Special Reports

Franklin Graham: Take away BGEA pay

This story was originally published in the Observer on October 10, 2009.

Evangelist Franklin Graham told his staff on Friday he wants to give up his pay as head of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, saying his calling to the ministry "was never based on compensation."

Graham's decision to ask the BGEA board of directors to stop paying him came a day after an Observer report raised questions about the size of his compensation from the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse, the Boone-based international relief agency that Graham has led since 1979.

In 2008, his two salaries, two retirement packages and other payments from the ministries totaled $1.2 million.

That included $669,000 from BGEA, where, in February, 55 employees were laid off - more than 10 percent of the staff. Revenue at BGEA dropped 18 percent last year; at Samaritan's Purse, it climbed 11 percent.Graham, 57, will continue to draw his salary and benefits from Samaritan's Purse, which totaled $535,000 in 2008.

After the Observer began asking questions about his compensation, he asked the boards of the two ministries on Tuesday to suspend contributions to his retirement plans until the economy bounced back.

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."

The memo, which covered several other subjects, made no mention of the concerns raised in the Observer. The newspaper reported criticisms from charity watchdogs, who said they doubted anyone could do two full-time jobs leading organizations that, together, employ almost 1,000 people with budgets of more than $200 million.

Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss said the evangelist called him Friday, before he sent the memo and a letter to BGEA board members.

"He said, 'It's not worth it. I'll just do without. The board can do what it wants,' " DeMoss reported.

BGEA board member Denton Lotz said it's up to Graham - and not the board - to make such decisions.

"I think that's great if he feels he can do it," said Lotz, the pastor of an inner-city church in Boston. Lotz's brother is married to Graham's sister, Anne Graham Lotz. She's an evangelist based in Raleigh and one of five Graham family members on the 20-member BGEA board.

Graham, who leaves today for a Samaritan's Purse trip to Asia, was not available for an interview Friday.

‘Here’s what I’m going to do’

Non-profit watchdog Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, said he was delighted by Graham's decision. "He's still getting more than most non-profit executives get," Eisenberg said. "He should be satisfied."

As head of Samaritan's Purse, Graham earned more last year than any other leader of an international relief agency based in the United States. That includes eight with larger budgets, according to data compiled by Guidestar, a group that monitors nonprofits.

Samaritan's Purse, which sends planeloads of aid to victims in disaster areas and shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to poor children around the world, "is where (Graham) started his ministry life," said DeMoss. "It's where he spends most of his time. And it's the bigger of the two (ministries)."

Graham lives in Boone and travels to Charlotte, site of the BGEA headquarters, five or six times a month, DeMoss said.

DeMoss didn't know when the BGEA board will meet to take up Graham's request to work for free. The full board meets twice a year, DeMoss said, and its executive committee meets separately three times annually.

"The executive committee can meet at any time," DeMoss said. "And the full board can meet by phone."

DeMoss said some BGEA board members tried to talk Graham out of requesting a suspension of his retirement and an end to his pay.

"They said to him that the CEO ought to be compensated," DeMoss said. "But he's at the point where 'Here's what I'm going to do. I make a comfortable salary at Samaritan's Purse.' "

Moving Ahead

Whether he's paid or not, Graham plans to go ahead with a full schedule of BGEA crusades - Graham calls them festivals - in 2010, DeMoss said.

Today, he flies to North Korea, where he'll present $190,000 in equipment and supplies for a dental center being built in Pyongyang. Samaritan's Purse has been working there since 1997, providing more than $10 million in medical and dental aid.

Graham will also visit China, where last year Samaritan's Purse sent a Boeing 747 filled with supplies for those devastated by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake.

Staff researcher Maria David contributed.