173: LDS Finances: What happens to our donations? Chris Mace

In the United States LDS Church finances are not transparent because of its legal status as a corporation sole. This is not the case in certain Commonwealth nations where the church is generally registered as a charitable trust.  As a charitable trust there is a legal imperative to publish its annual financial records.  In this podcast Chris Mace (Yorkshire) provides an overview of the publically available financial reports from Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.

While clearly not an analysis of Salt Lake City’s books it is indicative of some interesting patterns in the church’s spending priorities and charitable interests.

Comments

comments

21 Comments

  1. Bob Birks

    1. Most interesting. Could Chris be encouraged to post the data he has gathered somewhere accessible on-line?

    2. I understand one of the main reasons for the shift in the amount of tithing tax-rebatable in Australia was that at that point the Australian Church entity finished paying back the monies it had notionally borrowed over preceding decades from the US Church entity to fund the construction and maintenance of Chapels and other Church buildings. (This accounting for a substantial proportion of the LDS Church’s expenses in Oz, for ‘charitable’ purposes.)

  2. Hedgehog

    Fascinating discussion. Thanks, Gina and Chris. And yes please for more transparency.
    Some points to add – since 2006 churches in the UK with charitable status have been required to show public benefit – I suggested in a post in 2013 that the majority of the public benefit of the LDS church derived from its family history centres – other than missionary work it seems to be by far the biggest interface with the general public (https://wheatandtares.org/2013/07/04/the-church-in-the-community/).
    I don’t believe salaries in the UK have kept up with inflation. From all I’ve read salaries have dropped in real terms over the last 8 years, so I’m not sure where Chris’s conclusions come from regarding the comparison of tithing receipts v. salaries/inflation in the UK..
    On the London Mission Office, that’s in the Hyde Park chapel building, which is indeed in Kensington – the mission president has a flat nearby (or did 30 years ago… I assume it’s the same flat today).
    I’d love some clarity on what happens to fast offering donations once they leave the ward – in my recent tithing settlement interview we were told our ward has excess funds, and the Bishop wasn’t at all clear on what happened to that excess. Could the local wards not use that excess to contribute to a local food bank?
    Really ticked off about the lack of spending from the humanitarian aid and perpetual education funds donated in the UK. What is happening to those funds?

  3. Quentin

    I agree that the salary distribution in Canada sounds like what one would expect of a corporation, but I don’t have any sense of whether that is normal for a church of similar size. If there are other churches or religious charities of similar size in Canada, I would be interested to see how their salary distributions compare.

    When I was growing up, I remember that ward budget was an additional line on the tithing slip. I never experienced it, but I’ve heard that bishops would suggest a contribution amount to families in the ward. I think it was around 1990 that we switched to supporting ward budgets out of tithing funds, with the rationale being that tithing could now support it where it couldn’t previously, and because it ensured a fairer distribution of funds for operation of wards (my wife remembers her relatively wealthy ward having steak dinners when she was young). If there are any listeners old enough to have experienced the old system, I’d be interested to know what budget contributions were relative to tithing, to see how that compares to the current fraction of tithing funds used to support the wards.

  4. Deg

    Normally I like the tone of the podcast, but this time it felt overly smug. While I am for more transparency, I don’t feel resources are spent irresponsibly.

    Hopefully funds can be used more fairly in the future.

  5. Jon G.

    I’ve appreciated this podcast. Financial transparency is a critical responsibility of all non-profits, and this should be expected from the Church. Anything less than full disclosure should cause us to openly question the use of our tithing funds.

    1. Gina Colvin

      Thanks Jon! I agree that it would serve the church well to consider financial transparency as a community benefit rather than a community cost. If they are worried that Mormons won’t like their disbursement of tithing funds then they should start by asking themselves why they are spending their money like they are. They need to depend on Mormon congregations to be HQ’s conscience rather than their ignorant cheer leaders.

  6. Danna

    Great podcast! I would LOVE to see more of those resources used locally. Even though I attended BYU briefly, the fact that it is subsidized and only a small fraction of CURATED students can attend, the benefits are limited. Additionally, the 4 billion dollar mall in Salt Lake was a turning point for me. And the 500 million acre farm in Florida. There are so many opportunities to contribute to our own communities. The time has come to give more of that autonomy to the local shared leadership. My frustrations have always been how tight fisted people are when funding programs. The Young Women’s programs are always underfunded compared to the boys. The process of fixing just simple things like sagging curtain rods or 20 year old curtains in the RS room. Is ridiculous. People I know who serve dental missions in Central America scrape by with second hand dental supplies. The list goes on and on and on. Transparency and reform. Bring it.

  7. David Macfarlane

    It sounds to me like the church found a legal way, starting in 2014, to funnel millions in unused tithing dollars to BYU simply because a few Canadians perhaps happen to attend. Am I oversimplifying?

    1. Jon G. it was my impression from the discussion that they already did that through the backchannel of routing the money via the individual wards in a so-called “refund”, money that the individual wards never saw and supposedly “gave” to BYU as a charitable donation?

  8. Roy

    I appreciate the information … the glimpse through a glass darkly at the Corporate Sole of LDS finances as reflected in its foreign colonies – I mean feeder “charities” – paying tribute – I mean tithing.

    —- Warning: More snarkiness ahead —-

    I was gobsmacked by the Canadian Saints’ sanctifying $63 to $87 million a year to for the sake of BYU. This is extraordinary.

    There are 27,000 BYU undergraduates. The full-time tuition for a semester is $2650 per semester. Let’s do the math …

    27,000 x $2650 = $71 million.

    So, the Canadian Saints cover half the yearly tuition for ALL BYU undergraduates. Those Cougars and Cougarettes should be sending them thank you notes. Wait … they’re paying tuition too!

    Could it be some kind of money laundering scheme? Is half-billon dollars passing through BYU every decade, emerging from the other end of this Canadian charity loophole miraculously transfigured into “fungible” cash?

    And even if it were all going to BYU, would that be any less grotesque? This wealth is being disproportionately funneled to children of Mormon elite (relatively speaking) – subsidizing the future professional earning potentials of middle- to upper-middle class white kids (50% from UT, CA and ID) whose social advantages gave them an edge in a competitive admissions process in the first place!

    Now, on to the grotesque amounts of money devoted to temples.

    I live near Philadelphia where the estimated cost of the recently completed temple was $100 million.Talk about paying $6000 per live baptism – how much is this for a dead one? (counting repeats not allowed). Why not feed and house the homeless men and women schlepping all their belongings past its gates?

    As for missionaries doing the baptisms, I assume that $6000 doesn’t include their parents’ out-of-pocket costs. Let’s see, 74,000 missionaries x $5000/year = $370 million/year. Chris, check this math … $4 trillion ($4,000,000,000,000) per decade.

    These numbers “make reason stare.” One’s got to wonder whether it’s really about saving souls, living or dead (Jesus: “Let the dead the dead bury the dead”?) I don’t think so. Whether conscious or unconscious, my “spitball” opinion is that it’s about satisfying a perverse need for status in the eyes of the world, that special chosen feeling. The public posturing of the GAs is obvious. But I also see it how local members unabashedly gush over their new glorious temple.Press them on their apparent infatuation with a building and they deflect your attention to the “glory to God in the highest.” But their behavior smells like a febrile effort to battle their stagnant, parochial, and banal local ward lives by basking in the glow of a conspicuous token of institutional fitness and legitimacy.

  9. Halfinhalfout

    Thanks for the podcast. My take away from the discussion is that even when there are public records there is no real transparency. My own feeling is that it is immoral of the church to all too often extract the widow’s mite and implicitly preach a prosperity gospel; However in our ward (UK) last year tithing income was £70k and spending on welfare was £50k – when I found this out I was relieved to see the church was ‘doing good’ with its money in this little part of the vineyard. And it is quite a different story to the portrayal of a rent-seeking corporation that hoards its money and only denotes something like $5 a year per member to charity. We are neither a prosperous, nor poor ward – so I wouldn’t be too surprised if the situation is quite normal – at least here in the UK. I wonder if the church is between a rock and hard place: even if it reveals the amount it spends on welfare, there will be those members who will complain their money is going to others (I’m thinking of those who see poverty as a sign of a lack of moral fibre/industriousness), then there would still be the accusation that the mormons really only look after their own. So perhaps the situation is not quite as black and white as it might appear, and the church spends a far greater proportion on doing good than a lot of us in the blogosphere etc. give it credit for. Regardless IMO the church needs to be transparent for good or bad, warts’n’all – I think there’s a degree of irony, if not hypocrisy that we are expected to attend a tithing settlement and be candid, while the church is content to be opaque on its financial matters.

    I believe the brethren are well intentioned and believe sincerely that tithing, as it is, has a positive cost benefit analysis. However, observing those around me (members and non-members) I find that hard to believe. And I think the brethren’s world view is skewed by their own professional success – yes, I’m equating tithing with financial blessings, and I know there is the argument that ‘these are not the droids/blessings you are looking for’.

    Tithing seems to be a heads I win, tails you lose. When something financially advantageous happens: it’s a tithing blessing; when something financially negative happens: that’s life.

    I could go on moaning especially as I am not exactly young and up until very recently have been paying tithing and student loans…

    One thing is for sure I’d feel a whole lot better about giving donations to the church if I knew it was being put to good use.

    1. Tbanks for the comment.

      Regarding the welfare spend in your ward, I would be shocked if it was as high as £50k. The entire welfare budget for the whole of the UK in 2015 was £1.6m. This is an average of under £5000 per unit for the entire year, so £50k seems extremely unusual if that figure is correct.

    1. Gina Colvin

      I’m afraid that the Canadian Revenue Agency, the Charitable Commission of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and the Australian Tax Department don’t see it like that. Donated money to charitable trusts need to expended in such a way to earn public trust – hence the need for the publication of their returns. However, if the church wants to forgo its tax free status then maybe we can pretend there’s no moral obligation attached to its use.

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