I got a letter in the mail a few days ago at my home here in Eastern Kansas. I immediately recognized who it was from, as this organization is all too familiar to me. In my years of charity review work, this organization has often come to my attention: Tulsa, Oklahoma's St. Matthew's Churches.
As I generally don't get mail from out-of-state churches not affiliated with my own place of worship, the letter left me with a few questions. Is this organization really a church? What is its mission? So, I did what anyone with questions about a charity should do. I researched it. After I failed to find a recent IRS form 990 (a tax document that publicly soliciting organizations are required to fill out) at http://www.guidestar.com/, I called their office in Tulsa, OK. Apparently, this church hires a law firm to answer their calls. When I stated who I was - I was polite and honest and mentioned that I work for the BBB - I was told that all information about the organization is attorney-client privilege and could not be shared with me. All I wanted was basic information and transparency is an important aspect of nonprofit ethics. I was then given the name - first name only - of someone who would be able to answer my questions, but conveniently this person was out of the office.
The BBB's Wise Giving Alliance, the branch of the BBB that works with nationally soliciting organizations, has a report that simply states that St. Matthew's Churches has declined its requests for information. The Alliance and several BBBs across the country have received inquiries about them. Apparently, they do a decent job of taking people off their mailing lists. Additionally, they are tax-exempt under section 501 (c) 3 of the Internal Revenue Code. While places of worship are excluded from much of the reporting requirements of the IRS, as well as the BBB's Charity Accountability Standards, it is not hard to see how this loophole could be taken advantage of by someone with less-than-noble motivations.
Really, I can't tell you whether this organization is a church or a scam. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that they clearly do not have the commitment to transparency that we at the BBB see as a hallmark of a strong commitment to nonprofit ethics. I trust consumers to make up their own mind about St. Matthew's Churches and any other organization that solicits them. I encourage everyone to think seriously about organizations they wish to be involved with and to do their research.