Former Staffer Says That Mars Hill Church’s Global Fund Was Restricted

A week ago, I posted an anonymous statement from a former staff member in the central office at Mars Hill Church. Today, I can offer you another statement from the same staffer. I received this quote from Rachel M, a former staffer in Mars Hill finance department.  Here is her quote.

I believe that Mars Hill leadership knew from the start that donations to the Global Fund were restricted and could not be used for unrestricted purposes. In fact, there was a separate account for Global in the books to note this distinction. During my time in the Finance Department, there was a pointed emphasis to be sure that restricted funds were not co-mingled with general funds. I believe that among the Financial Leadership Team (which includes multiple CPA-level staff, who would know all the ins and outs of restricted and unrestricted donations), there was a clear awareness that any restricted funds could not be directed to the general fund.  Without a doubt in my mind, Mars Hill leadership knew what they were doing.

This statement pulls back the curtain a bit on the situation and indicates some conflict between at least some members of the finance team and the executive elders. The concern expressed here by Rachel is understandable given the solicitations for Ethiopia and India in the Mars Hill Church services. Those solicitations should have triggered a more vigorous reaction from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. According to a ECFA publication written by president Dan Busby, video promotions like the following signal to donors that their donations to a specific fund will be used in keeping with the solicitation.

Busby’s guidance on how to determine donor intent is important and reproduced below: ECFARestrictedFundBusby makes it clear that donors signal donor intent, not the organization who received the donation. Mars Hill Church has it backward. In a recent World article, church spokesman Justin Dean said, “Since donations given by the Mars Hill Global family were never intended to be designated solely for international efforts, we don’t provide an itemized accounting of those funds.” First, Dean implies that donations to the Global Fund were given by the “global family” (podcasters, non-members). However, much evidence presented here and in other posts demonstrates that members were asked to give to the Global Fund. Second, Dean assumes Mars Hill’s leaders know the intent of the donors. Busby’s article places donor intent with the donor, not the organization.  To discern donor intent, according to Busby, the organization can look to explicit and implicit expression of donor intent.

As the videos demonstrate (see also the image at the end of the post), Mars Hill Global, during 2012-2014, was promoted as the arm of Mars Hill Church dedicated to international missions. However, as Mars Hill now admits, very little of that money actually went to international missions. I have provided a wealth of information in prior posts to demonstrate that the Global Fund and Mars Hill Global became the missionary outreach fund of Mars Hill Church from 2012 to 2014.

Donors to Mars Hill Global Fund explicitly signaled their intent by checking Global Fund on the website when they gave. The implicit intent can be gleaned by donor response to the videos of Sutton Turner in Ethiopia asking the church members (not just podcasters) to give “above and beyond” their tithes in order to support Ethiopian evangelists. Before May 2o14, the church website clearly gave donors the option to choose Global Fund explicitly over the General Fund. If the donations were always intended to go to the General Fund as Mars Hill Church now claims, then why have two funds?

Busby’s guidance is clear but not being followed by Mars Hill Church:

Once the donor had indicated the intent for which the donation was given, and the charity has accepted the gift, it is the responsibility of the charity to fulfill that intent. The charity could have chosen not to accept the gift if the fulfillment of the donor restriction was in question.

In most cases the donor is responding to a specific appeal. The appeal itself generally identifies the purpose for which donations are sought. If the donor simply responds to the appeal, it should be assumed that the donor’s intent is that the funds be used as described in the appeal.

Another important point is that once the gift is given and the church accepts it, the church must honor donor intent. Donors can change their mind but donors should not have to jump through an additional hoop to inform the church how the money should be spent.

In my opinion, based on the assumption that the Global Fund was restricted, Mars Hill Church’s current policy is backward. Currently, they are requiring Global donors to contact the church to designate (again) that donations go to missions. However, as I understand ECFA guidance, the church should be requiring donors who want to redesignate their donation for the General Fund to contact the church to authorize those funds for general purposes.

Those Ethiopian and Indian evangelists should have gotten millions in support. Instead they only got a tiny fraction.  The “preponderance” of the money went to church plants in the United States and who knows what else. In my opinion, for Mars Hill to remain accredited, the ECFA should require the church to honor donor intent, expressed explicitly by the selection of “Global Fund” and implicitly by the responses to the constant promotion of Ethiopia and India via videos, the annual report, and the church website.
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