Listening to the radio late Friday night while driving home from a distant Christmas party, I heard this BBC Global Business interview, Counting the Not for Profits. Two business school professors discussed the trend toward not-for-profit organizations providing specific information on to what extent they are accomplishing their missions with the money they receive. This would change the current general practice of providing glossy annual reports with financial statements and photos of recipients.
Any longtime readers will recall my ongoing effort to obtain annual updates of the detailed statistical spreadsheet for our parish that our Archdiocese can produce. I only learned these existed a few years ago. Much earlier, when I was on parish council in the late 1990s, I asked about gathering such information for a parish annual report that included more than just the financial information. (I had been reading Peter Drucker around that time.) I was told it would be very difficult to gather this information.
Obviously, generating a speadsheet is not regarded as difficult over on the secular side. On the ecclesiastical side, it appears it is regarded as an effort just short of moving mountains. It took a protracted period of the issue being passed back-and-forth with our parish and with our Archdiocese to ultimately be told I could get the spreadsheet, but only for personal use. That condition, of course, would defeat the purpose of accountability.
By contrast, we have updates on parish finances in our parish bulletin and the bulletin is posted online. Today's includes a footnote from our pastor that "Due to the bad weather last weekend, our collection fell short of what was given last year. If you can help bring us back to a stronger financial position, please consider doing so before the end of the year. ..."
And so it turns out that "stewardship" actually does just mean giving more money. What the parishioners give is closely monitored and published worldwide every week. What's being accomplished, or not accomplished, with the money is closely-guarded information.
Declining to participate in this one-sided accountability, I stopped filling out pledge cards. The weekly envelopes kept on coming, and the parish computers generate the same expressions of gratitude for what I give.
Still, with things like that BBC report in the air, there's hope that a day will come when our Church leaders will suddenly think they came up with the idea of real accountability and stewardship with substance. Then, perhaps, our parish bulletin will have a pastor reminding parishioners to pay more attention to non-financial results which our Archdiocese insists be published, and perhaps our parish finances will be less dependent on the weather.