In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.
Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.
A word of warning before I start: there’s no real narrative to this post. I’m just going to highlight a few things that jumped out at me, and give a couple thoughts on them. This is all done in a vacuum, though: I haven’t read previous or subsequent Church financial reports, or the financial reports of other churches, so I’m don’t have any context, intertemporal or interreligious, in which to understand the reports. Also, if you’re interested in reading the about the state of Church finances in 1947 yourself, the relevant section starts on page 116 of the April 1947 Conference Report. With that, here we go:
Situating the Report
In 1947, the Church broke the million-member mark. It had 170 stakes, 1,293 wards, and 132 branches.[fn1]
Also, in 1947, General Conference last three days, rather than two. And rather than the weekend, it ran Sunday through Tuesday. I have no idea if that was standard,[fn2] but the third day was Tuesday, April 6.
J. Reuben Clark
President Clark read the financial statement, and prefaced it with some interesting commentary. He provided lots of detail about the Church budgeting process, including information on the committees involved, how expenditures were authorized, and what happens to any appropriation that isn’t used.
His remarks are remarkably frank, especially compared with the correlated world of today. He mentions that 1947’s expenditures out of general Church funds had more than doubled from the average of 1936-1945. He’s not terribly happy with it, either, and he voices his concern.
What led to the doubling? I’m not sure. That rate seems well in excess of inflation, and, while we hit 1 million members, were only up 240,000 from ten years earlier. He did make it a point to emphasize that the Church had no debt, which makes a lot of sense coming from the man who delivered the now-famous Interest Never Sleeps discourse.
Clark also inveighs against printing more money, like other countries have done. I found that interesting, because he seems to be coming to the issue late; it’s not just other countries that had been printing money: between 1939 and 1945, the amount of cash in circulation in the U.S. quadrupled.
The Financials Themselves
The Church budgeted $12.7 million for 1947. It actually spent $1.5 million less than it budgeted. By way of context, according the CPI Inflation Calculator, $12.7 million in 1947 that would purchase the equivalent of $135.7 million in current dollars.
I found it interesting that, according to the financial disclosure, the salaries, office expenses, traveling expenses of Church employees, and living allowances and travel expenses of GAs were paid out of non-tithing income. The disclosure doesn’t go into much detail about sources of Church revenue, so I don’t know where these salaries and other expenses would have come from, but apparently the Church felt in 1947 paying them out of tithing funds was inappropriate.[fn3]
President Clark mentioned that salaries, while livable, weren’t extravagant. He invoked the “Little Steel formula.” In my quick reading, I learned that the “Little Steel formula” was essentially wage controls on the employees of small steel companies. Basically, to fight inflation, if a wage increase would cause a price increase, the wage increase had to be approved by the Director of Economic Stabilization.
That, clearly, is not exactly what Pres. Clark was talking about; Church employee compensation wouldn’t lead to any sort of inflation. The phrase, though, seems to have become shorthand for small raises.
The Church’s single biggest budget item in 1947 was operation of various church schools (BYU, Ricks, LDS Business College, Juarez Academy), 15 institutes, and 100 seminaries. That kind of surprised me, even though that budget item includes a lot of different expenses put together. I would have thought buildings. Of course, back then, local members were largely responsible for raising money for and actually building their meetinghouses, which would have put building expenses largely off-budget.
That year, the Church spent $43,418 ($464,053 today) on repairing and maintaining various Church historical sites.
In 1947, 24.2% of members paid fast offerings. Which is kind of cool that the Church kept that kind of fine-grained data.
Not only that, the Church broke out the number of people assisted by Church welfare in 1947. In the U.S., the Church assisted 24,458 people. In addition, it sent enough food and clothing to Europe to assist 50,000 more.
The financial reports are also interesting for seeing how things have changed. The report breaks out the number of people who have gotten off of government welfare during the past five years: 2,198. Of those 948 “have been rehabilitated and are receiving no aid from the Church”; 810 got some Church assistance, and 440 were receiving all of their needs from the Church. (I assume these numbers just represent members in the U.S.)
It’s interesting how this anti-government-welfare ethic has changed: Handbook 2 now says that “[l]eaders may also help members receive assistance through community and government agencies.”
[fn1] These numbers are all in the Conference Report, p. 115.
[fn2] And yes, I realize the answer is only a Google search away.
[fn3] I know, the idea that the money comes from a non-tithing source is kind of illusory. Money is fungible, and all. Still, presumably, if the Church decided that salaries and travel expenses didn’t come from tithing, if its other sources of income dried up, while it had a surplus of tithing, it would have to borrow or otherwise find the money for salaries. So, while artificial, the wall nonetheless has real-world impact.