David Platt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB), announced in August plans to eliminate 600 to 800 missionary positions due to a $210 million spending deficit. However, Platt’s numbers do not add up.
EthicsDaily.com analyzed IMB audits from 1985 through 2014 and found a different fiscal picture than the one painted by Platt.
When Platt announced the cuts, he claimed the IMB had amassed a $210 million spending deficit since 2010.
“[W]hen we stepped back and looked at IMB finances since 2010, we realized that IMB has spent a combined $210 million more than people have given to us,” he wrote in an open letter in September.
The IMB’s own numbers indicate the $210 million amount is not actually deficit spending as Platt said.
Deficit spending should be noted by finding a negative change in net assets, which typically matches calculations of income minus expenses.
An FAQ document released by the IMB provides additional numbers for 2014. It notes that giving to Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) fell $21 million behind the goal.
However, that would not be deficit spending if the IMB did not spend the unreceived budget amount.
The FAQ adds a few other numbers related to overspending.
“Not only did IMB fall $21 million short of budgeted revenue in 2014, but it also utilized global property sales to cover $18 million of budgeted expenses,” the statement says. “In total in 2014, the organization spent $39 million more than it received. Since 2010, the organization has spent $210 million more than it has received.”
The deficit spending amount in the 2014 audit does not match the numbers provided by the IMB.
The change in the audit’s net assets line indicates a deficit of nearly $18.8 million. The 2014 audit reports income from the year at nearly $281.5 million and spending at more than $300.2 million.
When asked about the difference between the $18.8 million amount in the audit and the $21 million amount in the IMB FAQ, IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan explained to EthicsDaily.com that the FAQ’s number is based on the $20.7 million difference between “the amount that unrestricted expenses exceeded unrestricted income.”
Instead of measuring change in total net assets, the IMB numbers rely on the change in unrestricted net assets (a subcategory of total net assets).
Additionally, McGowan explained that the $39 million represented the IMB’s “operational cash deficit.”
The FAQ, however, uses that amount to describe spending even though spending and cash are not the same accounting measures.
The numbers found by EthicsDaily.com in the audits match those recorded by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), which shows the IMB’s surplus and deficit spending for 2012-14.
The ECFA shows the IMB’s deficit spending for 2014 as $18.8 million, thus using the change in total net assets as the measure.
A respected watchdog of Christian nonprofits, the ECFA has nearly 1,900 members. The ECFA requires member groups to submit financial data and follow “seven standards of responsible stewardship.” The IMB joined the ECFA in 2013.
When looking at the period from 2010-14, the numbers deviate even more since the audits show a surplus – not a deficit – for three of those years.
The IMB’s change in total net assets shows a $638,000 surplus in 2010, a $43 million surplus in 2012, and a $37.9 million surplus in 2013. In 2011, they record a $55 million deficit.
Together with the 2014 deficit, the audits show a surplus of nearly $7.8 million since 2010.
Even following the IMB’s decision to calculate changes in unrestricted net assets -instead of total net assets – the fiscal picture is far from a $210 million deficit.
For 2010-14, the change in unrestricted net assets shows a deficit of nearly $14.7 million.
The IMB’s financial picture gets a bit more complicated when factoring in the selling of overseas properties, which will be covered tomorrow in part 2.
As the IMB’s FAQ document noted, they “utilized global property sales” to cover some spending. However, the property sales proceeds are not deficit spending since the properties were not recorded in the IMB’s assets prior to sales.
Thus, deficit spending according to the 2014 audit remains nearly $18.8 million, and the 2010-14 period actually nets a surplus of nearly $7.8 million.
The misleading numbers from Platt and the IMB may violate one of the ECFA’s principles. Standard 7.1 deals with “Truthfulness in Communications.”
“In securing charitable gifts, all representations of fact, descriptions of the financial condition of the organization, or narratives about events must be current, complete and accurate,” the ECFA’s document explains. “There must be no material omissions or exaggerations of fact, use of misleading photographs, or any communication which would tend to create a false impression or misunderstanding.”
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.