Samaritan’s Purse Amasses Over a Billion Dollars in Assets, Raising Red Flags

By Sarah Einselen
Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, speaks to reporters during a 2020 relief mission to The Bahamas (Photo via Facebook / Samaritan's Purse)

Public documents show Samaritan’s Purse has spent hundreds of millions less than it raised in recent years and has amassed assets exceeding a billion dollars. This massive reserve is raising red flags among nonprofit experts and charity watchdogs. They say nonprofit groups are supposed to use their funds to fund their mission, not fill their bank accounts.

According to Samaritan’s Purse’s IRS Form 990 for 2020, the organization brought in $894 million in total revenue in the 2020 fiscal year and spent only $670 million—a $224 million difference.

In 2021, the difference was starker. The organization headed by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, brought in over a billion dollars, according to its audited financial statements. But Samaritan’s Purse spent just $715 million—almost $300 million less than it received.

The audited financials also show Samaritan’s Purse ended 2021 with over $1.2 billion in net assets. Nearly half of that was in cash or cash equivalents.

Andy Rowell, a ministry leadership professor at Bethel Seminary, recently called attention to the organization’s apparent profits on Twitter.

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In an interview with The Roys Report, Rowell said, “I think I would, as a donor, want to know—how is it that there are emergencies all the time that are crucial in our world and you’ve seen fit to save that much money?”

Rowell said he is not an accountant. But he’s followed Samaritan’s Purse for a few years and believes there’s a pattern of spending a lot less than it brings in.

Howard “Rusty” Leonard, a finance expert who founded watchdog group MinistryWatch, noted that Samaritan’s Purse has “a profit margin that rivals the best companies.”

“It seems like they’re bringing in money faster than they’ve been able to figure out a way to spend,” Leonard added.

He suggested the ministry may have budgeted based on conservative expectations of how much the organization would raise, then beat those expectations handily.

A spokesman for Samaritan’s Purse, Mark Barber, declined to say why leaders thought donations had grown, or whether large or small donations were most responsible for the increase.

But in response to questions from The Roys Report, Barber provided an emailed statement from Samaritan’s Purse Chief Operating Officer Ron Wilcox, who thanked God for the financial resources the organization had gathered.

“When a disaster or crisis hits, devastating a population, we may be working and serving in that region for months, years, or decades,” Wilcox said in the statement.

“It would be unrealistic, unwise, and poor stewardship to expend funds in haste all in one year versus long-term, quality impact over a period of months or years as the needs evolve and various phases of the crisis response develop.”

Franklin Graham Samaritan's Purse
Rev. Franklin Graham (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski)

This is not the first time Samaritan’s Purse has been criticized for the way it handles money, though previous controversy has centered on the salary of the group’s CEO Franklin Graham.

In 2014, Graham received total compensation of $889,000 for leading two nonprofits—his father’s namesake ministry, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA), and Samaritan’s Purse. Franklin Graham received $259,000 from the BGEA in 2014 and an additional $630,000 from Samaritan’s Purse.

Franklin Graham’s current combined salary is unknown because the BGEA stopped publishing IRS form 990s in 2015. Last year, Graham received $740,000 from Samaritan’s Purse alone.

Graham also has garnered criticism for his vocal support of former President Donald Trump and his role in suppressing Naghmeh Panahi’s story of her husband’s abuse.

Gift box program dwarfs disaster relief efforts

Though Samaritan’s Purse funds many disaster relief efforts, the nonprofit spends the most money on its annual Operation Christmas Child (OCC). This program gathers Christmas gifts to distribute to children worldwide.

In 2021, Samaritan’s Purse spent $313 million — or just over half of its total ministry spending— on Operation Christmas Child, its audited statements show.

OCC shipped out more than 10.5 million gift boxes to children around the world in 2021. About 9.1 million of those were collected in the U.S.

The suggested donation to cover shipping costs increased from $7 to $9 per shoebox in 2017, remaining $9 through 2021. It increased again to $10 this year amid skyrocketing shipping costs worldwide.

In contrast, Samaritan’s Purse spent $126 million on disaster relief efforts in 2021 and another $43 million on medical ministry.

Revenues for Samaritan’s Purse were around $700 million for several years before jumping dramatically in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization provided field hospitals in Italy and New York City that year, among other pandemic-related efforts.

Graham cease fire ukraine
Franklin Graham, left, prays with Samaritan’s Purse chaplains and staff during a recent two-day visit to Lviv, Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse)

Samaritan’s Purse spent about $50 million on medical ministry in 2020 and another $116 million on emergency relief, according to that year’s audited financials. It spent $285 million on Operation Christmas Child in the same year.

Funding the mission or filling bank accounts?

Spending less than an organization takes in isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to a scholar who researches nonprofit finances. But keeping too much on hand can mean the organization isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

“For us, the question is, is the organization fulfilling their mission?” said Cleopatra Charles, a Rutgers University associate professor with a PhD in public policy and administration. Speaking broadly about general nonprofit practices, she said that “having all this idle cash just sitting around is not going toward fulfilling (an organization’s) mission.”

And while nonprofits were worried in 2020 that the COVID-19 pandemic would imperil them, Charles said she has heard from several that actually ended up better off financially than they were pre-pandemic.

In general, nonprofits should have enough reserves to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses, Charles said. “Anything larger than six months kind of raises a red flag for me.”

Samaritan's Purse
Samaritan’s Purse logo (Courtesy image)

The 2021 financial statements for Samaritan’s Purse show enough cash assets to fund the organization for nine months. (Two-thirds of those assets are donor-restricted, though.) The investments of Samaritan Purse could fund the organization for another five months. 

Leonard said having more than six months’ reserve isn’t that unusual among Christian organizations, and some, like the American Bible Society, have much more.

But if Charles saw a big reserve in an organization’s financials, she said she would look further to see whether something unusual that happened that year—or if it was a pattern over several years.

“If it’s something that’s happening consistently, then I would wonder, should they be putting more money into programs, should they be doing more stuff?” Charles said.

Form 990 filings and audited statements are publicly available on the IRS website and from Samaritan’s Purse. They show a pattern of the group spending significantly less than it raises for the past seven years.

The 2020 financials for Samaritan’s Purse show it took in over $221 million more than it spent that year. And previous Form 990s show Samaritan’s Purse raising millions more than it raised every year from 2016-2019. Surpluses ranged anywhere from $28 million to $189 million for each of those years.

Samaritan’s Purse is accredited by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Jake Lapp, ECFA’s vice president of member accountability, didn’t answer whether the ECFA knew about the size of Samaritan’s Purse’s assets. But Lapp told TRR in an email that the ECFA doesn’t prescribe how big a ministry’s cash balance should be.

Lapp stated that the ECFA requires its members to “establish reasonable procedures to ensure that all ministry funds are used in conformity with applicable laws and regulations and to fulfill the organization’s exempt purposes.”

The size of a ministry’s cash reserves “can be dependent upon several variables, including the nature of the ministry and cash with donor-imposed restrictions,” Lapp noted.

Comparing Samaritan’s Purse to other Christian charities

Samaritan’s Purse COO Ron Wilcox argued that running a global relief organization “is different than almost any other nonprofit” when it comes to budgeting and reserve funds. Expenses at many nonprofits are fixed, he stated, so half a year’s reserve would make sense elsewhere. In contrast, he said, reserve funds allow the organization to respond quickly in emergencies.

Wilcox stated that leadership of Samaritan’s Purse believes “it would be irresponsible, in such uncertain times, to maintain only a three- to six-month operating reserve.”

Over the years, Rowell has compared Samaritan’s Purse to two other large evangelical organizations with a similar mission—Compassion International and World Vision.

Compassion International is known for pairing sponsors with individual children in poverty. World Vision carries out a variety of global humanitarian relief efforts. Leonard said it was fair to compare them with Samaritan’s Purse.

Neither of the other two organizations has massive assets, Rowell pointed out. And they rarely take in much more than they spend.

Compassion International’s most recent audited statements show that organization received over a billion dollars of revenue in both fiscal years 2020 and 2021. It spent about that much both years and ended fiscal year 2021 with $363 million in net assets. That’s less than a third of the net assets of Samaritan’s Purse.

Financial disclosures for World Vision showed it spent about as much as it received in fiscal years 2019, 2020 and 2021. And it ended fiscal year 2021 with about $310 million in net assets.

Samaritan’s Purse also pays its CEO, Franklin Graham, at least $200,000 more than both World Vision and Compassion International pay their top executives. Compassion paid its CEO, Santiago Mellado, $477,000 in total compensation for 2019. World vision paid its CEO, Edgar Sandoval, $524,000 in 2020.

Barber, the spokesman for Samaritan’s Purse, did not respond to questions about Graham’s salary from Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA.

samaritan's purse
Last year, Franklin Graham (left) received a $740,000 salary from nonprofit group Samaritan’s Purse, in addition to an unknown amount received in his role as president of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. (Photo via Facebook / Samaritan’s Purse)

Board members have family on staff

Rowell also noted that just nine of the 16 board members for Samaritan’s Purse are independent.

Franklin Graham is on the board, as are his son Roy Graham and his daughter Jane “Cissie” Austin Lynch. Several other board members, including Liberty University President Jerry Prevo, also have relatives working for Samaritan’s Purse.

At the Restore Conference last month, MinistryWatch President Warren Cole Smith said board members “should not have financial or familial arrangements with the organization they are governing.”

Similarly, the ECFA states that nonprofit boards should be comprised of predominantly independent members. A slim majority of Samaritan’s Purse board members are independent.

ECFA confirmed by email that Samaritan’s Purse complies with the ECFA’s standard for board governance.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.

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69 thoughts on “Samaritan’s Purse Amasses Over a Billion Dollars in Assets, Raising Red Flags”

  1. Unbelievable, Billion + dollars ? FG salary $720,000.00/ yr plus expenses I am sure. Nepotism rampant doling out larder rich salaries to his family. Heck, they did NOT EARN THIS MONEY, it was DONATED to SP, not the Grahams personal bank accounts. This is Big Mega church Christianity leadership “name brand” on steroids. I would love to watch Apostle Paul or Peter , John The Beloved, or James 1/2 brother of Jesus Christ, drop by the offices of FG and do an audit. I don’t think it would NOT go well for FG/ SP once all is put on table and exposed. Where does all this money come from ? Where does it all go ? Who’s accountable if family controls the purse strings ? This stinks bad.

  2. Amy Detweiler

    We no longer support SP. The financial piece is secondary to other issues. In my opinion, each person needs to take the information presented and make a decision based on what you think is honoring to God. Blasting other people who don’t agree with your stance isn’t helping anything. It stirs up ugliness. I feel like we would all be better served to take a step back and take pause when we read something that we don’t agree with or don’t want to believe is true. I opt to support ministries that are much more transparent, but I’m not going to tell anyone else what ministries they should or should not be supporting. I do think that if we are going to read sites like this one, we have to expect to read articles that aren’t going to sit well with us and are hard to come to terms with. If we chose to read it, we then take the information presented, search our own hearts and seek God for how to proceed.

    1. Oh Amy…a level-headed common sense considerate approach. Who knew that existed on message boards! Thank you for your thoughtful and graceful reply!

  3. Brian Patrick

    I would be curious to know what an expose’ on super-progressive World Vision would reveal about their dealings and finances.

  4. Marin Heiskell

    To me, it’s not one stand alone thing. It’s the COMBINATION of all of it together: sitting on large amounts of extra cash and investments + unclear/unstated plans and governance on how it will be spent + exorbitant salaries + nepotism.
    A nonprofit is supposed to be just that – religious affiliation or not.

  5. In Ukraine there are 12 million refugees with 5 million of those leaving the country.

    I would expect SP to have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukraine, so the result should be a very low bank account at the end of 2022.

    If they SP is still sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars at the end of 2022 then something is very very very wrong…..

    1. Reading the comments on here,
      Like Gordon’s and so many others, is like listening to sports radio in Chicago on a Monday Morning.

      Doesn’t matter if the bears win or lose, everyone calls in to light up the board by second guessing the calls and explaining how they could do it better.

      Thing is… they are too lazy or simply too unskilled to do it better. Proverbs says that even a fool seems wise when they keep their mouth shut.

      How do you know that FG didn’t take a $1 salary for 5-7 years before accepting the one the board gave him that year as a make up.

      And how do you know that the personal jet that he pilots and paid for but uses for ministry isn’t part of the reason that his salary seems so high.

      Had the ministry bought him a jet the. People would be enraged, but if he buys it and finds it himself for the purpose of international ministry and travel to maximize his time and health…. Then why doesn’t it count as being a good steward.

      I am reminded of the words of Christ who said that The Son of man came eating and drinking and you say he has a demon… but John came doing neither and you basically said the same thing.

      Translation… haters gonna hate.

      1. Cathie Boucher

        We’re living in a time when people like Julius believe it’s normal and acceptable to fleece people of their money so Christian frauds posing as pastors can acquire enormous wealth. To compare Jesus Christ having a nice meal and a cup of wine with the Graham dynasty living extravagantly from donated money is delusional.

      2. “How do you know that FG didn’t take a $1 salary for 5-7 years before accepting the one the board gave him that year as a make up”

        Well, reading the financial statements would be one way to know that didn’t happen …

        1. Daniel,

          It actually is exactly what happened. As reported by this very website in a previous article when it was reported that he received it. …. But that’s probably not relevant.

          1. https://religionnews.com/2015/08/18/franklin-grahams-salary-raises-eyebrows-among-christian-nonprofits/

            You are going to have to give me some citation to back up your claims because I believe you are completely … shall we say … mistaken. There was a period in which Mr. Graham took a reduced salary from BGEA .. but it was absolutely nothing like $1 for 5 – 7 years. And the salary from BGEA (which can no longer be verified because, as I understand it, they reconstituted themselves as a church) has nothing to do with his salary from Samaritan’s Purse.

            Actually, I would love to have someone explain that sort of double-dipping to me. Mr. Graham already draws a salary well in excess of $500,000 from Samaritan’s Purse which is well above the already massive packages received by some of his “colleagues”. This is “justified” by explaining that he has responsibilities and demands on his time far beyond what “normal” people can understand. Ok… for the sake of argument let’s grant that highly debatable point … then please explain to me *how* and *when* he carries out the duties of another position which earns (based on the last information revealed) him a salary of in excess of $250,000?? I’m waiting …

      3. Where exactly would FG get “personal” money for himself to purchase large ticket items such as a private jet? As far as I know, he has never owned or been part of a for-profit business. It seems pretty sketchy that a supposedly non-profit organization can have leadership that has never worked in the for-profit business world, yet still have the “personal” resources to live this type of lavish lifestyle.

        1. Amy,

          I’m at a loss…. What is this “lavish lifestyle” you speak of?

          I am not aware of any reports of any member of the Graham family “making it rain”

          The only innuendo is that he owns a personal plane so therefore he is probably fleecing the flock.

          Never mind that he regularly flies internationally to meet with the leaders of nations to open doors for humanitarian relief for the sake of the Gospel.

          This isn’t a man who flies to his various campuses throughout a city and then dunes in Vegas just because he can.

          It’s a man who flies into NYC when flights are canceled to set up a hospital in Central Park.

          Who most likely uses the plane for meetings, family time and (gasp) even trying to sleep to adjust to jet lag as he traverses the globe.

          Never heard of them misusing money. Just collecting a salary and paying for his own plane …

          If that is a scandal then I’m guessing that Solomon, Abraham, David, and even Joseph of Arimathea are all just as guilty.

          1. There are too many mega churches fleesing the flock Billy Graham had transparency but Franklin is changing all that. This is suppose to be a charity!!!!! How does one justify almost a million dollars a year salary!!!! I think in order to be called a nonprofit the staff and the CEO should only be able to make an average salary. I would say not more than 100 k.

  6. SP is not a church but it has become a big business. Since “churching” and non profits have become such a big business in the US, maybe we should start treating them as businesses and make them pay taxes.

    Every mega church I have been a part of uses the local police on Sundays for traffic control. They all have expectations of help from the fire department if there is a fire or a medical emergency. All of those churches benefit from the water and sewer provided by the local authorities. The churches benefit from their communities being educated. The state pays for the healthcare of many of their members through Medicare and Medicaid, lifting that obligation off the church’s shoulders. They ALL took MILLIONS and MILLIONS in Covid relief funds from the government.

    So why shouldn’t churches pay taxes?

  7. Julie Roy’s

    Have you interviewed the Trinity Foundation, Dallas, TX on their finding of this regime?

    Also, James Lloyd-Christian Media Network has been exposing for years

    Have you read: “Billy Graham and Friends” by Dr. Cathy Burns?

  8. Kathryn S Stevenson

    I believe that this money ‘leftover’ will be used for future emergencies all over the world. When disasters happen they respond quickly so they need the funds immediately.

    I trust this organization and think that they will use these funds to help when needed. I don’t believe that the Grahams are hoarding the money for themselves. And his paycheck goes for many things he may need – whether it be his famiy’s clothing, food as they travels, helping out someone in need while he travels etc. I can see Mr. Graham doing that.

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