Greetings in this new year from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). January is a time of reflecting and looking forward. This month, we would like to update you about UMCOR's ongoing ministries, particularly our five-year response to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath, "Love in the Midst of Tragedy."
UMCOR's planned response has been distinctive. We anticipated that the 9/11 tragedy and its aftermath would demand not only immediate but also short- and long-term responses. Mr. Daniel Borochoff, president of The American Institute of Philanthropy, recently observed, "Fortunately, UMCOR was smart enough not to focus on immediate needs and now has some more flexibility in the timing and use of its donations .... They are acting far more responsibly than many of the other charities we are seeing."
Last year, the media paid a lot of attention to charitable distribution of September 11 funds. The Red Cross was particularly scrutinized. During this time, UMCOR continued to inform the public about the United Methodist response to 9/11. Background materials, stories, a spiritual resources were posted on our website . A special edition of UMCOR Inasmuch Update was printed and also put on the web. United Methodist News Service published several human interest stories and reports of disbursements approved by UMCOR's board of directors.
In the first half of 2002, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) received complaints that UMCOR was not distributing September 11 funds in a timely manner. (With a five-year plan, UMCOR never planned to disburse all funds in the first year.) The CBBB invited UMCOR to complete a lengthy questionnaire on 23 standards for charitable solicitations. We happily agreed to be evaluated. The CBBB's voluntary standards, which were developed for secular not church-based organizations, go beyond what the law requires charities to do. CBBB has not rated most church-based charities.
After receiving UMCOR's first submission of data, the CBBB, in an interim report, found that UMCOR did not meet 11 of the 23 standards. CBBB's recommendations for UMCOR included these points:
1. Percentages of funds going for purposes such as administrative overhead should be shown more clearly.
2. Fund-raising expenses should be listed in audits.
UMCOR cannot display the total cost of our administrative and fundraising functions under the same assumptions that CBBB uses for secular charities. For example, our administrative costs are covered by United Methodists' donations to the annual "One Great Hour of Sharing" (OGHS) offering. Funds from OGHS also supplement UMCOR's emergency response efforts and certain ongoing Advance projects. Because of OGHS, 100 percent of gifts to UMCOR's appeals go to the emergency response specified by the donor. In the case of broader appeals like "Love in the Midst of Tragedy," donors may designate a particular area of response-- New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Central Asia (Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons), or Schools for Afghan Children.
Many of UMCOR's fundraising costs are not in our budget but in those of other United Methodist entities. For instance, United Methodist Communications publishes resources for One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS). CBBB considers all of that promotion to be a cost for UMCOR's fundraising. Its standards are not set up to account for the United Methodist connectional system in a way that is fair to both UMCOR and secular agencies at the same time.
Since the initial feedback from CBBB, UMCOR has submitted additional material. The principle of voluntary participation in a rating service for charitable organizations is a good one. Resolving a perplexing matter of equitable comparisons to be drawn among dissimilar organizations will take time and skill. Both the staff of UMCOR and of the Better Business Bureau will continue to engage in this process.
We are thankful for all of the generous financial and material support that United Methodists have channeled through UMCOR to assist vulnerable people. Your faithful support of UMCOR has always been a valuable asset to our strength as a denomination and it continues to be a well-placed trust.
UMCOR is audited, not only by the high standard set by the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), but also to high standards set by governments and other large donors, such as the United Nations, who contract with UMCOR for international post-war recovery projects. All of these audits are clean, with no findings, despite UMCOR's rapid growth in recent years. Our audits are matters of public record; anyone is welcome to examine them. Our Annual Report is also available.