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Missionary group says vendor holding website hostage

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A local not-for-profit that supports Baptist missionaries says its former IT vendor is holding its website hostage—potentially hampering the safety of people working abroad.

Evangelical Baptist Missions Inc., based in Indianapolis, filed a federal lawsuit in late January against the Beracha Foundation, a not-for-profit information technology company in Ohio, alleging conversion, unjust enrichment and violation of the anti-cybersquatting act. The suit charges that Beracha refuses to relinquish control of EBM’s Internet domains and website functions unless it receives certain payments.

Many businesses find themselves in similar predicaments because they let outside consultants hold the keys to their online presence, said Kenan Farrell, an Indianapolis Internet and intellectual-property lawyer. Companies need to make sure they have possession of their domain names and any other administrative credentials, he said.

“You don’t want to have this discussion after things have gone south,” he said.

Bill Rosier, an executive at Evangelical Baptist Missions, referred questions to attorney Ryan Bowers at Kroger Gardis & Regas. Bowers did not return phone messages.

Beracha Executive Director Dana Dunmyer did not respond to messages left at the office in Maineville, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Dunmyer also is principal of TQI Net, a for-profit IT company that operates from the same offices.

Evangelical Baptist Missions’ main website, www.ebm.org, is still live, but the portal it uses to communicate with missionaries, along with web-based donation and accounting software, stopped working sometime after President David Culver severed his relationship with Beracha in early January, the lawsuit says.

Beracha issued a statement Friday saying it has allowed EBM "to continue to conduct business without interruption. In no way have the missionaries been placed at risk, and in no way has Beracha interfered with EBM and the missionaries' ability to collect and access funds."

The statement added: "We are saddened by EBM's rush to litigation with false allegations."

Dunmyer and Beracha employees had served on EBM’s board of trustees, but the missionary group switched vendors because of “overpriced” and “drastically escalating” fees, the lawsuit says.

Through EBM’s web portal, missionaries receive information on contributions that support them, report expenses and request money, the suit says.

“The site also provides crucial and immediate assistance, both logistic and financial, in the event of an emergency and/or a need for evacuation of missionaries.”

EBM has evacuated missionaries in the past, and the lawsuit says, “In some such instances, effective operation of the website portal can be integral to the well-being and/or safety of missionaries and their families.”

Evangelical Baptist Missions started in 1928 under the name “Africa Christian Missions” to sponsor the work of one pastor in the former French West Africa.

EBM promotes missionary work in several regions of the world while providing behind-the-scenes support. Formerly based in Kokomo, the headquarters moved to the northwest side of Indianapolis in 2004.

Rosier declined to talk about EBM, other than to note that the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t require religious groups to file tax returns.

Evangelical Baptist Missions says it registered its main site in 1997 and its video site, www.harvestproductions.org, in 2000. Beracha administered the domains by hosting them on its servers and paying yearly fees, which EBM reimbursed.

EBM claims that, at some unspecified time, Beracha listed Connie Dunmyer as the registrant for the domain names, which gives her the sole authority to transfer them to EBM or its new vendor.

Both domains are set to expire this year, ebm.org in May and harvestproductions.org in August, publicly available registry information shows. The registrant is the person who receives e-mail notices about impending expirations and typically carries out renewals.

Culver, who became EBM’s president last year, sent a letter to Dana Dunmyer on Jan. 10, asking him to turn over access to the domain names and software credentials. Dunmyer refused, unless EBM would “cover the costs for providing the information,” including a $1,000 retainer, the lawsuit says.

A few days later, Dunmyer sent a second e-mail that offered two choices, the suit says. EBM could either agree to a new annual contract, which would cost more than $67,000, and pay $30,342 for “alleged violations of other agreements unrelated to IT services,” plus $2,000 in setup fees. At the end of the one-year contract, Beracha would transition all data to a new vendor, at a cost to be determined.

The second option was for EBM to pay $125,821 to fulfill “agreements,” and Beracha would move all data to a new vendor, again for an undetermined fee.

EBM claims that Dunmyer has refused to provide copies of the agreements that formed the basis of his demands.

Beracha, which markets website design for churches, had been working for EBM since 2005, but as of January, the two organizations had no written contract, EBM’s suit claims.

Back in 2008, however, EBM provided Dunmyer with power of attorney, but that was only so he could “work on behalf of EBM in negotiations with Blackbaud,” a leading software vendor to not-for-profits, the lawsuit says. EBM uses Blackbaud’s e-Tapestry software for donation management and Financial Edge for accounting.

EBM and Beracha also entered into a “shared CFO” consulting agreement, though the lawsuit doesn’t specify when or for what reason.

Dunmyer was an officer of EBM “until recently,” and other Beracha employees have served as officers at various times, the suit says.

The suit claims that EBM has paid all its software fees through Beracha, yet still owes Blackbaud more than $7,000 for use of the accounting software. “Beracha has these funds.”

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  • Holding God Hostage
    The owner of IT (Dunmyer) sounds like all he cares about is money. He doesn't seem to be "helping" a church, but instead lining his own pockets. Sounds like IT isn't it! Cut your loses and start fresh. Let God deal with IT. Over pricing isn't something that God will reward.
  • Will EBM missionaries be paid?
    My son is a missionary under EBM. He did not receive his August support and he had other money in his account at EBM for projects and emergencies Will he receive any of this money?
    What happens to the 150 other missionaries under EBM?
  • Clueless
    I've been a part of non-profits for 20 years and in general our tech knowledge is just enough to be dangerous. There are good reasons to have a company register and monitor domains. And if you pay your bills there's no problem. My suspicion is that the conversations between these two became more verbal shorthand and the non-profit didn't know exactly what they were even asking the IT company to do. Therefore, they got sticker shock. Could a company even survive if their rates were as outrageous as EBM suggests? The lesson really isn't don't trust a company with your domains, it's know what you're asking a company to do. I've personally been a part of boards that worked with vendors who were family and this can happen. What you must do is get it in writing even if your cozy with one another.
  • Religious orgs are exempt
    Because of the 1st Ammendment, religious organizations are exempt for income taxes, as long as they are not for profit. The IRS info and application for 501(c)3 incorporation is very clear about this - it is a voluntary incorporation. This does NOT, however, exempt the individuals involved from income taxes if they have signed a contract with the IRS (W-4 form, 1040 for, etc.).
  • Extortionate
    I've served on the board of several non-profits, large and small, and I can easily see how they would get into this relationship without a written agreement. Many times the board of nonprofits are not business people in that area and just rely on dealing with people they know. EBM says this is the case, they only had verbal agreements and when Beracha was asked to provide whatever they were basing this charge on, they refused.

    I contract for IT work all the time and the prices Beracha is quoting are nothing but extortionate. EBM would probably be better off to abandon the domains and start over from scratch instead of dealing with these folks.

    People, never let anyone register your domains in their name. We did it once, never again.
  • Expertise
    It sounds like EBM may have made decisions without appropriate input. Making such decisions without necessary expertise just gets organizations into trouble. Get multiple points of view from various vendors.

    Also, letting a vendor employee/owner on the board seems to be a conflict of interest.

    Easy enough to change domain names and move on. The prices are outrageous.
  • staggering
    Our company has established a lot of sites for clients. I agree that there are two sides to every story and not all of the facts may be here, but the setup and hosting fees this IT company is charging are truly beyond belief. Someone is getting rich out of the collection plate.

    No business would pay these rates; why should a missionary organization?
    • Red Flags
      I would have to agree with Chris, that many IT companies have this practice. I am not saying that I condone it, but it is common, and it is definitely something that should be carefully examined in the initial contract agreement. It is a little scary that EBM had to request the contract agreements.

      I also find the minimal comment by Rossier to be a little random without much context. "Rosier declined to talk about EBM, other than to note that the Internal Revenue Service doesn't require religious groups to file tax returns."

      First of all, why is he commenting on IRS file tax returns? And secondly, I find it hard to believe that non-profits are unaccountable to the IRS. I am not an expert in this, but I believe that they must at least file Form 990s... Maybe someone else can provide more information on this?

      • Most IT Consultants Do This
        I think nearly all web consulting companies lock out clients who don't pay. Obviously, a web consulting company has to have access to a website in order to perform their services. Therefore, the best way to protect yourself is to have a written agreement that clearly states the terms and scope of the services, including payment and cancellation terms. Also, you should only do business with vendors with good professional reputations. Of course, if you don't pay any vendor according to the terms of your agreement, then you should expect to be locked out of your website.

        I am on the board of a nonprofit, and our organization's web/IT consulting company has the capability to lock out access to our organization's website if they are not paid according to our agreement with them. However, we entered into a clear agreement as to the terms of our service arrangement, including the terms for canceling the agreement. Also, we pay our bills on time. We have never had any problem with our IT consultant.

        Without knowing first-hand the facts of the situation, I can say who is right or wrong here. Either EBM's vendor is trying to unfairly bill them, or else EBM failed to pay according to the terms of its agreement and deserves to be locked out of its website. Of course, I am a bit perplexed that EBM had to request copies of its agreement with the vendor. Any organization should keep track of all contracts it enters into and keep copies of all agreements on file with the organization's other business records. The fact EBM had to ask for copies of its agreement with the vendor demonstrates a lack of good business prudence on the part of EBM.
      • Obvious exaggeration
        Anyone who's worked in Africa knows you don't depend on the Internet for any critical/emergency communication -- you use the phone. EBM should certainly know that, especially if they've been in this line of work since 1928.

        Regardless of who's in the right here, this is clearly a case of EBM trying to gain sympathy from the ignorant through extreme exaggeration of the situation.

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