Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Journey Begins, But First -

Since its inception over 50 years ago, ICFO has provided a forum for the exchange of information. My goal here is simply to expand the arena in which that discussion and exchange of information can take place. But for now, focusing on ICFO, it is sufficient to say that for the most part, a purpose of this exchange has been to inform each of us from different countries and histories, of the problems and practices involving the monitoring of charities within our respective countries. Of course, what we mean by monitoring may now be changing as the sector increases in importance. But, that is the subject for another day.

However, this exchange of information also took place in the context of problems relating to cross border fundraising. I remember when I first discovered the importance and benefit of this some twelve or fifteen years ago. For most of its history, ICFO was largely a European focused activity. Yes, there were a few non-Europeans, such as the National Charities Information Bureau (NCIB) based in the US, involved in ICFO. But that was it, and even then, the significance of this participation by non-European entities may have been of questionable value to the US entity.

As some will know, NCIB dropped its membership in ICFO sometime in the late 1990s and subsequently merged with the Council of Better Business Bureaus Foundation (which housed the Philanthropic Advisory Service) in 2001. Thus, the birth of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (http://www.bbb.org/us/charity/).

As a result, there had been reluctance on the part of some of the monitoring organizations in the United States to participate in ICFO. For the most part, American monitoring organizations simply had not heard of ICFO, or were not familiar with it.

Moreover, the reluctance on the part of those who were familiar with ICFO to participate in ICFO, was due, in part, to several factors. These included the belief that there was little relevance to the American charitable sector resulting from the exchange of what was believed to be Eurocentric information and the idea that the legal, political, and cultural contexts between the United States and European countries were significantly different and that the cross-fertilization of information would not prove useful to either the Europeans or Americans. Further, the costs associated with the membership fees and cross-Atlantic travel to European destinations did not seem to justify the relationship between North American organizations and ICFO.

This changed when the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA, http://www.ecfa.org/) was contacted by the Director of one of the monitoring organizations in Europe concerning fundraising in that country by a charity which had been accredited by ECFA. The solicitation for funds by that American charity carried the ECFA Seal of Approval, indicating that it had been accredited by ECFA. This matter was resolved by the removal of the ECFA seal from the solicitation since there was no extraterritorial reach to the ECFA accreditation. But, it also led to an active relationship between ECFA and ICFO leading to ECFA's membership in ICFO.

Although ECFA had been involved on a somewhat advisory capacity with ICFO prior to this time, it became clear that the issue of cross-border fundraising in a global economy with funding from the more wealthy northern hemisphere for relief and development and religious ministry purposes in the southern hemisphere, represented the opportunity and benefit of international cooperation.

What we in the United States and Canada learned from this experience, of course, had long been common knowledge and the common experience in Europe among those early pioneer members of ICFO. My guess is that the charity sectors in the United States and Canada have benefited from this exchange of relationship, just as I would hope that our European friends, and now Asian friends, have benefited from this collegial effort on all of our parts.


  1. Hi Rollin,

    I agree with you about the need for national monitoring agencies to take into account the international fundraising practices of the charities they are monitoring.

    There is another aspect to the international operations of monitored charities and that is how they spend their donated money out-of-the-country.

    For example, Canadian law says that charities must continue to own foreign capital assets that they build or acquire in other countries. If they build a medical clinic, they must keep ownership. However, many countries do not permit foreign ownership of real estate. This creates a conflict.

    The Canadian government recognizes the quandry and as an administrative practice allows ownership to be transferred provided the charity gets an undertaking that the property will always be used for charitable purposes and that the charity continues to monitor its use forever.

    There are lots of awkward issues here, but that's the basic principle.

    If a national monitoring agency is monitoring compliance with all aspects of charity regulation, that is it is monitoring more than just fundraising practices, it will have to investigate the charity's foreign activities too.

  2. I agree with you that more than just fundraising practices need to be monitored. Indeed, I think both the ICFO International Standards, and the standards of the various ICFO members do that. The issue of monitoring the international or foreign operations, including asset ownership, becomes a much more difficult issue, especially under the conditions that you identify in your comment.