$906 Million

The church recently released its 2021 Annual Report. The church’s Annual Reports detail its humanitarian and social safety-net endeavors.[fn1] These endeavors should come as no surprise: as in years past, the church has been tremendously active in providing food, clean water, education, and vaccinations, among other things. It engages in these activites on its own and it partners with other charitable organizations.

The aid it provides is unsurprising because it’s the same kinds of things the church has highlighted in previous Annual Reports.

But this year’s Annual Report differs from previous years in a notable way: it quantifies how much the church has spent on these activities. That’s right: in 2021, the church spent about $906 million providing various types of humanitarian and safety net aid.

That is a lot of money.[fn2]

And it’s worth highlighting and celebrating. It’s worth highlighting and celebrating in the first instance because it represents the church doing good in the world. Jesus didn’t limit Himself to raising people spiritually; He fed the hungry. He healed the sick.

But it’s also worth highlighting and celebrating because it represents they type of fiscal transparency that the church hasn’t really done in the last seventy years or so.

It’s not perfect disclosure, of course. But it gives us insight into where some of our donated dollars are going. It gives us insight into the scope of those donated dollars.[fn3]

So I applaud the church, both for the sheer value of the aid it has provided and for its openness with us about that amount. I hope that both church’s giving and its financial transparency continue.

And I hope that I can follow the church’s example and give generously to organizations that meet people’s fundamental needs.

[fn1] Colloquially, you’d probably call them the church’s charitable endeavors, which is fair. But I’m a tax and nonprofit professor, and the legal definition of “charitable” includes, among other things, religious activities. So I’m trying to be more specific here.

[fn2] I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that there’s already somebody plotting out their comment, ready to say that the church could spend even more on this type of aid. Which is, technically, true. That’s the cool thing about money: it’s fungible. It is literally true that any person and any institution could spend more on humanitarian aid than they do. But it’s also a deeply uninteresting assertion unless it’s broadly contextualized with a theory of how much is appropriate to spend. And that’s more work than any of us are going to do in a comment on a quick blog post.

[fn3] If, as the whistleblower asserted, the church brings in about $7 billion of tithing revenue annually, this represents and expenditure of about 13% of the church’s tithing revenue. And yes, I understand that the church has other revenue streams. Still, it gives us some sense of scope.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash


  1. I too appreciate the transparency.

    For me personally, I would like more transparency. I would also like to understand what the goal is with the money currently invested. The non-profit boards I participate on not only disclose the spend, but also disclose the goal of the organization and the goal with the money previously collected but not yet distributed.

    I’m not interested in telling the organization at the moment how to spend their money or how much should be spent. That’s their determination. But I would appreciate knowing, for example, whether they intend to continue to increase their current reserve, maintain it, or reduce it based on the organization’s goals and the resources needed to maintain those goals.

    Again, I truly appreciate the transparency. It’s a great start to something that hasn’t been shared previously. And I think we can provide even better transparency going forward.

  2. I’m with you Chadwick! The 2021 Annual Report certainly isn’t the endpoint. But it’s a pretty big step, going from seven decades with no financial disclosure to this, and, like you, I hope the church keeps going with ever-more-fulsome disclosures.

  3. lastlemming says:

    Your footnotes notwithstanding, I want to provide a different sense of scope.

    1. As a link posted by Ziff at ZD points out, when you compare this to the 2020 report it becomes clear that the vast majority of these funds are fast offerings. And what is not fast offerings is largely from the humanitarian fund. So I don’t think using tithing as the denominator makes sense. I would be inclined to add the entire amount into the denominator, making the percentage closer to 11. (And the 7 billion in tithing smells low to me.)

    2. The $906 million works out to less than $5 per member per month. No wonder Oaks felt the need to acknowledge the much greater contribution of nonmembers. (Note that I am not complaining that the Church is spending too little. I am complaining that the members contribute too little.)

  4. Thanks for highlighting this. I hadn’t dug into the numbers yet, but had been curious. Happy to see the church has made the numbers more open and that we are leaning in here.

  5. dclorenzen says:

    An aspect of wealth that is underappreciated is how difficult and time consuming it can be to effectively spend money. That is a tremendous amount of money for an organization to spend and would have taken a lot of work by many people to organize it effectively. Kudos to the Church for doing so much good in the world.

  6. lastlemming, that’s fair. I don’t know the scope of fast offerings or humanitarian funds (though, to be fair, I also don’t know whether the whistleblower was right about his number being tithing, was conflating all contributions, or was entirely off); I was using $7 billion as a really rough ballpark.

    Another way to think about the numbers is that the church is spending about 70% as much on its social safety net/humanitarian aid as the state of North Dakota does. (I was going to include a discursion on how, as a policy matter, I don’t like relying on private charity to meet public obligations but, since that’s the system we have, thank goodness nonprofits step up, but figured the extended version of that would be distracting.)

  7. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I’m with you in praising a new level of transparency. That’s always something to celebrate. As always, greater transparency would be nice. That’s a big number, but how do they get there? Fast offering money distributed as cash is easy, but what proportion of the $906M was cash assistance? How did they value the goods and food? Current market value or the cost to the Church in producing, transporting? How do they account for the volunteer hours used in production vs. the paid labor involved? I’m sure, as a tax attorney, you see wild valuations when reporting for tax deductions. This report isn’t for tax purposes but for public relations. Still, it may be vulnerable to the same issues.

    But still good to see… some… reporting.

  8. The Church seems to be practicing what it preaches, it will always “live within its means.” We would all be better off if we understood the 8th wonder of the world–Compound Interest, he who understands it earns it, he who doesn’t pays it.

  9. it's a series of tubes says:

    The $906 million works out to less than $5 per member per month.

    Given that the majority of members of record are inactive, and given that a significant amount of active members pay nothing, it’s actually some (significantly) larger number per actual paying member.

  10. Help me out. I want to rejoice in new transparency. But:

    Question #1: I don’t understand how the Church is counting some of the major items on its list as “expenditures.” (The Annual Report says $906M in “expenditures.”) Specifically, one of the major items listed as having been “expended” is “Humanitarian Projects.” Is the Church counting the hours Brother Johnson spent cleaning up after a natural disaster as a Church “expenditure”?

    Question #2: A majority of the categories of expenditures in the Report are items of relief that are almost exclusively limited to members of the Church (e.g., fast offerings, bishop’s storehouse orders). I’m not saying those aren’t charitable giving, in the general sense. But when a government/NGO/church/charity announces its philanthropy and charitable giving to the world, I think the assumption is that the money and goods and services are not limited to only their group of insiders. Is this assumption off base?

  11. Hunter, I think those are both really good questions, and I hope that, as the church becomes accustomed to more financial transparency, future iterations of this report will give more details that would answer your questions.

    To question #1, I’m assuming it’s not monetizing the time volunteers spend. I admit that I wondered that too, but the church lays out volunteer hours separately. And with humanitarian projects, while there are volunteers, there may also be paid coordinators. And at the very least, the church has to provide food, water, clothes, or whatever else it provides and has to transport those things. So there very well may be direct cash and in-kind expenditures associated with those projects.

    To question #2: some charitable groups do target a more limited subset of beneficiaries. I don’t see why expenditures on poor Mormons shouldn’t count as humanitarian expenditures (though, like I said earlier, I’d prefer that those expenditures be borne by the government). Again, though, fuller disclosure would let us know the comparative scope of different classes of expenditures.

    So I hope in the next couple years disclosure gets iterated to a point that it answers your questions. In the meantime, this is, imho, a good start.

  12. Thanks, Sam. Good thoughts. And yes, I can focus on good starts. Thank you.

  13. Thanks for pointing this out, Sam. Glad to see more disclosure, and I hope it increases. Even more glad to deduce that the brethren seem to be hearing members’ questions and concerns.

  14. Great points thus far in the conversation and thanks so much Sam for bringing this topic to our attention. It has been on my mind for a few weeks. I’ve read most of the pdf from latterdaysaints.org and I’m looking forward to reading your financial transparency article you linked in your footnotes.

    I was just curious if you could help me gain a better perspective on just three things:

    1. Speaking in 2015 at a commemoration of the 30-year history of humanitarian outreach by the church (marked by the 1985 invitation from President Kimball regarding our fast to help out with the famine in Ethiopia), Sharon Eubank mentioned that approximately a cumulative $1.2 billion had been spent on humanitarian needs over those three decades. But now (just six years later), the 2021 report you referenced right at the beginning and from which President Oaks also must have drawn from for his opening address last week, we are now putting out almost a billion in just one year.
    Do you get the sense that our definition of humanitarian outreach and funding may have evolved, or has the church ramped up that dramatically? (This sort of ties into Hunter’s comments above and your response, but the mathematics is also what I’m wondering.)

    2. Prior to this general conference two major donations were announced by the newsroom:
    a) $32 million donation to the United Nations World Food Programme to help the hundreds of millions of people suffering from food insecurity in nine different nations (touted as in the newsroom as “the faith’s largest one-time contribution to a humanitarian organization to date) and
    b) the $5 million donation to UNICEF to help with childhood malnutrition projects in various nations.
    Both excellent efforts to be sure, but I was wondering Sam if it would be of value to point out that the $11 million we donated as members for the Ethiopian famine back in 1985 is equivalent to about $31 million in today’s dollars (CPI calculator).
    Do you think it might be time for another all-out-effort on our part as members? My biased thoughts would be that our collaboration could potentially be in the hundreds of millions in this new era.

    3. Finally, I cannot seem to find any clarification on why we are sometimes pushing the $100 billion nest egg (a claim that the whistleblower made to the Washington Post) into discussions regarding financial transparency, yet the SEC report typically is showing that Ensign Peak Advisors has roughly $50 billion invested in stocks (give or take a margin, depending on the market).
    I know you have interviewed with a few news agencies on the issue and was wondering if you knew why the disparity in the two figures?

    Thanks for any feedback and I apologize for the lack of brevity in my three questions (always a tug-of-war between brevity and clarity I guess).

  15. Hi Richard; interesting questions. With the caveat that I have no firm answers, I can always make uniformed guesses!

    To your first question: I suspect both of your suggestions are correct. I would not be surprised to find out that the church had ramped up its humanitarian aid, especially in light of the worldwide pandemic. And it’s clearly possible that it has shifted its definition of what counts. That’s the kind of thing that sustained disclosure will help us understand. Was 2021 a blip? Or is it the new normal? We’ll eventually see.

    To your second: thank you. Now that you mention it, I have vague memories of the fast for Ethiopia. I think there is value in coming together as a church to fast and pray and donate on behalf of a cause, and I certainly wouldn’t be averse to repeating it.

    And to your third: I’m not a securities reg person, but glancing through, the SEC puts out a (700+-page) document listing securities that need to be disclosed on a Form 13f. They’re largely (though not entirely) US equity securities traded on public exchanges. So to the extent that Ensign Peak Advisors holds debt securities or non-US securities, those may not be subject to reporting. (Again, if there are securities attorneys reading this, feel free to correct me.) I also suspect that the down market has affected the church’s portfolio and that, perhaps, that $100 billion number wasn’t entirely accurate (though for most purposes, the difference between $50 billion and $100 billion isn’t super material).

  16. Blueagleranch says:

    The report is both fascinating and inspiring. I noticed that there are two categories that are not included. One would be the administrative costs for raising, administering, and distributing the funds. Guidelines for non-profits suggest that those costs should be around or less that 35% of charitable expenditures. The Red Cross’s administrative costs are usually around 11%. While a group that does a lot of television or direct mail advertising like the March of Dimes comes in around 32%. The Church does not indicate that administrative overhead number is included in the $906B number. I am assuming that is because it would be so difficult to separate out what percentage of Church administrative costs were solely devoted to humanitarian projects.

    The second category is donations to charitable groups, many of them local. These are pretty visible in Utah, since other non-profits report major donors in their publicity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation is often listed in reports for the Utah Symphony, domestic violence shelters, and other local groups in Utah. Similar donations to local non-profits are made in Areas around the world. A good example would be the large donation to the new American Indian museum in Oklahoma a few years ago. In my quick review of the report, I didn’t see a category for this group of donations, perhaps because many of them, such as the symphony and museum donations cited above, would not be considered humanitarian.

  17. doyleja71 says:

    Definitely a good start. However, when you consider the Ensign Peak Advisors fund gains at a rate of $24M/day, it’s clear the LDS Church could do more in local communities to address housing and food insecurity. This could be done in addition to the worldwide humanitarian effects without a significant financial impact.

  18. Hey doyleja71, check out my [fn2]. Of course the church could spend more of its money elsewhere; that’s literally the definition of “fungibility.” But it’s also a relatively meaningless concept unless you provide some kind of framework for deciding how to allocate its spending beyond the idea that it could shift money somewhere.

    And, while it’s well beyond the scope of this post, I’m curious where you get the idea that EPA is making $24 million per day. Its reportable assets were down as of its most recent reporting period. That could mean it transferred assets to the church. It could mean that it has shifted assets into nonreportable assets (which would make sense in a down stock market with rising interest rates). But I suspect that its investments aren’t currently providing that level of return.

  19. Paul Weitzel says:

    Sam, you’re right in you Sec Reg analysis. Great analysis all around.

    Also, Hunter, I would also love more accounting footnotes. Elder Oakes clarified slightly in his Oct 2022 conference talk about what is and isn’t counted: “Our 2021 expenditures for those in need in 188 countries worldwide totaled $906 million—almost a billion dollars. In addition, our members volunteered over 6 million hours of labor in the same cause.
    “Those figures are, of course, an incomplete report of our giving and helping. They do not include the personal services our members give individually as they minister to one another in called positions and voluntary member-to-member service. And our 2021 report makes no mention of what our members do individually through innumerable charitable organizations not formally connected with our Church.”

  20. Hunter,
    I know from personal experience that the Bishops Storehouses in Arizona donate vast amounts to local food banks, soup kitchens, and asylum seeker shelters. These donations are an important part of the Church’s systematic and efficient partnering with other NGOs.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for raising this, Sam. When DHO announced this, I was shocked both that they gave a number and by how huge that number was. I appreciate the discussion above about the nuances of the disclosure. My immediate thought in the moment was that they knew there was a need to do some kind of disclosure, and so they wanted to make this initial public disclosure over the pulpit a rockem sockem smash mouth number. It will be interesting to see how these disclosures evolve over time.

  22. It is refreshing to read a positive post about the church. We need more.

  23. JFK:
    Church official website
    Deseret News
    Church News

    There are lots and lots and lots of positive posts about our church. It is “refreshing” to read one, suggesting that positive posts are rare? It may be that you aren’t going to the right places.

  24. President Oaks specifically mentioned a different number of hours (6 million) for service, so I don’t think that the hours were included in the money and are not “monetized”.

  25. I have found it somewhat troubling to have Utah repeatedly listed as the state whose residents are the most generous in charitable contributions, while knowing that the majority of the “charity” is the donated tithes and offerings to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    While such giving may not be a bad thing, it is linked to members’ obtaining and maintaining a temple recommend, thus, not completely (or even mostly) what many would consider to be motivated by true charity.

    Furthermore, how likely is it that members’ giving in other needed, highly worthwhile areas is significantly reduced because 10%+ is already a strain on the budget of many, and feels satisfactory to others that could contribute more elsewhere?

    How does the totality of one’s giving being given to The Church of Jesus Christ answer to the scripture:
    D&C 58:26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

    I wonder if we could find ways for members’ donations to causes we feel invested in could count as at least a portion of our tithing. After all, in his great parable, Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:37–40.).

  26. Raymond Winn says:

    I must agree with Sasso’s assertion that outflow for tithing results in no outflow for real humanitarian efforts (at least in my own thinking). My employer has an annual drive that allows us to dedicate a portion of our paycheck to any charity on its approved list. Each year when the drive asked us to contribute to one or more of said charities, I said to myself, “self, you already are committed to 10% in that area; that is all you want to commit to.”

  27. Raymond, everybody has their own charitable budget. But to be clear, that’s not a universal reaction.

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