Melbourne School of Theology: charity review

A charity review of Melbourne School of Theology (MST), an organisation that seeks donations online and is a member of Missions Interlink. (Including the answers to the questions that the Australian charity regulator, the ACNC, suggests that you ask.)

(To see the situation last year, read this review.)

Are they responsive to feedback?

  • MST does not, on its website, invite feedback.
  • I sent them a draft of this review. They…did not respond. (Last year, after they asked whether MST had requested the review and where it would be published, I did not hear from them again.)

Is MST registered?

  • As a charity, yes.
    • It controls another charity, The Trustee For Melbourne School of Theology Ministry Fund (the Fund). It is the trustee.
    • The two form an ACNC ‘reporting group’. This means only one Annual Information Statement (AIS) and one Financial Report is required.
      • The Fund says on the ACNC Register that the MST website is its too, but there is no mention of the Fund on that site.
      • Apart from twice identifying the Fund as its sole subsidiary, MST does not mention it in the Financial Report 2016.
  • MST is a public company, a company limited by guarantee.
    • It is permitted to omit ‘Ltd/Limited’ at the end of its name.
    • It has one business name, Melbourne Bible Institute, but the name that it is uses on the internet, MST, is not registered.
  • MST operates in Australia, per the ACNC Register, in Victoria.
    • If Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies is correct, though, it also operates in Tasmania.
    • It solicits donations via the internet. It has no fundraising licences.
      • The law in this area is not straightforward and advice varies, so check with the charity before drawing any conclusions.

What does the group do?

  • This is answered here.
  • It has three ‘partnerships’ with other ‘Christian’ educational institutions:

Does MST share the Gospel?[1]

  • To students, undoubtedly. But the grant of tax-deductible status to both charities suggests that the use of the money raised shouldn’t include proselytising.

What impact are they having?

  • Nothing systematic found.

What do they spend outside the costs directly incurred in delivering the above impact, that is, on administration?

  • Although the accounts have an ‘Administration Expense’ item, there are clearly other items that qualify as administration on most reasonable definitions of ‘direct’ for a bible college, plus probably such costs in other line items, so no estimate can be made.

Do they pay their board members?

  • This is not permitted under MST’s constitution.
  • There is insufficient information about the expenses to check for these payments.

Can you get a tax deduction?

  • Yes. Both MST and the Fund are Deductible Gift Recipients.
    • As are MST’s two funds Bible College of Victoria Building Fund and Bible College of Victoria Library.
      • The absence of the funds on the website and in the Financial Report 2016 suggests that either MST is not separating the money between itself and its funds, or that all three are inoperative.

Is MST’s online giving secure?

  • PayPal is used, so yes.

Is the reporting up-to-date?

  • Yes (again on the last day, six months after their year-end).
    • But if you are considering a large donation, I would ask for more up-to-date financial information – the accounts are for a year end that is now 14 months in the past.

Does the Group’s reporting comply with the regulator’s requirements?

  • Group AIS 2016: No
    • ‘Other income’ is incorrect. (With a consequence that ‘All other revenue’ and ‘Total revenue’ are also incorrect.)
    • ‘Net surplus/deficit’ is incorrect. (With a consequence that ‘Total comprehensive income is also incorrect.)
    • The description of activities is not particularly about 2016.
    • No outcomes are reported.
  • Group Financial Report 2016: No
    • There is no explanation for the lack of information about the Fund (other than its exists as a charity). And the usual Note giving the figures for the parent is absent. Did the Fund not operate?
    • The directors are still saying that they don’t have any stakeholders, either present or prospective, who need a regulator to ensure that they get the financial information necessary to make decisions about their involvement with MST. In other words, that all these stakeholders can expect MST to supply them, on request, with a financial report tailored to their needs. This allows them to produce financial statements that don’t comply with all the Accounting Standards. For an organization that collects $1.70 m of fees from students, has 40 staff, and has a significant connection with three other educational institutions, this is not plausible.
    • There is still no explanation – including a classification per the Accounting Standards – of the $532K ‘Investments’.
    • Presumably the $80K debt that was forgiven is included in ‘Donations from Supporters’? (This is on top of $100K last year.)
    • Don’t student fees have to be repaid under certain circumstances?
    • There is no related parties’ disclosure.
    • Is the $45K bond for the lease correctly classified? Can MST ensure that it is not repayable within one year?
    • Similarly, with the loans from supporters classified as non-current liabilities.
    • The Note for revenue doesn’t match the financial statement.
    • Only one of the three partnerships, the one with Eastern College Australia, is mentioned (and that sounds much closer to an amalgamation than a partnership).

What financial situation was shown by that Report?

  • The surplus as a percentage of income was 7% (down markedly from last year’s 24%).
  • No obvious concerns with the financial structure.

What did the auditor say about the group’s last financial statements?

  • The auditor, Matthew Hung, CA, of rdl.accountants, gave a ‘clean’ opinion.
  • Before you decide how much comfort to take from this opinion
    • read again the section ‘Financial Report 2016’, above, and
    • read about audits here and here.

If a charity, is their information on the ACNC Register complete/correct?

  • The Group: Yes
  • MST: No
    • The business name and the name they use are missing from ‘Other Name(s)’.
    • Responsible persons correct? See below.
  • The Fund: Responsible persons correct? See below.

What choices do you have in how your donation is used?

  • None
    • This is even though MST is the trustee of the Fund, and MST itself has two funds.

Where were your (net) donations sent?

  • NA

Who are the people controlling the group?

  • Per the MST website, the people here.
  • The ACNC Register (under ‘Responsible Persons’) doesn’t have Yean Leng Lim or, like last year, Tim Meyers, and adds Rick Cheung and Catroina Wansbrough:
  • With a change from Glenn Ward to David Ward, the same eleven people are the Fund’s responsible persons.
  • There are 10 charities with a Brian Bayston as a board member.  But the register only covers charities, not all not-for-profits, and of course doesn’t include for-profit organisations. Therefore, if after eliminating the charities for which MST’s Brian Bayston is not a director, you are left with more than a handful of directorships, it would be legitimate for you to question whether his ability to discharge his fiduciary responsibilities is threatened.
  • The board is responsible to the members. There were 10 of these at 31 December 2017 (Directors’ Report, Financial Report 2016)[2].
    • As directors must be members (the constitution), there is no accountability here.

To whom is the group accountable?

  • Both charities are accountable to the ACNC.
  • Not claimed on the website, but MST is a member of Missions Interlink, an organisation that has standards with which MA must comply.
    • For one opinion on the strength of this accountability, see the section Activities in this review.
  • MST, as a company, is still accountable for some things to ASIC.

 

  1. 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.
  2. There are now eleven directors, so presumably there are now at least 11 members.

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