Is the LDS Church Hurting for Cash?

Is the LDS Church Hurting for Cash?

Recently two stories broke that show a clear dichotomy within the Church. The first article of interest came from the Church’s newsroom and touted the generous gift of $3M to the United Nations. While every dollar counts, this seems like a fairly small donation considering the substantial sums the church receives each month in fast offerings.

The next article came from the Dallas Morning News discussing the recent acquisition by a company called Property Reserve Inc. which happens to be a wholly owned entity of the LDS Church. The structure is a little more complicated than that since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is actually just a DBA of Intellectual Reserve Inc.

Mormonism101

Regardless, these two news stories made me want to actually pontificate a little on how much the Church actually receives in donations and where the bulk of that money is likely going. I discovered some major surprises in my work and I hope that you’ll find the information both useful and informative. A key caveat to this work–it is pure guesswork; however, I am an experienced finance professional. I work with spreadsheets and large corporate figures all day every day. So my guesswork, while just that, is at least somewhat educated. I will walk you through my process.

First if you want a copy of my spreadsheet, click here: Church Stats.

To begin I found the membership statistics of the major countries in which the church is found. This included North America, Australia, Taiwan, much of Europe, and half of South America. I then applied some math to the remaining balance to estimate a total active member tally complete with tithing and fast offering estimates. Below is the table from the spreadsheet, that shows the totals. The first big surprise is that the church brings in about $5B a year in donations. This sounds like a lot, but is it really?

Church Stats

The Church runs 3 BYU universities, BYU, BYUI and BYUH. As well as LDS Business College. They also have the CES network of seminaries and institutes around the World. Many of these have buildings with associated staff and maintenance. To obtain a decent comparable on what it would cost to run a BYU university I looked up the financial statements for the University of Utah.

The University of Utah has roughly $3.5B in expenses each year, but almost half of that is related to running the hospital. Since BYU doesn’t have a hospital, I reduced the core cost of BYU Provo to $1.5B. The other two Universities are substantially smaller, do not have an athletics program and generally require less funding. So combined I assumed $3B or 50% of BYU Provo per school. Finally I assumed LDS Business College requires about $200M in funding.

These schools do have tuition payments to help cover some of the cost, but as best as I can calculate, the tuition is only a drop in the bucket, and these schools combined run a major deficit. I’m estimating around $2.5 to $2.7B.

The next major program to consider is the global missionary program. Fortunately missionaries are “volunteers”, but in reality many missionaries cannot pay their way as requested by the Church. Members around the world help make up the difference through the general missionary fund, or even more likely the tithing funds. There are approximately 80K full-time missionaries, and I estimate the program runs a deficit of around $300M. I’m assuming the average missionary contributes $150 a month to the fund, but requires $500 a month. This $500 would cover travel, food, housing etc.

After we consider these two major financial drains, I then moved on to the wards and stakes around the World. Each has a budget, and each meets in some sort of meetinghouse. There are 30K units and around 3K stakes. Assuming the American wards and Stakes get 3x the international units, I came up with a total cost of about $800M for all chapel maintenance, ward and stake budgets, and temple maintenance and construction. This would include the utility costs of these facilities.

The next big expenditure is the headquarters. The church has a very large building full of professionals who likely make a fair wage. I’m estimating there are roughly 4,000 to 5,000 employees of the Church in Salt Lake. The cost of wages, with taxes and benefits, would be around $500M. With travel, supplies, utilities, and maintenance I estimate the total cost is roughly $800M. Somewhere in this amount is the cost of legal support by the major Salt Lake law firms ($25M-$50M).

Lastly, the Church’s network of CES employees and paid general authorities, likely adds up to another $275M. I’m just guessing that the church has roughly 1,000 CES employees and 100 paid GAs. I’m also assuming that the CES buildings around the world consume about $100M in cash in either development or maintenance costs.

We’re throwing around a lot of numbers here, let me summarize so far:

So between the Church’s donations and the core expenditures, the church is at a near break-even. This would make me very nervous if I were at the head of the corporation. Fortunately for the Church it has other investments to supplement its income.

The Church likely has a major corpus of investment funds, and we see stories of their real estate assets on a nearly monthly basis. So these funds are all being used to help defray the costs of losses or other activities going on in the church. Notice that none of the numbers above included humanitarian gifts. Assuming the church is being extra careful for a reason, I’m guessing that humanitarian aid comes last and is limited by the amount the church feels it can safely give. This would explain the $30M-$40M per year max.

One other consideration with these calculations. The Church can easily be severely impacted by a major loss in one of its investments. For example if Ensign Peak Investments were to swing to a major loss on a bad investment strategy related to mortgage-backed securities, this would impact the Church’s other entities.

Finally I think the Church is very concerned with the loss of members in the USA. A 10% drop in membership represents upwards of $500M per year in proceeds. $500M quickly flips the equation from a profit to a loss on the core church functions. Perhaps this is why the Church is scrambling to find income producing assets.

What do you think? Am I way off?

UPDATE

The Church has published a very short essay in their Gospel Topics regarding the Church finances. You can see the article here. The final quote is the most informative:

“. . . The combined income from all of these business interests is relatively small and would not keep the work going for longer than a very brief period”

 

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3 thoughts on “Is the LDS Church Hurting for Cash?

  1. Impressive analysis! But there aren’t 15M active members in the Church. The number is less than 5M.

    In 2002, the Church commissioned BYU to perform a world-wide count of active members. It took 2 years to complete and the results were leaked to the Salt Lake Tribune in 2004. (I believe the Church attorneys had the SLT remove the study from their archives because it was a copyright infringement). The study revealed that there were only 4.5M active members world-wide.

    With all of the members that have left the Church in the past decade, that number should still hold in spite of the new members of record.

    OOOPS – I didn’t see that you had already accounted for ACTIVE MEMBERS!

    EXCELLENT ANALYSIS!!!

    1. Thanks for your feedback! Yes I think the active numbers as outlined are dwindling at around 30%, so we’re aligned. The big question I’ve received is, what about the for-profit entities. I believe they are all struggling a bit. Real estate is a long-term investment, and requires a lot of cash up front. The church has a policy of no debt, and so funds these major acquisitions itself. City Creek we know was $1.3B. The church lost roughly $1B related to the 2008 mortgage-backed securities crisis (thus the restructuring of Beneficial Life), and has not managed to start developing the land in Florida. Add to it the increase in missionaries and the reduction in active American Mormons and I think the Church has a perfect storm brewing.

  2. A coup certainly doesn’t demand, said Lyon, a Brigham Young University professor of Latin American literature and culture, “you have to send all the missionaries home.” Any evacuation order must be approved by church headquarters, he said. “Once or twice I got a call from Salt Lake City, with people saying they had heard something worrisome or that there was going to be a problem.”

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