27 min read

Transcript: Key Steps for Building Integrity and Accountability // Michael Martin, ECFA

Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast

Key Steps for Building Integrity and Accountability

January 9, 2023

Michael Martin

Intro: Unfortunately, we are all aware of high-profile moral or leadership failures, and can they be avoided? Today our guest outlines key steps to build integrity and trust with accountability for your organization's leadership.

Welcome: Welcome to the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast, your home for open, honest, and insightful conversations to help develop your leadership, your team, and build a flourishing workplace culture.

Al Lopus: One of the eight keys required to create a flourishing workplace culture is inspirational leadership, and the foundation of this kind of leadership is, of course, integrity and trust. Flourishing cultures have leaders who exhibit good character and are competent to lead. And our research shows churches and Christian organizations that thrive over time operate with a leadership framework of trust, accountability, and transparency. And today's Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast will help us deepen our understanding of organizational and leadership accountability.

And so I'm delighted to welcome Michael Martin. Michael’s the president and CEO of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a trusted organization we all know as ECFA.

Michael, it's great to have you on the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast.

Michael Martin: Well, thank you so much, Al. Consider me—you know this—a huge fan of the Best Christian Workplaces and just appreciate all you do. So it's an honor to be with you on the podcast today.

Al: It's really been great to work with you over time, Michael. That's for sure.

Well, let me start off with a couple of questions, Michael.

Michael: Sure.

Al: ECFA works with both churches and Christian nonprofits, and so what are some of the common characteristics you see in a well-ran organization? Are there some leadership practices that clearly separate the best from those who don't pass, you know, for example, your ECFA standards? And are there any differences in what you see for churches versus nonprofit organizations?

Michael: Sure. No, I appreciate that, Al. And I'm so glad that you highlight the importance of leadership because ECFA, yeah, being the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, for anyone that might not know that full name, might think of ECFA and just think of things like finances or, you know, ethical fundraising practices, certainly board governance to some extent. But, Al, I would say just the same thing is true with respect to leadership. Leadership is just an important part of having that healthy culture and environment where we would say the rest of the ECFA standards can flourish. And so we're actually continuing to lean more into that space.

But, really, as it relates to leadership, too, Al, I think this is a key, if I could just answer your question there in one word, I would really say humility. Humility. You know, we think a lot of times about, “Okay,” when it comes to the finances or governance or fundraising, you know, “We need to be sure we're operating at best practices and checking a lot of boxes in different areas.” But, you know, I would say that, seen it come down to so many times a level of humility and maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. I think scripture is very clear about that. God uses leaders who are humble, even if we want to go to using that s-word of scandal. A lot of times it comes back to, you see in a breakdown with a leader or with an organization, just a lack of humility or a willingness to even embrace accountability, which is another huge piece of all we do and try to advance at ECFA.

And coming back to that scripture, too. A key one for us, Al, is 2 Corinthians 8:21, where the mission is summarized for us, and we're taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of God, but also in the eyes of man. And so we could talk about all of the different standards, all the different best practices. But, you know, I would really say, Al, it all comes down to a level of Christlike humility.

Al: Well, I love that idea, Michael, of humility. And I really appreciate Jim Collins’s writing about, even in a secular good-to-great kind of a company, humility is key for level-five leadership. But of course, as Christians, we've known that for a long time. Wow, yeah. So humility.

And what are you seeing between churches and other Christian nonprofits? Any differences there?

Michael: Yeah. I guess I would even tag onto, to that same point, Al, and say, you know, I think a critical part of that is organizations, again, embracing accountability. And what I'm about to say, it might sound like it's a knock against the local church, and I really don't mean it that way, but I think, you know, even at the time ECFA was formed, over 40 years ago now, we did have some churches that were part of ECFA, but I would say that many of the parachurch or nonprofit organizations were a bit ahead of the times in terms of saying, “We really need to embrace this idea of accountability.” You know, one of the common, I think, objections maybe over the years to even some more churches embracing accountability is just kind of this idea—I've heard it said; I don't know if you've heard it said—but, “Well, we're accountable to God. Isn't that enough?”

And I think over time—and the good news is we are seeing more churches, I think, even coming around on this, on things like having independent audits done or having a majority of independent board members when it fits their theological context and all. It’s just the idea that even culture has begun to really shift a lot around us. And maybe that same level of trust that used to just be inherent in the local church as culture’s changing, I think it's been a good wake-up call for the church to say we need to—coming back to 2 Corinthians—we need to not just do what is right in the eyes of God, but also in the eyes of man. And sometimes that does mean taking great pains to be more accountable, to be more transparent and all. So that's a shift we're seeing, and I spoke to that historically, but present-day. Churches are now the fastest-growing segment of the ECFA membership, so that's really encouraging. I think there's a lot of work for us to continue to do in that area, but it is something that we're excited to see.

Al: Yeah, and it's always been a pleasure, Michael. You know, a lot of the churches we work with, who open themselves up to accountability, I mean, we're very much a part of that movement as well, and they're also ECFA members. So we have a lot in common from that standpoint.

And you know, we know that ECFA focuses on financial accountability, but we also know there are other important areas of leadership accountability. For example, you know, sometimes we see leaders leaving due to personal failings. That's one way to describe it. So is ECFA working on other areas of leadership accountability with member organizations? What’s the direction you're seeing there?

Michael: Sure. No, I appreciate that. And to what you're just saying, too, about being encouraged in some of the overlap between our organizations, I'd say we almost consider, we do consider BCWI to be that partner with us in enhancing trust. I mean, so much of what you do is, and the work around just healthy organizations, which leadership is a huge part of that. So I feel like we're in it together when it comes to the mission.

But in terms of that question, too, about financial accountability is in ECFA’s name. But yeah, for many years, too, and we've articulated our mission as enhancing trust in Christ-centered churches and ministries. And as I've even alluded to, and just kind of sharing some more earlier comments, too, is even things like the governance of an organization, or we have a standard around doctrinal issues. You know, those are foundational to, really, at a culture and environment where the rest of ECFA standards can flourish, leadership is that same way. And so we are leaning into that space more. That's a very insightful question on your part. We have been hearing more, Al, from, really, both the donor community as well as more Christian ministries that are saying, you know, these issues related to leadership failures, if we want to use that term, just kind of the crisis that's happening within our community, this becomes more concerning when it comes to trust, the level of trust in organizations.

So we have been doing some kind of looking inward and even saying, “Does ECFA have some role to play in that space in supporting healthy leadership?” Certainly, we're not alone. I think this is a cultural moment where we're really joining a chorus of others who are saying that the integrity of the leader matters. And what can we do, you know, as an organization, in order to support that? We know that there are no perfect people. There are no perfect organizations. Certainly, we're not going to solve sin issues, you know, on this side of eternity. But are there just some real practical things that we can do as an organization to provide a level of support for the leader?

So we've done some internal survey work even amongst the ECFA membership. And I think something like 94% of board chairs and senior leaders would agree that the leader’s integrity is important to the organization and its trust. But a little less encouraging is to see the number of organizations that have actually really taken that step to put anything formal in place in terms of—I think just a little over half have said that there's something in place that would relate to what are the character expectations of the leader. But we also see it, Al—be curious for your thoughts, too, on this—but we see it more broadly than just outward behavioral-type issues. But we're looking at this holistically, too, and saying that the integrity or the wholeness of a leader, it's not just one dimensional. It's not just the outward behavior. It's, you know, the spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, all those areas of health. And so we're looking at it, too. And our research showed that only 15% of organizations said that they really have anything formal in place that would relate to providing a level of care or support to the leader as a whole person.

So all of that just tells me, you know, there's a lot of work to do in this space. And I think ECFA is really prayerfully discerning how we can provide a level of support to that as our members really are embracing this idea as well.

Al: Wow. So those are interesting stats, Michael. I appreciate it. 94%, you're saying, of board chairs and senior leaders agree that moral failings of Christian leaders have a negative impact on donor trust. Well, that’s almost a given, isn’t it. I mean, yes, we all know—

Michael: You wonder where the other 6% are.

Al: Yeah.

But so the logical question is, what do you do about that? And just a little over half have actually begun to address it with any kind of a written plan, and only 15% that say they have any type of a written plan that supports the care of the leader as a whole. Well, we'll come back to that.

And I really appreciate your certification process. In fact, Michael, we're going through your ECFA certification process right now, and we found it is quite rigorous. And I, again, we encourage it for any organization, any Christian nonprofit. Some organizations, you know, actually don't achieve your certification, and some, once they're certified, you know, much like Best Christian Workplaces, once they're certified, they may not stay certified, or in your case, the standards over time. What are some of the common issues that you see cropping up for organizations that missed the mark? You know, what problems—and this is something for all of us that are listening—what are the problems or issues that lead to a lack of accountability?

Michael: Sure. Well, and I know, Al, it's very much the same because we've gone through the process of being Best Christian Workplaces is I do know not all organizations, just right away, you know, are at that level in order to be recognized for certification with Best Christian Workplaces. Same with ECFA. I mean, we are coming up now on almost 2700 accredited organizations across the country and work through, you know, several hundred applications from organizations each year that are interested in becoming affiliated with ECFA, reaching that level of accreditation, really, as that sign, you know, to their donors that there's that level of confidence and trust when they give.

I’m trying not to be that overly data guy, you know? But being a CPA by background, it's hard for me not to fall into that temptation. But maybe this helps just put a little more specifics around what we see. And that is—and we haven't run all the numbers for this year yet, haven't closed out the year—but even just last year, roughly, Al, about a third of organizations that come to ECFA last year were really ready just right away. You know, meet all the standards; we're ready to go, after a due-diligence process by our team. But you know what that means is that the other two-thirds of organizations that would come to us, you know, there's at least some level of work involved in order to meet our accreditation criteria.

And, you know, a couple of those common issues might be, is this an organization that hasn't yet engaged with an outside CPA for either an audit or review or compilation of their financial statements? So that can be a hurdle at times. Or I've mentioned the governance standard that we have—having at least five and a majority of independent board members governance—sometimes even structurally, that can take some time for organizations to be able to process and to work through. And then I would just say overall, too, you know, just organizations making this a priority, right? We're all busy. Ministry is fast paced these days. There's always a lot to do and a lot going on. And so, Al, sometimes we see folks that might come and say, “Well, ECFA, it's a good idea and all those things,” but just, I think it takes a level of intentionality and focus in order to invest in meeting the requirements.

And I’d say, I know I’m biased, but this is an investment that's well worth it, and it does help fuel ministry. And so, you know, those are just some of the things that we see in terms of big-picture issues organizations are working on. And I should say, too, ECFA, we really take the posture of a coach as well. Like, we want to come alongside. There's no fear or intimidation for an organization that say, “Well, we're interested in ECFA. We're not sure if we are hitting the mark.” We want to come alongside those organizations and see them reach that high standard, to reach that level. And so it's one of the greatest privileges that our team has is to work with that other two-thirds of organizations that are still working to meet the standards.

Al: Yeah. And I can say that's exactly how we've felt as we've begun to go through the process ourselves. Yeah.

And okay, Michael. So the big question here is, so do you live by your own standards?

Michael: Good. Hey, I appreciate you’re keeping me accountable. And yes, I can unpack that a little bit. We do. We're committed to, yeah, that same level of accountability and those standards and have an independent way majority independent board that's in place here at ECFA. I can tell you being the president and CEO, this is not a rubber-stamp board. They're providing a level of oversight and responsibility and really take that seriously. And, you know, we try to be also transparent as well with financial and other information that's out on our website.

And I'd say, too, one of the things folks may not know, too, Al, is that, you know, even in terms of our process and understanding, okay, how does the accreditation work? Like, what are the steps that are involved? What kind of due diligence does ECFA provide that's behind the seal? We do provide a lot of that information out on our website. We even post a list of new organizations that are coming into membership. If there's those that have had to transition or change because of not meeting the standards or some other level of change, you know, we post that information as well as a matter of appropriate transparency. So trying to practice what we preach here at ECFA.

Al: Well, I can also say, you know, for our listeners, that you're certified, actually, a flourishing best Christian workplace and a top 5% of all Christian ministries that we serve. And so I know that the integrity that you're talking about, the involvement, involving others in decisions and the way you communicate, the way you lead, absolutely, from an employee perspective also is a great way to have a flourishing workplace.

But, you know, at BCW, we offer 360 leadership reviews, which is also an accountability tool for leaders. And, you know, we just did, really had the privilege. We've been working with one pastor here for the last 10 years, doing 360 leadership reviews almost every year. And he receives feedback from at least 40 people. And, you know, he's a lead pastor in a megachurch, and they also have a school on their campus. And he has his chair of the elder board sit in on this review every time as well. And when you think of accountability for leaders, what practices or tools do you recommend, Michael? Are there some best practices and accountability for leaders that want to maybe even grow in this area?

Michael: Sure. Well, I'll start with, I think that 360 review process. I'm glad you mentioned it. That can be so valuable. It's been said that oftentimes we're blind to our own blindness. So we've got to—at times I think it takes, once again, coming back to that key theme of humility, takes a lot of humility for a leader to say, “Okay, I want to open up, really from all perspectives, to hear how are things going? Where can it be better?” And it would just be so much healthier as a result of that. I think about that pastor, though, Al, and I say over 40 different people speaking into it. It would take a leader with a big stomach to be able to process a lot of that feedback.

But you mentioned, too, just some other insights or tools. I think we've seen this in some of our research, but just as we're talking with other organizations as well, I think relationship is huge, and it's no secret, too, that leadership can be isolating. And so I think one of the antidotes to that is just having some really solid relationships in the leaders’ lives. Of course, board members that are not afraid to ask tough questions. There's so much value that can come from a coach, someone who's mentoring and calling a leader to high standards. Other levels of relationship peers. You know, I think peers who walk alongside a leader.

As well as, I think, Al, too, making sure that leaders are also in a position of mentoring others and pouring into others’ lives as well. There's so much that we can learn. It's ironic, isn't it, that if we think we're going to be someone's mentor, that maybe they're going to learn a lot from us. But I think what we can learn as leaders from those we mentor can be huge.

And then, you know, lastly, I'd say, too, and this is maybe where a lot of people's minds would go just immediately to your question, but even having some of those structures, having policies in place, are there channels for if there's a volunteer or a staff member or others that are impacted by the leader? If there's concerns, you know, around the leader, is there a process? Is there something in place that both respects the leader, but also invites accountability? And I think those types of policies and processes are so important.

Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.

Are you tired of spinning your wheels with unwanted turnover, toxicity, and disengaged employees? Do you want to improve your team's effectiveness and performance? A helpful way to improve is to have you and your leadership team buy our new book, Road to Flourishing: Eight Keys to Boost Employee Engagement and Well-Being. This is the only research-based book that shows you how to engage employees, build fantastic teams, cultivate life-giving work, attract and retain outstanding talent, and much more. To buy a copy for you and your team, go to www.roadtoflourishing.com. And when you buy a book, you'll receive a free copy of our Rewarding Compensation: FLOURISH Guide. Again, go to roadtoflourishing.com and buy a book for you and your team, and receive a free Rewarding Compensation: FLOURISH Guide.

And now back to today’s special guest.

And so like a process that you're talking about, maybe a whistle-blower type of process, is that what you're saying?

Michael: Right. Yeah, something to that effect. I think that's just so important for organizations to consider.

Al: Yeah. Yeah, great. That's great feedback. Again, relationships, having positive relationships, having board members that are willing to ask tough questions, a coach. We're seeing more and more of that, Michael, that leaders, top leaders have coaches or mentors, being open to peers, you know, being in relationship with other leaders outside of your own organization and through peer groups is important. Even, I like your point. I hadn't thought about mentoring others and how, yes, when you're mentoring others, how the mentee just that accountability helps you live with higher standards. That’s great feedback.

You know, as we talk about the role of the board, certainly they are important in accountability for an organization, especially the relationship with the board chair and the CEO. And so I'm the board chair of BCW, and I have a weekly meeting with Jay Bransford, our CEO. And, you know, he's still six months into that job, so he's still relatively new in it. But I see that as an ongoing, and I've heard, you know, chair and CEO conversations on a regular basis is important. What questions, you know, would you have a board chair asking a CEO on a regular basis? You know, this is an opportunity to get free advice on our podcast, so…

Michael: It's worth the price of admission.

Al: Yeah, exactly. I'm thinking, well, we've got plenty to talk about, but maybe there are some questions that I should be asking Jay. Do you have examples of great interactions between a board chair and a CEO that foster accountability and growth?

Michael: Yeah, well, what a great question. That is so important. I mean, you just think about relationship, another key thing that we've talked about today, but that link, you know, that takes place. We've talked about the importance of governance and then also just, you know, healthy, flourishing cultures in a form of governance that's responsible and functioning well, where the board has entrusted the CEO with those day-to-day management issues. You just think about the relationship between, really, the board and the CEO, but that board chair provides such an important link. So I think it just—I say all that to say I think that relationship just really, it can't be overstated. Your question is timely. Just as soon as you and I get off this podcast here, I've got a call with our board chair at ECFA, and so we're going to spend some time together. And I was going to say I think it’s wonderful that you're so available to Jay, and he's doing such a great job in his role, but you're able to meet with him weekly. You know, that may not be the case in every organization. I think it is important between just maybe as a foundational point between the board chair and the CEO to set that level of expectation of what, you know, have that conversation. What is a good, you know, sweet spot of communication? Is that a weekly call, once every couple of weeks? You know, what is the right frequency for that? But just the fact that you're so available to him, you know, I cheer you for that.

You had asked, I think, just about some ideas for questions. And, you know, and every organization's probably a little different, but I do have a few ideas just from even here at ECFA or in working with so many ministries. If I were in your shoes as a board chair, maybe to those listening, some ideas for questions, I would ask your CEO, take the time to ask what's going well. And the reason for that is, you know, I think it can just be the tendency—at least, I'll speak for myself—is to be so focused on what's next that maybe we're not pausing and really giving time to celebrate the wins. What is God doing? And so as a board chair, kind of inviting that with the CEO, I think is important.

I would also ask, to keep it all in balance, what challenges are you facing? if you're the board chair asking the CEO. I think that's a good open-ended question because operating off the assumption that, you know, again, the board would be involved with the CEO in setting the overall big-picture strategy for the organization, by asking questions about, what challenges are you facing? I think it's good for the CEO to be able to even invite the board into ways to help the CEO and the rest of the team just be as successful as they can possibly be. So I think what challenges are you facing?, Al, that’s a good question.

Coming back to much of what we've talked about here today as well. If I were a board chair, I'd be asking the CEO, you know, how do you manage the tension between your work responsibilities and also staying healthy as a whole person and as a leader? It's going to be impossible to achieve perfect balance. But I think asking some questions around, you know, managing that tension.

And I just think of a couple other ones, too, and maybe these run together. But I would encourage board chairs to ask CEOs, you know, what other ways can the board provide support to you, support to you and the team? And I've seen from the research we've done at ECFA here, too, that there can be a level of awkwardness for the top leader to come to the board and say, “Hey, here's all the ways that I could use support.” But I think if the board initiates that conversation, it just opens the door.

And then last but not least, I would say, too, thinking about the work we're doing, it's really God's work. We're on a spiritual mission, and I've seen God move in some really powerful ways when the board even asks the CEO or the CEO communicates with the board, “These are some ways that I really could use your partnership in prayer.” I just think that's huge. So if I were board chair, I think those are just a few of the questions that I would be regularly asking.

Al: Yeah. Michael, that's fantastic. Yeah. Jay, get ready. I know you're listening.

Michael: We should have talked with Jay beforehand, right? These questions were okay.

Al: I know he listens to all of our podcasts, and, yeah. But, no, Michael, these are great questions. And you know what I really like about them, they're specific. Our listeners are oftentimes, you know, not only are they the CEOs of their ministries, but they're on other ministries’ boards. And there should be these kinds of questions. You know, what's going well? What challenges are you're facing? You know, how are you handling the work-life-balance tension? You know, how can we support you as a board? How can we pray for you? Those are great questions.

And, you know, as I've said on this podcast many times, you know, especially during COVID, what we found is is the employee-leader connection that is keeping employees kind of connected to the organization. And that's important for CEOs as well. I mean, so how are they being connected with the board? And it’s through this relationship and this conversation.

You know, along this line, Michael, I’ll say, as Jay has stepped into the CEO role at BCW, we've included in his job description the responsibility of self-care. So, again, you know, for our listeners, you know, self-care is the way that leaders stay healthy. It’s one way, anyway. So yeah, we talk about ensuring that personal disciplines are sustained and particularly to support personal health and energy necessary for ongoing, effective leadership. And how these disciplines regarding exercise, rest, nutrition, spiritual fitness, mental strength, and relational well-being are essential to a sustained, effective performance. So we're looking for a long-term performance, and of course, it's through these personal disciplines, even spiritual disciplines, that that happens.

Michael: I think that's exactly right. Yeah. And I love, too, Al, that, you know, you're asking about, what are those questions that should be regularly asked? because it would be one thing for you to put that in the job description for Jay, but then, unfortunately, in, like, too many things, it could just sort of sit on the shelf or collect dust. But for you guys to be able to have that regular communication and have those opportunities to ask, you know, how's it going in some of these areas? I just, I cheer you for that.

Al: Yep. In fact, it's going to be part of our board policy manual as well. So we outline the responsibilities of the CEO.

So, well, yeah. Michael, let’s talk a little more about the role of boards for churches and nonprofits. You know, what should a board do when they sense some cracks developing in the organizational foundation? You know, perhaps they see that trust is slipping or there are other challenges that leaders are not addressing. You know, maybe they're getting emails or letters from employees or, you know, some outsiders. You know, what should a board do in this situation?

Michael: Yeah. Wow. You have some good questions on this podcast. These aren't all easy, but it's good. I mean, that's what we should lean into. And I guess that's what I would say about the board is serving on, yeah, particularly, you know, a Christian ministry or a church board, it is a stewardship. It is a stewardship that we all need to take seriously. And so that means whenever there's times when you know, as a board, maybe a sense that something is amiss, there's at least questions that need to be asked, that while we may be the friend of the leader, you know, in some cases or have a certain relationship, that we need to put on our hat of governance and be willing to challenge or ask those questions. And so I think I would just encourage boards to really lean into that. Don’t let those things just sort of sit to the side. But they really do need to be, they need to be addressed when those type issues come up.

That being said, I think there is something to be said for process and protocol and respect, and even speaking the truth in love when that needs to be the case. But, you know, for organizations that haven't thought through—you mentioned, Al, too, the board policies manual. I mean, I think that's such a foundational point of having the clear expectations, having policies in place. You know, what is the role of the board? What is the role of the CEO? But, you know, assuming that all of those things are in place and the expectations are clearly established, again, I think it does come back to speaking the truth in love and being also honoring.

And so just—I’ll throw out kind of a practical pointer here, and you've probably seen this too, you know, in your work with ministries across the years. But I think on one end of the spectrum, you can run into a danger at least of it's almost like, this has been on the mind of a board member for a long time, and they've held it in, and they haven't brought it up. And so all of a sudden in the full-board meeting, you just kind of drop a grenade in the boardroom of this is, you know, a potential challenge or an issue or whatever it is that I'm seeing.

And I’d just encourage boards to think about that a little bit, to think of that differently, and to think of it more as—maybe to use a different analogy, like a surgery, where it's like a procedure. Let's try to get into the issue as focused as we can and methodically as we can. So that might be raising some of those issues, at least at first, with the leader outside in a different setting. Or maybe if you're not the board chair, you're another board member who raises this to the board chair, and you kind of go along with. I mean, there's probably some good analogies here, too, Al, to Matthew 18 and just that idea of, yeah, raising some of those questions in a one-on-one setting, maybe in a small-group setting. And then, you know, if there's certain issues that aren't resolved, it may be appropriate to bring it up in the, you know, the context of a full-board meeting.

But anyway, those are just a few of the things that I think of. And again, just come back to underscoring the importance, it's a time, especially a time now for, I think, boards. We've learned the lessons, too many of these, the hard way of seeing boards that have been too passive or not willing to confront or willing to challenge, willing to ask questions. And so that is a part of stewardship.

Al: Yeah, great point. You know, much of the work of ECFA is around financial stewardship, and fundraising is a key part. And I know many of our Christian nonprofits are now perking their ears up. Oh, we're going to talk about fundraising. You know, well, churches and nonprofits rely on donors to accomplish their vision and mission. And of course, there’s trust is all wrapped up in that relationship. So what trends and changes do you see in giving and fundraising? Are there any differences that you're seeing now, especially between churches and nonprofits? What do you see in overall giving trends? Where are we with that?

Michael: Good. Now, hey, you do have a sense of timing. So we just got done, actually, wrapping up our annual ECFA State of Giving report. And this is the 13th annual. And this comes from both hard data from actual CPA-prepared financial statements. It's really unlike any other survey that's out there. And, Al, we also do ask even some more open-ended questions or so it's sort of those qualitative-type questions as well. But big picture, what it is that we're seeing—and these have been an unusual last two or three years, I mean, in the world, but also in the world of giving—but kind of our big headline was we're really seeing that need is up and so is giving. So we are encouraged by that. In this past year, giving to ECFA members outpaced inflation by 3%, so just even outpacing inflation in an environment like we're in today, I mean, there's something to be said for that. But also by, you know, an additional 3%, that's really encouraging. Despite some of the challenges, you know, a lot of ministry organizations continue to be optimistic. So we praise God for that. Optimistic about fundraising prospects.

I will say within—you asked some distinctions even between ministries and churches, local churches—you know, there's no getting around it: it has been a tough season for many churches. And, you know, there could be—I'm sure there are other podcasts that get into all the reasons for why that's the case. But, you know, even I just think of the shifts, the massive shifts that have taken place with attendance and all of those things, I'm sure that's having an impact. But we do see, you know, in the church realm that, you know, that's probably an area that's struggling a bit more. So those are some of the trends that we saw from the State of Giving report.

You know, and then I would also just say big picture and zooming out, you know, organizations have to be thinking about generational giving trends and how to a new, you know, rising generation of donors even think differently about a lot of these issues. And some of that did come out in the survey of just the connections with new donors. But I think, Al, what we're seeing is that a lot of younger donors are really more compelled today by not even necessarily just, you know, check the box on certain ratios or, you know, this percentage or that percentage, but they're really looking at the ministry’s impact and the cause of the organization, as well as this issue that we've been talking about today, you know, the integrity of the leader and a sense of trust in terms of leadership.

So those are just a few of the things that we're seeing.

Al: Well, that's encouraging. I mean, yes, I can think we'd all agree, yeah, the need is up. We just look around, we see the need is up. But that's great news, that giving is up even 3% above inflation. That’s fantastic. Yeah. Good to know. Thanks.

And, yeah, your point about even millennials in the workplace, we know that millennials want to work in a place where they're making an impact, where what they do is even much more important than what they can do on their own. And of course, their giving would be similar, that they want to really focus on impact. So they're not looking at the ratios so much, but what is the impact? That's great information.

Michael: I'm glad you connected those dots, Al. I hadn't thought about that, too, just in what you see in the workplace. And yeah, those same attributes really translate into giving as well.

Al: Yeah, yeah. We call that life-giving work, you know, where people feel like the mission and goals of the organization makes them feel like their job is important. And of course, they want to have their dollars making an important impact as well. Yeah.

Well, I know there are many benefits to being an ECFA member, and we encourage our ministries to become certified members—we've already talked about that—if they're not already. And one of the many benefits is this remarkable library of resources that you have on your website. So I'm curious, what's the most-downloaded resource that a leader who wants to learn more about accountability should access? What do your stats tell you?

Michael: Yeah. Wow. Okay, that's a tough one because, yeah, there's a lot, as we say, kind of these benefits that come along with accreditation. I will tell you, within the different types of resources that we have—because we have, you know, the webinars that we do, ongoing training, and we have things like tax guides—but, Al, the hands down, one of the most popular areas of our website, like you mentioned, is this knowledge center, as we call it, which is this year we passed over a thousand documents that have been curated as part of that, and it's been a library that's really grown over time. And I will say, too, as kind of an added bonus to that, it's not just one person, you know, within an organization that gets access. But everyone on staff, all the board members, they get all of those resources that come with their accreditation.

So when it comes to leadership accountability, I'll mention one of, actually, our newer resources, which was an article that I authored. It's newer to the website, but it's called Reinforcing the Foundation of Trust. And it’s a lot along these lines, Al, that we've been talking about of encouraging organizations to have some kind of a written plan to help support leadership integrity through a healthy collaboration between the board and the CEO. So, yeah, again, that article is called Reinforcing the Foundation of Trust. Maybe there's a way we could share that through the podcast.

And then, also, another type of resource, too, in this area, especially around healthy leadership and leadership integrity going into a new year, we're also getting ready to launch a whole new season of our podcast that's focused on that and so many great conversations. And, Al, this is my invitation for you to join us on the ECFA podcast to talk about more along these lines of healthy leadership.

Al: All right, Michael. So I’m going to do a search, and it's called ECFA Leadership Podcast?

Michael: Yeah. So we call it the Behind the Seal podcast.

Al: Okay.

Michael: But, yeah. If you just did a search for ECFA and podcast, you’ll find that. And, yeah, so many good past episodes, but as we’re turning the corner into a new year, even more around healthy leadership and leadership integrity.

Al: Yeah. Behind the Seal. I’m searching it as soon as we finish.

Well, Michael, I’ve really learned so much from our conversation. And I've enjoyed our collaboration over the years. That's for sure. It's just been a great collaboration with ECFA.

And your point around humility being such a key, and I think that's important for all leaders who are listening. Let's keep that in the front of our mind. You know, humility is so important as we look to learn. And what does humility teach us? It basically means we're open to learning new things. We're not feeling arrogant about that we know everything, and of course, we don’t. So being open to learning is the key and being willing to look at best practices, to enhance trust, to be accountable. You know, we talked about 360s. And I love your comment. You know, sometimes we're blind to our own blindness. But also, you know, how we can build on relationships, how we can make sure that our board members are asking tough and key questions, that leaders have coaches, that they have peer relationships, that they mentor others, that they've got processes in place for accountability. I mean, our entire conversation, just really helpful. And I love your comments about the State of Giving, no question. So this has been great information. I know all of our listeners have been just soaking it in.

Is there anything else you'd like to add that we haven't talked about?

Michael: Wow. Well, no. We sure have covered a lot of ground. So I guess I would risk—it'd be risky to try to add anything on top of it. But yeah, I just, as I heard you just kind of summarizing, I think that is so much the key is a key takeaway even for me as we talk, Al, is just this idea of humility. And, really, both individually as leaders and as organizations, when we're able to come from a place of humility, there's just such an opportunity to grow in health. And I know that's a heart of ECFA, but it's also the heart of Best Christian Workplaces. And you're not paying me to say this, but I know we have been really blessed organizationally. I mean, having a healthy team is critical to all that we do here. And so I just think of—I'm so grateful. And this goes back to leaders who even came before me, that were humble enough, you know, to enter that process and go through Best Christian Workplaces. And we as an organization are healthier as a result of that. So, you know, I’d just kind of end with that thought, and also to be able to say thank you. Thank you for all that you do for our community. It's so critical. And we're just huge fans here at ECFA.

Al: Thanks, Michael. Well, I'm humbled. I appreciate it.

So Michael, thanks for your contributions. I know we've all benefited from them. Most of all, I appreciate your commitment to helping leaders and Christian organizations do what's right in the eyes of God and people, and we've talked about that. So thanks for taking your time out today to speak into the lives of so many listeners.

Michael: You bet. It's been a real privilege. Thanks, Al.

Outro: The Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast is sponsored by Best Christian Workplaces. If you need support building a flourishing workplace culture, please visit workplaces.org for more information.

We'll see you again next week for more valuable content to help you develop strong leaders and build a flourishing workplace culture.