Some U.S. $50 billion will likely be stolen from money given by Christians to churches, parachurch organizations and secular organizations around the world in 2015. Fraud is exploiting the trust that exists within a religious community, and with the constant development of new groups, networks and movements, financial accountability will continue to represent a constant challenge, write Todd M. Johnson, Gina A. Zurlo and Albert W. Hickman (Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) in the summer issue of The Review of Faith and International Affairs.
The (conservative) amount of $50 billion actually represents only a relatively small percentage (6 percent) of Christian giving around the world. According to estimates of global Christian finance in mid-2015, Christian giving to all causes might amount to $850 billion, with Northern America, Europe and Latin America making up the largest share at $775 billion. Secular causes receive $77 billion in donations from Christians, while $773 billion goes to religious causes. Of that, $309 billion goes to churches and denominations. The two denominations that give the most are Catholics ($340 billion) and Protestants ($149 billion). If all Christians tithed, the total would be much higher: $4,558 billion.
Non-profit organizations face tough challenges in financial managements, especially the smaller ones. While large denominations and agencies have established strict practices of accountability, only two percent of the 5 million church treasurers, globally, are full-time salaried officers. Illustrated by several instances of embezzlement, from Costa Rica to Australia or Korea, the authors note that culprits had usually been siphoning off money 5 to 10 years before being detected: they were often trusted national treasurers or leaders. Quite often, first rumors had been categorically denied. Rare were the instances in which money was recovered.
However, there are proactive measures to help prevent future occurrences: more frequent managerial reviews, internal (not just external) audits, screening to those who have access to financial information (or are able to delete it), financial training, monitoring of unusual changes in employees’ way of life, insurance coverage, and education about the consequences of fraud.
(The Review of Faith and International Affairs, P.O. Box 12205, Arlington, VA 22219-2205)