Sound a trumpet before thee

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
-Matthew 6:2 (also 3 Nephi 13:2)
The LDS church is very vocal about its charity around the world--helping out those in need, cleaning up after disasters, etc.  To be sure, these are commendable acts, and I am glad that the church does these things.  But it brags about it all the time.  Wherever they have these disasters, they have everyone helping wear the bright yellow Mormon Helping Hands T-shirt, so that everyone will know how wonderful Mormons are.  And they make sure to get lots of media coverage to let everyone know anytime they donate food or aid of any sort.  They have their reward.

But, now let us examine just how helpful the church really is.  It certainly puts on a good front of being helpful and caring about people.  So, let's see how much the church does help out.  According to its own report, the church spent a total of $1.1 billion dollars on humanitarian efforts over the period from 1985 to 2009.  This makes an average of $48 million per year.  That's wonderful.  That's more money then I'll ever be able to donate to humanitarian causes.  But, how much is it really?

The church does not publish its financial information in the United States, because it is not required to do so.  But, fortunately, it is required to do so in Canada.  So, we can use Canada as a guide.  In 2009, the church earned a total of $161 million dollars in revenue (in Canadian dollars).  How many members are in Canada? A little bit over 160,000.  So, that means that the average Canadian paid the church $900 (Canadian dollars).  The exchange rate in 2009 was roughly .80 USD per Canadian dollar, so converting to USD yields $720 donated to the church per member in Canada.  Now, just from this money alone, what that means is that the church spent only 37% of the money it raised in Canada on humanitarian efforts (and that's the total they spent, not just the amount that came from Canada).

37% isn't all that bad, right?  The church is pretty generous.  After all, it still has to maintain its buildings, pay for people to go to the bishop's storehouse, and other things, right?  So 37% on humanitarian efforts isn't bad.  Well, in the USA, the church has a little over 6 million members.  Assuming that the average American pays the same amount as the average Canadian ($720 USD per member for 2009), that would mean that the church raised $4.3 billion dollars from its American members.  Now, just to be fair to the church, let's say that US members are only half as faithful (or generous) as Canadian members, so the church only collected $2 billion from its members in the United States (I'm quite inclined to think the number's actually higher, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt).  Now, how much did the church spend on its humanitarian efforts?  2%.  A lousy 2% of its revenue (just from the USA, mind you) was spent on giving people aid.  The wonderful, charitable organization that always sounds its trumpet whenever it gives money or aid to people actually gives less than 2% of its revenue to such causes.  And, remember, the church has 14 million members worldwide, so the 6 million in America could easily be donating less than half of the church's revenue.  They might be making as much as $8 billion in a year.  (If only they'd release their financial information.  I wonder why they don't.)

Now, let's compare these statistics with an actual charitable institution.  Action Against Hunger is an organization based in New York, founded in 1979 with a focus on ending world hunger.  For the year 2009, they collected $40 million in revenue and spent $30 million on its various programs over the world designed to help people who are starving.  That's 75% of its revenue.  So, as far as percentages are concerned, Action Against Hunger is about 30 times more generous than the LDS church.  As far as sheer numbers are concerned, it gave $13 million less than the church, but its revenue was at least $2 billion less than the church's.

Now, let's talk about the number of people affected.  In April 2008, H. David Burton, who is the presiding bishop of the LDS church and as such oversees all of the church's humanitarian efforts, gave a talk in general conference about the church's humanitarian efforts.  In it, he stated that the church had helped 4 million people in 85 countries during the course of the year 2007.  Contrast that with Action Against Hunger, who this year has helped half a million people in the Horn of Africa alone.  Just in the month of August, they sent 215 tons of food assistance to 12,000 Somalians.  If Action Against Hunger had the same revenue as the church (which would be about 100 times its current revenue), it seems like it would have helped somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million people--12 times as much as the church helped.

Here's another one: Africare is an organization based in DC founded in 1970 with the express purpose of helping countries in Africa develop.  In the 40 years since they have been founded, they have delivered over $700 million in aid to Africa.  Now, this isn't as impressive as the $1 billion the church gave over the 25-year period, but let's put things into perspective.  For the fiscal year ending June 2010, Africare's revenue was not quite $55 million--not even 2% of what the LDS church's was.  How much did they spend on aid in that year?  Almost $56 million.  (Yes, the expenditures were $1 million more than revenue, but it's ok--they still have $6 million in net assets.)

I remember a few years ago, when some charity or other came up, Karen said that she'd rather donate to the church because she knows that they have no overhead, so all of the money is used for a good cause.  At the time, I agreed with her.  Now, however, I strongly recommend against giving any money to the LDS church, since there is little evidence that they spend any more than a minimal amount of money on humanitarian efforts.  What the church spends the rest of its billions of revenue on is entirely beyond me, but it obviously isn't going to helping out starving people or improving living conditions in underprivileged countries.  The church seems to be more interested in preventing gay people from marrying and building malls in Utah than in actually helping people who are dying of starvation.  (3.5 million children die of starvation every year--that's over 9,000 daily.)