CityLife Church Inc: charity review

This is a review, principally for donors[1], in the series ‘Members of Missions Interlink’, Missions Interlink being ‘the Australian network for global mission’[2]. ‘CityLife Church World Impact Dept’ is one such Member, with the link from the membership list leading to the website of ‘CityLife Church’ (CityLife).

Feedback

Members of Missions Interlink have to accept a set of standards, the introduction to which includes this statement:

http://tedsherwood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/word-image-20.png[3]

I sent CityLife a draft of this review on 20 May 2019. Like last year (and the review before that), they did not respond.

Donors

CityLife is an organisation that seeks donations online. The charities’ regulator, the ACNC, in their article, Donating to Legitimate Charities, gives “some things to consider to help you make sure your donation is going where it is intended”:

  1. Check the charity’s name.
  2. Ask for identification from anyone seeking a donation.
  3. Be careful of online requests for donations.
  4. No tax deduction doesn’t mean the charity is not a legitimate one.
  5. Find out more about how the charity says it uses donations.

Here’s the results for ‘CityLife Church’[4], with #5 supplemented by the essentials of the ACNC’s What should I consider when deciding which charity to support?[5].

1.  A search on the ACNC Register of charities for ‘CityLife Church’ gives three results:

Although not spelt correctly, and having ‘Inc’ at the end[6], ‘CityLife Church’ is the first one[7].

2. It would be unusual for a church to use third party fundraisers (including street collectors), and there is nothing on the website to indicate that CityLife does.

3. The “web address begins with ‘https’”, and there is “a closed padlock symbol next to the web address in the address bar”, so the website is secure [the ACNC article above].

But on the giving page there is no mention of the security of your information.

4. The Australian Business Register (linked from CityLife’s ACNC Register record), says that the charity is not entitled to receive tax deductible gifts.

One of the four giving options, ‘Outreach’, contradicts this. The reconciliation is that CityLife is collecting for another charity, The Trustee for Kingdom Investment Fund, a public ancillary fund controlled by CityLife[8]. This page says that the projects are three[9]:

CityLife also has the ability to seek tax-deductible donations via yet another charity it controls, Student Impact Fund[12].

5. The use of your donations

Objectives / Mission

From the website:

Activities

See ‘Connect’ and ‘Grow’ in the main menu.

Sharing the Gospel[13]?

Yes

Locations

CityLife operates in Australia, per the ACNC Register, in Victoria and Western Australia. There is nothing on the website, or in the Financial Report 2017, about what it does in Western Australia.

CityLife says, on the Register, that it operates overseas in Cambodia, China, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation, and Myanmar. Compared to the location of its missionaries, USA is missing and Cambodia is additional.

The AIS 2017 shows $512K ‘Grants and donations made for use outside Australia, but there is no information in the Financial Report 2017.

Donations received

From the Financial Report 2017 (but see below), donations were at least 92% of the revenue in Note 3, and 79% of ‘Revenue for General Reserves & KIF’, a total of at least $11.55 million.

Donations used

The audited account of how donations are used is the Financial Report 2017 on the ACNC Register. Do you depend on a regulator to ensure that you are provided with suitable financial statements (called general purpose financial statements)? [14] In other words, can you ring CityLife’s office and request that they prepare financial statements that answer the question or questions you have about the charity?  For an organisation that has 127 employees and 2617 volunteers (AIS 2017], runs on multiple sites, and controls a number of other charities, this highly unlikely.  Yet the directors[15], with the agreement of the auditor[16], say you can:

[17]

So, the financial statements have not been drawn up to suit you.  Why, then, would you rely on them? 

There are two other reasons why you might not rely on these financial statements:

  1. Despite CityLife controlling other charities (see above)[18], the directors do not produce consolidated financial statements. The statements above, therefore, do not give the correct picture of the resources and activities controlled by the leaders of the church.
  2. There are a number of other questionable accounting practices in the accounts. For instance,[19]

Should you choose to rely on the statements, here is where the donations went:

Cash spent

This is the only information about where the cash went on operating activities[20]:

Resources consumed (i.e. accrual)

The accrual section of the Report is more helpful, (with the last year’s figures in the second column):

‘Missions expenses’ is 8% of the total, ‘Employee benefits…’ 60%.

Destination of the ‘Missions expenses’ and ‘Ministry expenses’

There is no disclosure of the geographical destination of your funds.

How they ensured that the money was used for the purpose for which you gave it

This is not addressed by CityLife.

Impact

This is not addressed by CityLife.

Please contact me if you need a more in-depth review.

 

 

  1. As a draft of this review is sent to the charity, the charity, if it is open to improvement, can benefit too.
  2. https://missionsinterlink.org.au/about/
  3. For an incorporated association like CityLife, the members, if sufficient in number, can be a source of accountability on the board (and therefore management). The number of members is not disclosed.
  4. To see the situation last year, read this review.
  5. Focus on the nature of the charity’s work, its beneficiaries and the impact the charity is having in the community.Is it clear what the charity is trying to achieve and how its activities work towards its objectives?Would you like to spend your money, or time if volunteering, to support these objectives?

    Is the charity being transparent about its activities? [A section in the article, Donating and Volunteering].

  6. Because associations can be incorporated or unincorporated, CityLife;s enabling legislation requires CityLife to use its full name, that is, including ‘Inc/Incorporated’ at the end, when dealing with the public:The website appears to contravene this requirement.
  7. The third one comes up because it has ‘Citylife Church’ recorded on the Register as another name by which it is known; there’s also an unregistered NSW association of the same name, and Christian Outreach Centre has Citilife Church registered as a business name.
  8. It is the trustee.
  9. The prior page says that they give to more than these three:
  10. This from the footer of their website:The members must be elders of CityLife (the constitution).
  11. From the College’s constitution:
  12. Although its figures are said, in Note 1, to be included in the Financial Report 2017, this is the only time it is mentioned. And there is no mention of it on the website.
  13. Good living and social concern are important [to the cause of evangelism], but they are not uniquely Christian graces…I’ve met a lot of fine Hindus, Muslims and atheists. Just living the life is not going to bring someone to Christ. There is much more to it than that. We must help people, certainly, but we must also share with them why we are motivated to do so. We must stand against injustice, poverty and need, but we must at the same time point to the One who brings justice and who can meet the deepest need. Until they know our reasons, how can they come to know our Lord?” [Dan Armstrong, the Fifth Gospel: The Gospel According to You, Anzea Books, pp. 13-14.
  14. [vii] From Objective of General Purpose Financial Reporting (SAC2), www.aasb.gov.au: http://tedsherwood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/word-image-15.png  
  15. Either the people on the website, or the people on the ACNC Register, depending on which list is up-to-date.
  16. [vii] Peter Shields, of Saward Dawson.
  17. In continuing to say that CityLife is not a reporting entity, the directors are saying that CityLife has no stakeholders, current and prospective, who rely on normal financial statements (that is, general purpose statements) to make decisions about CityLife and its operations. This is silly.
  18. There is a further charity that appears (same addresses, a shared directorship) to be controlled by CityLife : CityLife Projects Limited. There is also an unanswered question about the relationship between a sixth organisation, Open House Christian Fellowship Inc., a charity that is, since 2013, being taken over by CityLife, and CityLife.
  19. See last year’s review.
  20. Although this level of disclosure may be compliant with the letter of the applicable Accounting Standard ( AASB 107), it is not consistent with either the intent of the Standard and paragraphs 14 and 19, or what is reasonable to expect from a major Christ-led charity that is reporting a true and fair view.

 

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