Franklin Graham’s salary has been an ongoing issue in the Christian church. The Charlotte Observer broke the story in 2009 and again in 2015. In 2016 the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association changed its tax status from non-profit to an association of churches with the IRS. Its my belief that Franklin Graham is doing this in response to the Charlotte Observer stories about his salary. Franklin Graham’s behavior illustrates why 501(c)(3) status for Christian churches and ministries must end in the United States.
“Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”
Samaritan’s Purse Founder Bob Pierce
“It doesn’t matter that some board members wanted him to get money again. He’s a big boy. He could have said, ‘no.’“
Pablo Eisenberg, Georgetown University Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership on Graham accepting money again.
“This organization has earned the trust and prayers of those who support it with their financial and prayer support for more than 60 years and continues to be as transparent as possible.”
Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss defending the “financial integrity” of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
This is a post I wanted to do last year, but I never got around to writing it. I became too busy researching and writing other articles. I want to ask some hard questions and look into a ministry that is quite popular. After all many churches that I have been involved in have participated in “Operation Christmas Child.” There are many issues going on with Franklin Graham that I hope will give Christians and churches pause and I hope they will practice due diligence about what they will support. You should note that due to fraud, waste and abuse this Christian believes that 501(c)(3) status should end in the United States for many churches and ministries. For more you should read “Should 501(c)(3) Status End for Churches? If Evangelical Christianity Can Not Police Itself Against Criminal Activity, Fraud, and Waste…then Yes 501(c)(3) Status Should End.”
Who is Franklin Graham and What is Samaritan’s Purse?
Franklin Graham is the son of Billy Graham and he has been an extremely polarizing figure. His comments on Iran, politics, the Iraq War and so much more are deeply controversial, and yet while I disagree with Graham profusely those issues are not the goal of this post. My goal today is to look at his salary and lack of financial transparency. Franklin Graham began conducting events for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in 1989. He then became the CEO of the organization in 2000 and its president in 2002. After Franklin Graham became a Christian in 1974 he joined Bob Pierce, who founded Samaritan’s Purse on a six week mission. When Pierce died in 1979 Graham became the president of Samaritan’s Purse and in the course of time its CEO. Samaritan’s Purse does international humanitarian relief around the globe. The organization was founded in 1970. To read more about the organization’s history you can do so right here.
Of all the ministries in Samaritan’s Purse the most popular and well known one is “Operation Christmas Child.” “Operation Christmas Child” began in 1990 when David Cooke and his wife created shoes boxes with gifts and material to be delivered to young children in Romania. In the course of time businesses, churches, ministries and other organizations also supported the venture. As of April 2015 over 124 million shoe boxes have been delivered through this program.
Charlotte Observer and Franklin Graham Salary Issue in 2009
In 2009 the United States was in the midst of a financial crisis. The bubble had burst many Americans were thrown out of work, and homes were being foreclosed on in record numbers. The financial crisis was referred to as “The Great Recession.” It was during this time that the Charlotte Observer started to asks some hard questions about Franklin Graham’s salary. At the time Franklin Graham was paid $669,000 from the BGEA and he also drew $535,000 from Samaritans’ Purse. Together he was making over $1,000,000 in combined salary. Plus that probably doesn’t include profits from books or any other sales. By the way can anyone tell me if Franklin Graham accepts honoriums for speaking? In 2009 the Charlotte Observer broke the story and those in the know about salaries and payment in non profits were horrified by how much money Franklin Graham was drawing. It raised a number of concerns. As a result the salary had dropped to $120,205. But in response Franklin Graham then told his staff that he will give up his BGEA association pay. You can read about that in “Franklin Graham Moves to Address Concerns about his $1.2 Million Pay Packages.” Graham stated that his calling to ministry is not based on compensation. In 2010 the salary had dropped to $10,630 which allegedly was to pay health care and for use of a car.
In 2011 the BGEA Board of Directors wanted to resume paying Franklin Graham the salary he gave up. Please remember he was still drawing a salary from Samaritan’s Purse as well. Franklin Graham agreed to draw a salary form the BGEA. And over the next four years his salary rose again from $115,307 to $258,667. This all occurred I believe when Franklin Graham was drawing a good chunk of change from Samaritan’s Purse simultaneously.
Franklin Graham’s Salary Issue Re-Emerges with the Charlotte Observer
In 2015 the Charlotte Observer again inquired about Franklin Graham’s financial salary. Franklin Graham’s high pay was revealed in this Observer article called “Franklin Graham takes pay he once gave up.” Graham’s compensation from Samaritan’s Purse made him one of the highest paid CEOs of any international relief organization. This information came from Guidestar which tracks and monitors non profits organizations. Between BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse in 2014 Franklin Graham made close to $880,000. When the Charlotte Observer contacted Franklin Graham for a statement, Graham spurned the newspaper. C. William Pollard who heads the compensation committee also refused to speak to the Observer. The only one who would speak to the newspaper is Mark DeMoss who is the spokesman for Franklin Graham. DeMoss said that Graham “never said he would give up his pay forever. He chose to give up his salary and retirement benefits for a season, in part because of the national economy in 2009.” Again those involved with finances and non-profits were deeply disturbed with the credibility and integrity of the finances at the BGEA. To my knowledge I don’t think Franklin Graham gave up one of his salaries or cut what he was making this time around. Its was during this time that another deeply disturbing situation emerged that should give Christians deep pause about financially supporting the BGEA or Samaritan’s Purse.
Changing the 501(c)(3) Status for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
On September 15, 2015 the BGEA approached the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and asked for a determination letter to reclassify them from a non-profit to an “association of churches.” Under the association of churches the BGEA will not have to provide a 990, nor will they have to disclose their finances in detailed audited statements. On November 18, 2015 the IRS granted the BGEA its request and reclassified them as an “association of churches.” When the Non Profit Times learned of this development they approached the BGEA association had requested a statement, and DeMoss’s public relations firm provided the following explanation as to why the BGEA changed its status:
*The ministry had been operating as an association of churches for years, as virtually everything is done in cooperation with local churches;
* There are religious exemptions in the federal tax code that only apply “associations of churches” and other church organizations, including protections of employers from government interference in matters relating to employment, which BGEA believes protect the ministry’s religions liberty rights.
* Filing the annual tax form has become “increasingly onerous, consuming a substantial amount of ministry time and financial resources” throughout the year.
Currently I believe that Samaritan’s Purse is also in the process of trying to reclassify itself in the same way that the BGEA has done. What this boils down to is the 990 form. According to the Non Profit Times the 990 allows these key changes:
Form 990 and audited financial statements differ in a few key areas, including disclosure of executive compensation, which is found in the annual Form 990 but not detailed in audited financial statements. The Charlotte, N.C.-based organization continues to file an independent financial audit each year and posts a consolidated financial statement on its website. The ministry also remains a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
You can read more about this in the Non Profit Times “IRS Reclassifies Billy Graham’s Organization“, Religion News “IRS changes status of Billy Graham’s ministry” and the Colorado Springs Gazette’s “IRS changes status of Billy Graham’s ministry.”
My Concerns About Financial Transparency
While I disagree quite a bit about what Franklin Graham has said and many of the outrageous comments made over the years; this behavior over his finances and his lack of financial transparency is disturbing. To be honest I find it alarming that a CEO of a Christian organization would be making so much and drawing from two income streams. His salary is obscene, and while compensation issues like this happen in similar organizations like the Red Cross or other financial scandals, Franklin Graham acting like this is inexcusable. I reject the notion that the change of financial status is due to what DeMoss said in his statement. I think the key is the constant news stories by the Charlotte Observer. I believe Franklin Graham is irritated at the salary issue popping up and this move is a attempt to hide their finances. Franklin Graham illustrates why the 501(c)(3) status needs to change or be ended for churches and ministries. All the 501(c)(3) status is doing is enabling and creating corruption. Churches and ministries are not using it to worship God freely, they are using the 501(c)(3) status to profit and enrich themselves from it. Currently Franklin Graham is trying to get the IRS to change the status of Samaritan’s Purse. Its bad enough that he draws and obscene and high salary for a non-profit such as Samaritan’s Purse that is a Christian ministry. My question is this…why are Christians tolerating this behavior? This raises another key issue for me and its this one. Should Christians and churches continue to support “Operation Christmas Child?” I am not opposed to the evangelism aspect, what I am concerned about is Franklin Graham’s financial salary issues that keep popping up over and over. Is it wise to give money to such an organization? Is it smart for Christians to support an organization especially if its not being transparent and dealing with trust issues? Think of the obscene salary that Franklin Graham is making at Samaritan’s Purse? What could $400,000 do in Africa alone in regards to wells, clean water, proper waste disposal, a medical clinic, etc… I am not saying he has to live poor either but that amount of money that is given is indeed over the top. But here is another challenge to Christians…why don’t you give your money to charities that you can actually see the results to? Or ones that that have a proven track record and a CEO who has a more reasonable salary. For example in researching this article I found good things about the Salvation Army. I will let you guys post your comments below and maybe list a couple of charities that you support and why. Ministries and organizations need to be especially transparent when it comes to money. Christians need to practice critical thinking skills and should be asking the hard questions when it comes to issues like BGEA, and Samaritan’s Purse and its finances. That’s it guys as always I love you.