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Franklin Graham revisited

My local church (about which more later) has started its Operation Christmas Child initiative for 2010, so I went back to see what sort of data is available regarding Franklin Graham.

I have to admit I am inclined to take a dim view of second-generation Christian leaders; it’s much easier to see a son who follows his father as the leader of a successful ministry as someone who takes over the family business rather than someone who is called by God to follow in his father’s footprints, so I tend to wait for the father to die and look at the decisions the son makes rather than just assuming the standard God-called-Junior story is the best explanation. Because his father is still alive and by all accounts healthy I’m still waiting to see what Franklin Graham is going to be.

So needless to say I was not thrilled when about a year ago Tim Funk and Ames Alexander reported in the Charlotte Observer that Franklin Graham had taken $1.2 million in total compensation from Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in fiscal 2008 [link, link]. Note that this is total compensation; the troublesome amounts were justified by the BGEA board as catch-up contributions to his retirement fund as compensation for years he worked without pay for BGEA, and with the goal of freeing Graham to “work for free by age 70.” Graham was born in 1952, so he’ll turn 70 twelve years from now, in 2022.

His initial response was that this was just a misunderstanding, and in a later response two days later he reminded the public at large that he was called by God to fill his current positions:

In a memo to BGEA employees Friday, sent just before the end of the workday, he announced that he had asked the BGEA board of directors “to consider that I work for no compensation. I feel that God has called me to this ministry and that calling was never based on compensation.”

It’s a year later and if I understand Charity Navigator correctly they do not have EY/2009 data available for either charity. They have Graham listed as having received compensation from Samaritan’s Purse of more than $410,000 and from BGEA more than $260,000, a total of $684,000. Note that this is about half what the Observer reported, and doesn’t square with either of the articles above: it isn’t $1.2 million, and Graham still received pay from BGEA in 2008. For this reason I’m looking forward to seeing the 2009 numbers.

Charity Navigator rates charities as businesses, on the basis of Organizational Efficiency (dollars out vs. dollars out, roughly) and Organizational Capacity (growth of money in and money out, plus an estimate of how many years’ reserves the charity has), not as ministries. In other words, they can tell you how many cents of your donated dollar went to mission vs. overhead, but they can’t tell you if the ministry’s mission is worthwhile, squares with your values, etc. They currently give Samaritan’s Purse four stars (out of four), BGEA two, mostly because BGEA’s revenue shrank about 7.5% during 2008. Again, I’m looking forward to seeing how these two ministries have done since then. 2009-2010 have been rough years for lots of charities.

Finally, in August of 2010 Charity Navigator published a study of charity CEO compensation [PDF]. It deals with a number of interesting issues in fairly plain language. They break down their results according to size of charity, region of the country, and category. Since their threshold for a large charity is total expenses more than $13.5 million, and Franklin Graham heads two charities with expenses in excess of $402 million (Samaritan’s Purse about $294 million, BGEA $108 million) we can safely say they’re both large charities. Given their breakdown I would have to suggest that Graham’s compensation from Samaritan’s Purse is on the large end for large charities in the South ($416,000 vs. a median of $269,000) and his compensation from BGEA is just below the median ($267,000 vs. $269,000). I guess this leaves open the question of whether he should be drawing two salaries (this point was raised in the first Observer article above), and whether his compensation should be bigger because Samaritan’s Purse is a very big charity. The study points out that CEO compensation tends to rise with total expenses; Graham’s salary is below the median for Samaritan’s Purse’s cohort ($416,000 vs. median $430,000 for a cohort of 46 charities in the $200-500 million range), and below the median for BGEA’s cohort (median $336,104 for 139 charities $50-100 million, $378,942 for 81 charities $100-200 million).

A propos of nothing I might note that Samaritan’s Purse spent more money than my undergraduate alma mater, Liberty University, in 2008, by seventy or eighty million dollars.

Anyway, the final section of the study mentions charities paying executive salaries to multiple members of the same family; the Grahams don’t merit mention here (Franklin and Billy Graham each drew more than $200,000 from BGEA), but the TBN Crouches do: about $1.1 million among four people, as do the Jeremiahs of Turning Point: $355,000 among three family members.

In summary, I’m still concerned about Franklin Graham, but I have to admit that when put in context these numbers are at least arguable, rather than being the case-closed abomination I thought they were at first glance (or rather, if it’s an abomination it’s an unexceptional abomination). I’ll wait and see again once the 2009 numbers are available, and again once he is running both charities without parental oversight.

In a memo to BGEA employees Friday, sent just before the end of the workday, he announced that he had asked the BGEA board of directors “to consider that I work for no compensation. I feel that God has called me to this ministry and that calling was never based on compensation.”Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2009/10/10/994168/graham-take-away-bgea-pay.html#ixzz14QXa73Qe 

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