ECFA standards.

True to his word, the ECFA did not comment from May until July 25 when the organization released a statement to World Magazine:

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) conducted a review of Mars Hill Global and issued a statement that read, in part, “The Church has gone the second mile to address use of any funds if they were not used consistently with donor intent. This commitment, which ECFA will periodically verify, demonstrates the integrity of Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor Sutton Turner.”

In other words, trust us, we will let you know. However, the problem for prospective donors is no one let them know. This statement is very close to an admission that the church did not comply with ECFA guidelines “all of the time” (“The Church has gone the second mile to address use of any funds if they were not used consistently with donor intent“). About donations to the Global Fund between 2012-2014, the church had already acknowledged that the “preponderance of expenses related to church plants and replants in the U.S” which was a change from their 2013 Annual Report when they reported that Global Fund money went to mission efforts in India and Ethiopia. There was no report of money spent on U.S. church plants. Yet, donors would not have known that if not for those outside of Mars Hill Church and the ECFA writing about it. Mars Hill Church is still misleading people about how they portrayed Mars Hill Global and has certainly done their part to keep this information out of public view by scrubbing video evidence. Apparently, the ECFA also believes that these matters should be handled secretly without potential donors knowing what is going on.
The ECFA touts their standards as “fundamental to operating with integrity.” They are good standards. However, if the public does not know that an organization has not or is not following them, then how can that integrity be assessed?

In recent years, the ECFA has removed very few organizations from membership due to violations. Most former members have either voluntarily given up their membership or merged with other organizations.
In the old days, it seems to me that donors had more of an advocate with the ECFA. For instance, witness this response from then ECFA president Paul Nelson to criticism received in 1997 when the ECFA suspended Gospel Rescue Mission (a homeless mission?!) for using generic fundraising letters (a more minor offense than re-routing mission money, in my view):

The ECFA, Mr. Nelson said, does not want to punish member organizations, which by joining are voluntarily submitting to accountability. “By the same token we must call attention to the issues when a violation has occurred, and that’s what we’ve done in this case,” he said. “Our whole approach is not to be adversarial to the membership but to take disciplinary steps when we have to, which is what we felt we had to do. Now we’re prepared to work with them, if they are prepared to work with us.”

At the time, the ECFA seemed to take a more diligent approach to their public role. Nelson added:

The standards have not changed, Mr. Nelson said, and the suspension is a reminder that ECFA intends to be vigilant. “I think it does send a clear message-that if there are practices going on, and if those practices are widespread, that are borderline, or are moving in and out of compliance-that ECFA is serious about truthfulness in communications.”

As an evangelical donors to evangelical causes, this research into Mars Hill Global and the ECFA has been surprising and disappointing. More so than ever, if I have doubt about an organization, I will check that organization’s ECFA status but that will be only the beginning. I now know that an organization could be out of compliance even if accredited. Worse yet, the accrediting group could know an organization is out of compliance and never make it known. I may use the ECFA standards, but realize I will have to explore compliance on my own with the organization. I will have to ask for reports of how money is used (apparently the ECFA is not going to require this report from Mars Hill Church regarding their Global Fund) and not assume that accreditation means the organization has been or is in compliance with the guidelines.

Unfortunate, but good to know.

For more on Mars Hill Global, click the link.

For a donor-centered watchdog organization, see Ministry Watch.

Social Crusader and Metropolitan K.P. Yohannan Waxes Eloquent about Charity in India

K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube
K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube

Yesterday, K.P. Yohannan, self-styled social crusader and Metropolitan of Believers’ Church, published an article in the Indian online publication Bureaucracy Today on charity finances. Next issue, BT should invite Bernie Madoff to pen an article on business ethics.
 
Some highlights:

However, checks and balances in the NGO space, like in any other system are an integral part of this support mechanism.  Without effective and robust assessment machinery, it will become very difficult to sustain the credibility and utility of NGOs.
In fact, it would be fair to say that scrutiny and regulation of organizations in NGO space is far more critical than that of the private sector. This is because humanitarian organizations compliment and supplement the efforts of the state in a country of the size and diversity like ours. So whereas the government is at the forefront of inclusive growth for all sections of the society, civil society participation becomes imperative to achieve the expected pace of reform. And therefore it is sacrosanct that the credibility of these civil society participants is maintained with full caution in public eye.

This from the leader of an organization who was kicked out of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in October 2015 and sanctioned by the Office of Personnel Management in January of 2016. GFA has not been reinstated to either organization. On the point of credibility in the public eye, GFA has not released an audited financial statement for the past two fiscal years.
Another quote:

There are a host of reasons why the narrative in India has changed to NGO versus state. Whereas some of the NGOs have been accused of funding anti-national activities, others have been accused of financial impropriety. These are grave charges and it is but natural that the relevant authorities have taken timely action to intervene.

This statement comes from the leader of the organization being sued for fraud in the U.S.
As GFA’s lawyer said, I am a blogger that regularly blogs and will continue to remind donors about the “grave charges” until the “relevant authorities” intervene.

Indian Government Cracks Down on NGOs; Gospel for Asia India Changes Name to Ayana Charitable Trust

Source TT Architects website
GFA HQ – Source TT Architects website

Earlier this week, the Indian press reported that 20,000 NGOs had been cancelled by Prime Minister Modi’s crusade against corruption. According to those reports, only 13,000 NGOs remain as approved by the government.
It is unclear if any of the NGOs connected to mission giant Gospel for Asia has been caught up in the crack down. The government’s Home Ministry website provides lists of about 12,000 NGOs which are not now approved and none of the GFA organizations are listed. However, given the reports of 20,000 cancelled, presumably more will be announced in the days ahead.
In looking for information about the drastic measures, I learned that Gospel for Asia in India is now called Ayana Charitable Trust (see this blog post at India Happenings). To my knowledge, this name change was not disclosed to donors outside of India. The Gospel for Asia – India website is not functional and hasn’t been for months. Apparently, donations from America, Canada and around the world are being sent to Believers’ Church as well as a handful of NGOs in India, all affiliated with Believers’ Church.
Apparently, Gospel for Asia isn’t operating as GFA in India.
Recent government filings indicate no foreign contributions to Ayana Charitable Trust. For instance, look at this report filed in the last quarter of FY 2015-2016.
Ayana Trust last qtr 2015-2016
However, in April 2016 the Deccan Chronicle reported robust contributions for 2014-2015 to Ayana Charitable Trust, Believers’ Church, Love India Ministry and Last Hour Ministry, all affiliated with Believers’ Church. This reflects donations from GFA in Wills Point, TX to these NGOs. The Chronicle reported the donations to Ayana and not the old name of Gospel for Asia. However, as noted above, Ayana reported no contributions in the last quarter of FY 2015-2016.
It is unclear why GFA has changed the name in India. Creating multiple NGOs and changing their names does make it harder to track donations. Given the intense scrutiny of GFA’s activities (leading to expulsion from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability), making it hard to track activities might be a defensive strategy.

WAY-FM: Gospel for Asia "Passed Our Internal Review"

Looking around on Christian radio network WAY-FM’s website, I saw this ad for Gospel for Asia.
GFA on WAY
First, GFA isn’t really giving very many animals to children. Most goat gifts end up in a fund which may or may not provide an actual animal to a family.
Then, I wondered if perhaps WAY-FM was unaware of GFA’s ethics and legal problems. Even K-LOVE told me at one point they no longer partner with GFA.  I wrote WAY-FM to find out.
The response led to another question which has yet to be answered.
Mike West at WAY-FM answered briefly:

All Impact Partners are internally reviewed prior to airing and GFA passed our internal review once again.

So an advertiser is an “impact partner” and GFA passed an internal review. This response led to my next, as yet unanswered, question.
What would GFA have to do in order to fail?
Apparently, an impact partner can be evicted from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability due to multiple violations of financial integrity standards and still pass.
An impact partner can be removed from the Combined Federal Campaign by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management due to violations of federal regulations  and still pass.
An impact partner can be disgraced in an Indian court for misusing donor funds and still pass.
An impact partner can be removed from the Independent Charities of America and still pass.
An impact partner can be removed from membership in the National Religious Broadcasters and still pass.
An impact partner can fail to make available audited financial statements for 2014 and 2015 and still pass.
An impact partner can commit all those misdeeds and leave the same leadership team in place and still pass.
I would like to know what groups fail WAY-FM’s internal review. I could do a lot of blog posts on that group.
 
 

Indian Ruling Party Official: K.P. Yohannan Has No Claim to Rubber Plantation

K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube
K.P. Yohannan, source: Youtube

Gospel for Asia founder and director K.P. Yohannan is getting opposition from the India’s Peoples Party in his bid to sell a rubber plantation that the government says he doesn’t own. Yohannan’s Believers’ Church purchased the working rubber plantation — Cheruvally Estate — from the Harrisons Malayalam Ltd company in 2005. According to the Times of India, a high ranking official in the party of Prime Minister Modi claims the church should not be repaid for the property since it was acquired illegally:

The government does not need permission from K P Yohannan to set up airport in the Cheruvally estate, BJP national executive member V Muraleedharan said.
Muraleedharan said that when the government plans to buy the 2,200 acre Cheruvally estate from the encroachers and set up the airport, it would set a wrong precedence for encroachers of government land in other areas. The opposition was against this move that would set the ground for large-scale corruption, he said.

Yohannan has said the Believers’ Church bought the land with a loan. While this may be true, he was able to do so because donors from around the world gave millions to GFA. His operations in India have consistently promoted work with children and evangelism as the focus of American donantions. However, the bulk of money from outside of India has gone to finance the creation of for-profit businesses in India (e.g., medical centers, schools). Furthermore, at least $20 million in donations was first sent to India and then secretly returned to the United States in order to fund GFA’s compound in Texas.
GFA and Yohannan were evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in October 2015. GFA was singled out as violating government regulations by the Office of Personnel Management in January 2016 and sanctioned to the greatest extent allowed by law.

#GivingTuesday: Gospel for Asia's Rubber Plantation in Jeopardy

It appears Gospel for Asia has experienced another setback. The local government wants to build an airport on part of the rubber plantation — Cheruvally Estate — owned by GFA.

“There are many environmental issues at Laha. Based on a study , Cheruvalli estate was found suitable. I had talked to Archbishop KP Yohannan who owns the Cheruvalli estate two months ago and he had expressed his willingness to give land for the airport. I wrote to Vijayan and he acted quickly ,” he said, adding that NRKs were ready to invest if the airport follows a PPP model. Around Rs 3,000 crore will be required to build the airport.
The estate, which was being held by Gospel for Asia, was part of 5,200 acres that was taken over by the special officer along with the land held by Travancore Rubber and Tea Company Ltd and Riya Resorts and Properties Pvt Ltd. Cheruvalli estate is one among the estates that were sold by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd in 2005. The special officer – who was appointed for resuming government land from HML – had inspected the estate on January 15, 2015 and found that the sale deed of the Cheruvalli estate, measuring 2,263 acres, did not contain any survey number included in original document 16001923 held by HML.
Gospel for Asia had approached the high court claiming that the special office had no powers to issue the notice. After their plea was turned down by the single bench that asked the group to first make their claims before the special officer, the group then appealed against it in the division bench.

Last month, KSEB had written to the special officer seeking permission to erect a 110kV line through the property for im proving the power facility to Sabarimala which subsequently was placed before the high court.The court, in its order, gave permission to KSEB to erect the power line through the estate, without providing any compensation to Gospel for Asia.

GFA paid millions of donor money not given for the purchase of a rubber plantation to buy Cheruvally Estate. Now, that investment is being taken by the government with the claim being that GFA was not a legal buyer in the first place.
In October 2015, GFA was evicted from membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability due to multiple violations of financial standards. GFA founder and director K.P. Yohannan has spent much of his time in India since then due to concerns about investigations by various federal agencies.
Today is #GivingTuesday which provides a focus on giving to non-profits. With Christmas and end of the year tax giving, charities bring in a substantial portion of their funds during December.
#GivingTuesday – My advice is to find local charities making a difference and give there.
#GivingTuesday – Advice for making larger donations.