What Bill Gates could learn from the church about philanthropy?

There has been some debate about whether the LDS church should be investing in shopping centres and upscale housing when it could be saving lives by lifting people out of poverty. This debate has missed a key feature of the broader landscape of philanthropy over the last 70 years, the move toward philanthrocapitalism. The similarities and differences between philanthrocapitalists, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, and the LDS church are revealing because they highlight to whom particular criticisms should be addressed. In short, while dissatisfaction with this model of charitable giving is a defensible position, consistency might suggest that such criticisms also be directed toward a neoliberal culture of giving currently ascendant in our societies.

Criticisms of the church’s investment strategy are usually framed around a fairly simple argument: the church should not be concerned about X when Y is such a major issue. The Xs may be the City Creek mall, land for cattle, or farming. The Ys are similarly diverse, e..g, poverty or starvation. The response to this argument emphasises that caring about X now allows us to do more about Y in the long-term. Both sides of this debate are quite persuasive and have some similarities to the debate concerning philanthrocapitalism.

This is unsurprising because the church’s current model of philanthropy is underpinned by the same principles that drive philanthrocapitalism. In short, philanthrocapitalism is the idea of ‘doing well by doing good’. It is the merger of neoliberal market economics with altruism and a vision of the common good. Philanthrocapitalists attempt to apply market efficiency to the problems of poverty, HIV/AIDS, or infant mortality. This TED talk is a pretty good example of what philanthrocapitalism is all about. Bill and Melinda Gates are the philanthrocapitalists par excellence.

The Gates Foundation invests huge sums of money in tackling issues that they believe are the most pressing concerns for global health and education in America. However, the Gates Foundation has also been criticized. First, it stresses health inequalities in areas that do not directly affect their financial partners. For example, the Gates Foundation are substantial shareholders in McDonalds and Coca-Cola. At the same time they have been notably quiet on the obesity pandemic, which is partly attributable to changes in nutrition consumption. Second, the Gates Foundation does not see a conflict in investing in companies that have harmful labour practices. Third, the Gates Foundation has disproportionately focused their research investment in technologies and companies centred in the Global North. Fourth, there is a lack of transparency regarding how priorities are set and how decisions are made. These criticisms merge because underlying the ethos of the Gates Foundation is the realization that ‘the super-rich need to stay super-rich in order for their charitable enterprises to function’. In short, the church and the philathrocapitalists share some of the core values behind their charitable giving.

There are two crucial differences: 1) tithing and 2) profit maximization.

The philanthrocapitalists are using their own wealth to fund such projects, let them spend it how they want. The church, in contrast, is funded largely by individuals who donate their income to the church, who then make decisions about where this money is spent. Should not the church’s decision-making process reflect its voluntary acquisition process? While this might be a positive move, what is important here is that, again, the church and the philathrocapitalists are not all that dissimilar. A substantial proportion of the investment from philanthrocapitalists, particularly those driven by social entrepreneurship, is backed by government money. In other words, our taxes are underwriting much of the risk-taking involved in philanthrocapitalism. This under-writing function is incredibly important because, as yet, there are very few ventures where financial success and effective philanthropy are found together. In short, both the philanthrocapitalists and the church are financed through collective contribution mechanisms. This difference between the church and the philanthrocapitalists is really not all that great.

The second difference focuses on profit maximization. Gates wrote in Time magazine in 2008 ‘the poorest two-thirds of the world’s population have some $5 trillion in purchasing power… it would be a shame if we missed such opportunities’. Philanthrocapitalists are still concerned about ‘doing well’ and bottom-line considerations are vitally important. In contrast, the church’s charitable giving – to my knowledge – is not. Yes, the financial arm of the church has some of the same problems faced by the Gates Foundation (see list above) but their charitable giving is altrusitic and separate from the financial side. That is, they are free to share their money in whatever ways they believe are most effective, which is one reason why we are so good at disaster relief. We can rebuild when the opportunities for financial reward are limited.

While I still have concerns about the current model of philanthrocapitalism adopted by the church, they are the same concerns I have about the Gates Foundation. I admire the philanthrocapitalists. No doubt they are generous, driven, and sincere. They will do some good in the world. The church too, except that the church’s particular brand of philanthrocapitalism is even more progressive and, potentially, effective than that currently modelled by the Gates Foundation.


  1. Lives hang in the balance.
    How do you calculate the ROI for lives saved?

    This is not a all or nothing issue, but the contribution going to third world people facing malnutrition, thirst or easily curable disease has been token when compared as a % total cash flow. These problems are not impossible to address, many Christian denominations and private individuals are making measurable progress. The LDS church is in a unique position to greatly boost these efforts and that would support the newest mission of the church: To care for the poor and needy.

    I made a impassioned plea for the dying on T&S and was banned for it. So this will be my only comment on this thread.

  2. “This TED talk is a”- Missing link.

    “I made a impassioned plea for the dying on T&S and was banned for it.” Garbage. You were banned from Times&Seasons for consistent demonstrated inability to contribute and play well with others.

  3. I think this is a good post, though I don’t agree with the comparison and some of the assertions. People tend to lump all donations given to the Church as tithing, somehow making us “shareholders”. Not all donations are tithes. None of the money used for increasing capital originally came from tithes. None of the money to LDS Charities comes from tithes.

    Especially since I heard a talk from Susan Eubank, Managing Director of LDS Charities, who talked about the work we’ve done and how historically we’ve worked to find and create help where it is needed, I’ve been quite proud of how LDS Charities is set up and works on many different ways to save lives around the world.

  4. Cheers, Ben. Now included.

    Frank, it is not entirely clear to me where we disagree. While I would quibble about the way tithing is used, those differences are part of the reason why I applaud the church’s humanitarian work.

  5. Howard might be benefited from googling “LDS Charities” and educating himself on what the LDS Church actually is doing in the areas he believes they are deficient.

  6. Excellent post, Aaron.

    This is one case where lots of people talk about something about which they know little or nothing. For example, the idea that other denominations give far more than the LDS Church is ludicrous. The only way to make that claim is to twist statistics in very specific ways that are not logical. Unfortunately, many members who don’t understand how the stats are twisted accept the twisted stats and come to believe the Church does less than other denominations. The comparison to the Methodist Church that made the rounds a while ago and still is referenced as the shining example of our miserly giving is an obvious example, since we have about the same number of members of record but give exponentially more in real dollars (and I use “exponentially” intentionally and without hyperbole) – and that doesn’t even count all of the fast offering assistance (to members and non-members) and member-donated time during service missions.

    Seriously, when someone really understands the issue more fully, the idea that the LDS Church hoards its money in this regard is ridiculous. Issues of investment decisions notwithstanding, we out-give every other denomination anywhere close to our size, and it’s not close.

  7. I’m waiting for news reports about theft from an LDS tithing box where the weekend cash donation was over $600,000.

  8. This post provides a helpful comparison and contemplation. Thanks.

    I confess to being sympathetic to desires to use Church resources to eliminate hunger among at least LDS kids worldwide (Liahona Foundation) or to apply a massive lump sum to eradicate malaria in South America, that kind of thing (or provide clean water to many communities around the Global South). So I understand Howard’s concern about people’s lives hanging in the balance right now, thus calling into question efforts to do [X] now so that we can provide [Y] help later. But such groundwork is necessary, and I don’t see the two as mutually incompatible. So the Church could continue with its approach that is similar to philanthrocapitalism while at the same time deciding to devote more resources directly to solving these immediate concerns.

    I have every reason to believe that we will do this. To be sure, we face some cultural inertia, particularly on the Wasatch Front, by which many believe that such direct giving is a mistake, that we “are not in the business of giving handouts” and that instead our only job should be “teaching people how to fish.” But I believe such cultural impulses, usually driven by a devotion to a particular brand of partisan politics and allowing that to have priority over simple, underlying Gospel principles, can be set aside once we have a will to do so. My observation has been encouraging — that people are soon going to be very willing to set such allegiances aside in favor of providing direct succor. But, again, such an approach can exist alongside the philanthrocapitalistic emphasis that you’ve highlighted in this post.

  9. frank, do you have a link to a transcript of susan’s talk?? i went to the lds charities web site but was unable to find it. i’d be very interested in reading it. thanks…

  10. John F., appreciate your comment. This post is principally aimed at cutting the church some slack with respect to their investments. In my view, some of the criticism in the past has been misdirected. Having said, that, in general, I am not a huge fan of this model of philanthropy because it reminds me a little of the parable of the rich fool and because it adopts the worst of Jeff Sach’s naive optimism about aid. While I would love the church to give more directly to some charities I also do not think we really know what creates lasting and sustainable change. Even Give Well’s metrics are based on this philanthrocapital model.

  11. A question for those of you better-versed than I in these matters: A few months ago I went to a presentation by the Liahona Foundation prepared to be totally bowled over, and instead was a bit turned off by the presenter’s use (in a side conversation, to be fair) of the dodgy statistics Ray cites. Mostly, though, I was troubled by the notion of little Mormon kids going hungry. I’m told (and here’s my question, at last) that the Church is limited in the amount of welfare support it can provide in many countries, because foreign contributions disproportionate to those originating locally can endanger our status as a local, nationally-recognized religious organization. Is there anything to this?

  12. In my view it would be highly immoral of the LDS Church NOT to invest donated funds to create MORE wealth with which to do MORE good than would otherwise be possible primarily with the principle funds.

  13. I definitely understand the impulse to question why a charitable institution is concerned about “X” when “Y” is such a major issue. Yet how would we as individuals or families pass that same kind of scrutiny? How can I justify owning two different pairs of shoes, or even one, so long as there are people starving in [whatever region] or dying from [whatever disease]? I’m too embarrassed to even list more realistic examples of the relative luxuries I spend my money on, when any of those dollars could be used instead to extend someone’s life or ease someone’s suffering.

    I guess I justify myself by saying that it’s expensive to live in a bigger U.S. city and work in a professional environment. I spend money to maintain a lifestyle that allows me to make a good living, which in turn enables me to do more charitable giving and not rely on the charity of others. My own self-justification sounds a lot like the philanthrocapitalist ideas that Aaron described in the OP.

  14. dave, it was a talk to the Church History Library for a RS birthday lunch. I know they recorded it (as the Library is kinda particular about that), but I’ll ask if I can get ahold of it and get it out. She’s really something else.

    Aaron, I’m not sure where I disagree either. Could be I’m too used to having to be on the defensive about Church spending that I was just looking at it wrong. Something I need to work on.

  15. Greg D., that is, of course, the philanthrocapitalists argument as well. It is not clear why giving that money to someone now would be immoral in the same way that I am not sure it is immoral to invest that money for the future. Additionally, is there a point at which we stop creating more wealth? If not, then I think we fail to address the inequality this type of philanthropy sustains.

  16. The New Testament supports both the idea of vigorously investing principal as a steward given charge of that portion to increase it and achieve a strong return and giving sums directly to the poor for their immediate relief.

  17. Aaron R., If I am given $100 and immediately give ten people ten dollars for each to have food for lunch or dinner, that is not immoral–it is praiseworthy. But, if I am given $100, invest it with an expected ROI of say 10 percent, then, over time, I will be able to use the ongoing interest/dividends/profits to give money to far more people for lunch or dinner than I could have otherwise by simply disbursing the original $100 principle donation immediately to just ten people. In which case am I the more profitable servant?

  18. Utahhiker801 says:

    Greg D, that gives me something to think about. I guess for me to see that as more moral, it would then be contingent that the growth eventually be used to feed the hungry as opposed to just reinvestment. Good comment though.

  19. meanwhile the nine who need help right now perish — that is why the issue is more difficult on the “morality” spectrum that Greg D.’s position lets on

  20. Scott B. says:

    Greg D., as john f. notes, your explanation is found a bit wanting in times of crisis. I would put a slightly different (or maybe just additional) take on this than john: The problem is not the re-investment of principal and interest, but about time horizon: Any good investment policy needs to specify an appropriate time horizon, otherwise it is impossible to determine what the proper duration of assets must be. For many firms, the time horizon is assumed to be infinite–the goal to grow the company never ends. However, my sense is that baked within most of our hearts and minds is a belief that, at some point, the Church would empty the coffers and save the suffering masses. As things are, though, the world really kind of sucks. You look around the planet, and you really have to ask yourself how much worse things can get in some parts of the world–how much longer can we, in good conscience, wait to splash the cash? In that context, an apparently infinite investment horizon seems really corporatey and not very Churchy. And that rubs wrong sometimes.

  21. I have been to an LDS Philanthropies presentation by the local reps here in Rexburg. It was very interesting . . . He went into detail about why they don’t ask for PEF donations any longer (the lending system ended up being more efficient for the Church to facilitate local lending for members than using our own funds, although I don’t know if that means we are co-signers or providing collateral for the local lending) and how in their clean water programs they realized when they went and put in water wells, locals would come and take them apart and sell the parts for money. But when they donated the parts and had the locals build it themselves it was left alone. Microlending and the efficiencies of humanitarian efforts in breaking cycles of poverty are fascinating to me and I follow quite a bit of the conversation over on Freakonomics, as it’s one of their regular topics.

    In general my issue with the Church’s philanthropic efforts is that most cycles back to our own people (all four schools, temple patron, mission, etc.) which are all good things. As for LDS Charities their scope is for emergency disaster response, clean water, wheelchairs, neonatal training, immunization, vision care. These are all good things. Could we do more of these things? The LDS Charities website indicated they’d installed 330 clean water wells. Can we 10x or 100x that?

    Also as a woman, I obviously care about the plight of my sisters around the world, and perhaps wish that we could support issues I see addressed in the Half the Sky book and documentary by Nikolas Kristof (http://www.halftheskymovement.org/):

    –Economic Empowerment: Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and own only 1 percent of the titled land, according to a U.N. report. They suffer not only from unequal access to education and training, but also from discrimination by their employers. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family. Men, on the other hand, invest around 30 cents and are more likely to squander money on alcohol and other vices.
    –Education: Today more than 75 million primary school-age children are not in school. More than half of these children are girls and 75 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Of all the primary-school age girls globally, 20 percent are not in school, compared to 16 percent of boys in this age group. That’s 1-in-5 eligible girls worldwide who aren’t going to primary school. Many, many girls drop out of school because of lack of affordable, accesible menstruation supplies.
    –Gender Based Violence: A leading expert on safety and violence, Gavin de Becker, says, “Men’s number one fear is that a woman will reject them. Women’s number one fear is that a man will kill them.” In fact, women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. This violence can take many different forms, and is constantly mutating into new forms, be it acid attacks, bride burnings, rape or domestic violence. Surveys suggest that about one-third of all women globally face beatings in the home. Another major study found that in most countries between 30 and 60 percent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or a boyfriend. The figures for female murder by male partners are also astounding: Up to 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners, according to the World Health Organization.
    —Maternal Mortality. Around 1,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications globally every day, according to the World Health Organization. That’s one every 90 seconds. Some 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in poor countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. A majority of these causes are easily preventable with access to basic health care.
    —Sex Trafficking. Far more women and girls are shipped into brothels annually now, in the early 21st century, than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the 18th century. And the problem of sex slavery is getting worse. Trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the fastest-growing organized crimes, generating $27.8 billion each year. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Indochina, which opened up markets for commercial sex, and globalization have added to the problem. So has the fear of AIDS, leading some customers to prefer younger girls, whom they think are less likely to be infected. Some men target virgins, believing the girls can cure AIDS.

    To me it’s like the basic economic principle of butter or guns – I’d prefer we’d spend more $ on butter, but realize we need the cash to do so. But still, can it be just a *little* bit more towards the plight of the poor and developing nations and a little less for Rexburg-ians/primarily Mormons? Just where my heart is at.

  22. it's a series of tubes says:

    I’m waiting for news reports about theft from an LDS tithing box where the weekend cash donation was over $600,000.

    As a clerk, I once processed a donation check larger than that.

  23. It’s all about wealth creation. You cannot assist the poor if you do not have the wealth and the resources to do so. Good stewardship is not only about immediately assisting the poor, but, also about managing resources such that more wealth and abundance is created with which to create even more wealth AND to assist more people. It works better to do both! It’s called leverage.

    Even in the case of the Church giving millions to it’s schools, sure, you can be critical and say such funds are best given for immediate assistance to the poor, but what if in the bigger picture, that’s not the case. What if by investing in the education of people, you enable even more church members to be even more powerful creators of even more wealth and abundance which can then be used to assist even MORE people.

  24. Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach yourself to fish, and you can feed that man for the rest of his life.

  25. I don’t buy the argument that we don’t have the wealth to help more. But then again I’m not employed as an LDS Church statistician running the numbers. I understand the principle of why the Church is investing in the first-worlders, we are the ones that will gain the most wealth and pay higher tithing amounts, etc. cycle. But is that how we should make decisions on who to help? I just don’t find it biblical or Christlike and… find it more icky and corporate.

    Believe me I understand the principle of using endowments to help people. But there is always a line of how much to remove from the endowment – what is the appropriate amount? I don’t know. I’m only being honest when I say looking at the statistics on the LDS charities website was actually disheartening instead of hopeful.

  26. Scott B. says:

    Greg D.,
    It’s like you’re not reading what we’re saying, man. No one is disputing that investment and re-investment builds wealth. No one is disputing that more wealth allows the Church to help more people. Really–no one is disputing any of what you’re saying. What we are saying is that there are, in fact, trade offs.

    At present, the position is (or seems to be) one of delaying current consumption in favor of future consumption. That’s dandy. But it is not without costs–there are thousands and thousands of LDS children literally starving; saving our wealth and converting it into greater future wealth does not help them. They do not care. They just want food, water, and shelter. Any discussion of wealth-creation, total return analysis, or appropriate investment opportunities is entirely uninteresting to them, because they are, again, starving.

    Therefore, their current well-being is a cost of increased future consumption. But increased future consumption is a cost of current well-being. Is the suffering or need at present worth sacrificing some measure of future consumption? To some, no. To others, yes. To me? It probably depends on the magnitude of the sacrifice in future increased consumption. But–and this is where it’s frustrating–you don’t seem to recognize that there is a legitimate cost–current consumption–to pursuing wealth accumulation for the future. Maybe you do recognize it–if so,great–it’s just a communication problem and a difference in valuation of the current vs. future proposition.

  27. There also is the simple fact that, in many cases, it is impossible to get assistance to many of those who need it most. Thus, unfortunately, part of the equation has to include an eyes-wide-open analysis of where funds actually will work, both in now and in the future.

    It sounds callous to say this, but philanthropies have to ask the baseline question:

    If we give this money to help X people, will they still be alive two years from now if we don’t continue to give constantly? Do we try to lengthen life or sustain it?

    I just want to emphasize how incredibly difficult these decisions are.

  28. CE, is that the old “Wasatch Front Translation” of Matthew 7:9-11 rearing its head again?

    9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

    10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

    11 If ye give them bread or a fish then ye are evil. Say instead, let me teach you to fish. Then you will know how to give good gifts unto your children that are policy approved by Heritage and CATO (not to mention the Sutherland Institute and Eagle Forum), and how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Yea, verily, even God will say, I will not give you in your hour of need but will teach you how to get for yourselves based on the eternal principles of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”

    I thought it might surface in this discussion.

  29. I think the Church tries to be wise stewards over the humanitarian funds, but you can’t do it all. In many areas of the world, the Church partners with other charities with existing infrastructure and personnel, to maximize the effect of the donations and get more of the resources into the hands of those who need them. The interactive map at LDS Charities used to show who we partnered with in particular countries, but doesn’t seem to do that now. I know that in the past, Oxfam and other Catholic charities were major partners in many areas. It appears that there is a realization that the needs are great, the resources few, and that the recipients are often best served by not duplicating efforts and organizations already in place.

  30. To compound the difficult trade-offs: If a charity “invests” *today* in disease research, clean water facilities, third-world infratructure, third-world education, micro-business development, improved farming techniques, sex traffiking rescues, etc., the “return on investment” over the next, say, 10 years would be measured mostly in lives saved and suffering averted, plus the benefit of being 10 years further ahead in said research/development/education, etc..

    How would this compare to the benefits of a charity investing capital in a for-profit venture today and using the returns to make a larger investment in all of the above charitable causes *10 years from now*? More money to contribute, but 10 years of time lost.

    It’s not an easy thing to compare.

  31. ;ohn F. —

    Yes, but the “teach yourself to fish” approach is a bit more charitable than the hard-line “teach a man to fish” mentality. At least you’re going the use the fruits of your investment to feed the man. (If it’s not obvious, I was just trying to humorously rephrase Greg D’s comment, as well as the general philanthrocapitalist sentiment Aaron described in the OP. It’s no dig on Greg — like Scott B said, Greg has a point and I get it.)

  32. Scott B. Hey thanks for your reply and for not making assumptions about me–that is much appreciated. I personally prefer answer D) All of the above–give the man or the woman a fish, teach him or her how to fish, AND invest in additional fishing poles and fish bait to feed and teach others to do the same.

    Figuring out what works best on where to draw the line between investing in fish to be given out today, investing in education to teach others how to fish, and investing in additional fishing equipment and bait can and does require careful analysis, consideration and prayer.

    Kristine A. Please keep in mind two things, if you will:

    1) the stats on the LDS charities website do not represent the expenditures by the Church on its vast welfare system and social services programs, nor the fast offering program.
    2) Assisting the poor is but one of four Church missions and the allocation of resources for each mission must be looked upon given that larger perspective.

    One more thing–assisting the poor is primarily the responsibility of the individual membership of the Church. Yes the Church is one avenue in which to express our charity and to assist others–the church does a lot of good with the resources it has. But the purpose of the Church is not primarily to solve world hunger or poverty. In addition, poverty, hunger, lack of basic comforts and conveniences, etc., will always be with us so long as political and economic systems around the world are not largely in concert with basic economic principles, respectful of inherent human traits, and in alignment with the fundamental principles which underlie all of reality. In the mean time, are we not taught to be anxiously engaged in good causes–both in and out of the church–and to not be required to be commanded in all things?

  33. The Church doesn’t tell us about their finances so all of this above is meaningless.

  34. I knew that was coming :) And yes, being educated about the issues and raising awareness is part of advocacy and being anxiously engaged. So thanks for acknowledging that.

    I had a hard time giving fast offerings once when I was living in Summerlin in Las Vegas. I was surrounded by younger couples signing leases on new homes/leases in new apartments and then — wait for it — needing cash assistance. Ugh. Like they couldn’t have found more affordable housing.

    But I had to learn to let it go. I don’t hold stewardship over the decisions made with my funds once donated. Others will be held accountable for those decisions. My job is to change my heart and give and let others be accountable for the decisions.

    Still like to see some more programs that just help lift others out of suffering, without a chance of us benefiting from it PR wise or wealth building back to us or the ilk. Just saying.

  35. “The Church doesn’t tell us about their finances so all of this above is meaningless.”

    Um, no.

  36. Angela C says:

    Great post, Aaron – this is a really helpful viewpoint.

  37. Some of these comments explaining away the model the Church should use for its humanitarian efforts are so isolated from the essential teachings of the gospel. Their whole emphasis is on the “arm of the flesh” instead of faith that God will help us in our endeavors to succor our neighbors. The goal is not effectiveness, nor creating more wealth to have more resources, it is coming to the aid of people when they are needing it the most: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and afflicted, etc.

  38. Ray:

    So you don’t need to know the church’s finances in order to evaluate their charitable giving claims? Aaron guesses above at a key point – does the church put profit above charity? He guesses no, but how do we know that? We don’t. As far as we know the church could be exactly like the gates foundation in every respect. Or it could be completely profit driven and merely gives a little tiny bit to charity to keep up appearances.

    We don’t know which it is. So, frankly all of this discussion is pointless when we are basing conclusions about the unknown.

  39. tubes, whoa! A single, direct payment?

    John F., while I agree those narratives are both present in the NT, they are not necessarily both closely related to the practice of charitable giving. While I do not think the church is guilty of being the rich fool, when philanthrocapitalists treat philanthropy as a for-profit enterprise in order to sustain wealth they are still motivated by the same intentions as the rich fool; accruing wealth.

    Sally, while there is uncertainty, there are some things we do know about the how the church manages their philanthropic work. For example, we do know a good deal about how fast offering is used and we also have a good sense about how LDS charities and the humanitarian aid budgets work. Where the lines are more blurry is the for-profit arm of the church, we do not know how that feeds into philanthropic side, if at all. So while I agree more information would be helpful, we have enough information to make some comments about the underlying philosophy of the church’s giving, which is what I have tried to do here.

  40. Jason K. says:

    Great post, Aaron. Thanks for raising some of the tough questions that arise from the fact that the Church has to exist in the world as it is.

  41. Sally, what Aaron said.

    To be more precise, your comment was worded in extreme terms that simply aren’t accurate – at the extreme you presented.

  42. it's a series of tubes says:

    Aaron – yes. Someone had sold a business. But still, it was times like that that I really, really didn’t want to know what I knew.

  43. Aaron, thanks for the response. Just to clarify, I’ve never thought or said that the Church “is guilty of being the rich fool”. The way you worded your comment, it could be read as arguing with me on that point as if I were making that claim but I haven’t. Not sure if others on the thread have either.

  44. About Susan Eubanks, I heard the comments at the UN meeting last month

  45. Christian J says:

    I appreciate the perspective Aaron and generally feel humbled enough by the complexities of these issues that I already tend to give the Church some slack.

    I do, however, have no problem saying that a lot of these strategies would be foreign to the Jesus of Palestine. Of course, our picture of him is broader, but you can’t get around his love for hasty giving. So, yes – build a sound model for sustained giving by all means. But give aggressively. And often. I’m not saying I know that the Church is not doing just that. But a lot of the rhetoric I hear tells me that we like straddle the line.

  46. Sorry, her name is actually Sharon Eubank, if we are talking about the same person.

  47. “I do, however, have no problem saying that a lot of these strategies would be foreign to the Jesus of Palestine.”

    Jesus never tried to eradicate poverty, starvation, on-going hunger, lack of education, etc. during his ministry in any “philanthropic” way, and there is no indication whatsoever that he even attempted to address any issue in that manner – even within his limited geographic area. He taught, fed hungry people who followed him into the wilderness (absolutely a temporary solution), cured illnesses, chastised hypocrites, etc. – but we tend to extrapolate things into his ministry that simply aren’t there in the actual record.

    There is absolutely nothing to indicate how he would have handled our current situation (how he would have attempted to address large-scale issues) – except to teach everyone to love each other and show that love through how they treated each other. Personally, I think his message was that changed hearts fixes the problems that no money or philanthropic strategy can fix without changed hearts – which doesn’t change our need to use that sort of giving to try to do what we can OR shed any light on exactly how we should do it.

  48. In other words, it appears he taught expanded inclusion and the elimination of exclusion, as general principles – working to drop barriers to increased prosperity and acceptance. Whether that was because it was the ideal approach or because he didn’t have the funds necessarily to do differently isn’t addressed in any way in the record.

    I only will point out that he had a treasurer (Judas), so it appears he raised funds somehow for his ministry – and there is no indication he shared any of it with those he taught and healed. Again, there might be multiple reasons for that, but all we know from the record is that there is no indication in it of what he would have done with a large amount of money.

  49. Christian J says:

    Ray, just to restate:

    I appreciate the perspective Aaron and generally feel humbled enough by the complexities of these issues that I already tend to give the Church some slack.

    We still have to do *something* with the teachings of Jesus regarding our wealth and resources. It may not inform the exact blueprint for massive international philanthropy by a large church, but I don’t believe that his words are as abstract as you seem to propose. Jesus said that the world could end tomorrow. What do we do with that?

  50. Christian J says:

    Again, there might be multiple reasons for that, but all we know from the record is that there is no indication in it of what he would have done with a large amount of money.

    I don’t want to belabor this. I essentially agree with you. Still, I wonder why you’re focusing on what we think we know about what Jesus did with his money instead of what he clearly was teaching his followers to do with theirs. The guiding principle was – carpe diem!

  51. One of the things that comes from this discussion for me is that regardless of what the church does, we as individual members ought to be doing more where and when we can. If no one has linked to it yet, Hugh Nibley’s speech Work We Must, but the Lunch is Free seems appropriate here. In it, he points out that the lessons of the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25 ought to be an uncomfortable reminder of what we commit to in the temple when we covenant to live the Law of Consecration.

  52. Aaron R. says:

    Christian J., sounds to me we are on the same page.

    John F., I first mentioned the foolish rich man. I read your comment about the NT as a response to this earlier mention and was just attempting to clarify my point. Apologies for the confusion.

  53. Ahh, the age old question, do the ends justify the means? Not if the means cause us to loose sight of the ends! Sure we can justify income generation as a way to help a greater number of people, but how long does it take before we forget what we are generating income for?

  54. Another point. There has been a lot of discussion about the giver’s ROI. It’s certainly possible that we can help more people by building wealth towards future giving. It’s also possible to reduce the number of people needing help in the future by using our existing wealth to help them now. Would you rather slowly combat a disease like Malaria or commit the necessary resources to eliminate it as soon as possible? Charity should be about the suffering prevented, not the quantity of resources given.

  55. Christian J, I agree with most of what you have written. I agree that Jesus taught an individual (the rich young man) what to do with his riches (sell all and follow Jesus, which almost none of us do). I also agree he taught principles that should influence how we use our money. That is what I meant when I wrote of changed hearts being the answer.

    I just have little confidence that I know what he would have said about large-scale philanthropic efforts, since absolutely nothing in the record addresses that sort of giving. All I am saying is that, unlike your assurance, I believe we simply must do our best to act out of love – and that real love can produce different giving models.

    I don’t know what Jesus would do, but I try to make my choices in this arena based on my understanding of his teachings – even though “the one true way” is not clear to me.

  56. ken brown says:

    Sally is right. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that for 100 years the church would disclose its income and uses of donated funds .Check any April conference report from 1860 onward through April 1950. Then all of a sudden silence. Apparently while our parents,grandparents and great grandparents had a right to know how the churches income is being spent we poor unsophisticated second class citizens don’t.. Explain that please. Do the salaries ,oh sorry ,stipends amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid to GAs to help them accumulate million dollar homes ( Elder Packards is valued at 1.5 million and he has been a church employee all of his life) while LDS kids in South America live stunted lives because of malnutrition have something to do with this silence. Those who try to justify present church financial practices should be asking why COB contrary to previous practice refuses to tell us anything about how our donations are used.

  57. If it hasn’t been mentioned already, part of the reason for ending financial transparency was due in large part to the actions of Henry D. Moyle who quite nearly bankrupted the church.

  58. Naismith says:

    Keep in mind that Pres. Uchtdorf has gone on record that he does not accept any money from the church since he has a good retirement. I’d be surprised if Elder Nelson needed anything as well.

    Kristine A, that is so interesting about the Perpetual Education Fund. I had no idea why it dropped off the donation slip, and we’d been writing it in. If anyone knows a reference that we could read, that would be helpful. We also donate to a fund that helps families in a Muslim country pay for the uniforms, books and fees that will keep their children in elementary/secondary school–which helps a lot of young women in particular. So we would send more money there if our PEF contribution is not needed.

  59. Hugh B. Brown (I believe) commented when he became an apostle that his living stipend was less than he had paid in taxes.

    Regarding homes, current value isn’t as important as value when purchased, as that can fluctuate dramatically. President Hinckley built and modified good chunks of his house doing the work himself.

    Elder Packer is apparently Mormonism’s Adele Dazim.

  60. Left Field says:

    We should look into the finances of the entire First Presidency, Thomas S. Mondale, Henry B. Herring, and Dieter F. Randolph.

  61. . . . and Dallin Hoax.

  62. (Dallin A. Chokes?)

  63. Now we are making fun of church leaders by changing their names? How mature.

  64. Ray, it looks like an extremely snarky comment on Church finances, that referred to Elder Packer as Packard has been (appropriately) removed by mods. Hence my comment above about Elder Packer as the LDS Adele Dazim and the lighthearted comments following.

  65. That makes sense, Ben. Sorry, everyone. I didn’t see the comment in question.

  66. Naismith, I think the LDS Philanthropies rep talked about how it was so overfunded they were supposed to discourage donations there and redirect them to other priorities. I would encourage you to call a LDS Philanthropies Office/Rep and ask directly – our reps name is Bradley Peterson.

    I know on the philanthropies website you can click on a specific project and set up auto-monthly donations to the cause of your choice, if you wanted so shift funds to the clean water project, for example.

  67. Ray,

    Sorry, my joke sounds even lamer when the comment I was making fun of is gone.

    But as an aside, it’s based on a true story: We had a new member give a talk in church a few years ago, and she quoted Apostle “Dallin Hoax” three or four times. A humorous but very understandable mistake that has stuck with me ever since.

  68. ken brown says:

    It is of great interest to me that the Saints in Great Britan and Canada know how their tithes and offerings are being spent because local law requires such disclosure by all charities but members in the US continue to be left completely in the dark. Why oh why those matters hidden from us when they weren’t in the past and aren’t to members outside the US. Forgive me. I really don’t mean to be judgmental but it would help me to be more generous if someone could tell me why the issue of how these sacred funds are being spent remains intentionally hidden in darkness . One of my friends tells me it is just evidence that the corruption of the holy church of God prophesied by Moroni in Mormon 8 has already come to pass.. I don’t necessarily agree but given the facts have a difficult time coming up with an adequate explanation . Others thoughts welcome

  69. ken brown, You asked for other thoughts. I’m okay with no disclosure. As I see it, once I make my voluntary tithing gift, the money is no longer mine. Amenable to the principle that every man should act in his appointed office, I’m happy to do my work in my own local church and to let those at the general church do theirs. This approach works for me.

  70. Left Field says:

    It was just kind of amusing that this guy knew the value of Elder Packer’s house and how he paid for it, but didn’t actually know his name.

  71. Maybe someone can answer a question for me. Its an honest one because I don’t know the answer. Some people claim that the the church’s “for profit” side (Deseret Industries, Ensign Peak) etc. don’t count as tithing because the church is funding it out of returns. My question has always been where the seed capital and money came from for the church’s for profit side. I assume that it was either from 1) selling of land/assets gained through the settlement of the valley 2) directly from tithing funds at some past point or 3) borrowing against the church’s credit which was based at least in part if not in full on its potential tithing stream. I now Quinn’s working on a new financial history of the church, but maybe someone can point me toward good material.. I personally, don’t see a distinction between the “sacredness” of tithes versus any returns from the church’s for profit businesses, but would like to understand where the underlying assets came from. I do wish the church was more transparent than it is, largely because in the long run I think it will be better. Opacity and large sums of money are asking for trouble no matter how righteous one thinks one is. However, I also don’t think there is some big, evil secret profit motive going on. I worry more about natural “mission drift” that occurs in organizations trying to balance these things and it seems transparency is a major tool for doing that. I am open to both critiques of classic humanitarian/non-profit techniques and to the promise of social enterprise and other newer approaches. Economic development and solving large social issues is hard and complex. I loved Ray’s comment about the tensions in extrapolating from Christ’s ministry. So thanks for the post!

  72. If anything, conversations like this should discourage some of the shoot-from-the-hip criticisms that the Church is too focused on making $$ and not enough on helping the poor. It’s a very complex situation, more than my economically-illiterate mind can safely navigate alone. Thanks for the post.

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