Samaritan’s Purse grows to be a $1 billion powerhouse thanks to Franklin Graham

Samaritan’s Purse has become a monetary powerhouse of one billion dollars because to Franklin Graham’s leadership.

Employees of Samaritan’s Purse spend their weekdays in a massive warehouse in this sleepy western mountain town, stocking truck trailers with food, medicine, tarps, blankets, hygiene kits, and school bags for children in Ukraine.

The evangelical leader Franklin Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, conducted its 30th airlift this week since Russia’s offensive on Ukraine began in February.

An estimated 5.5 million Ukrainians have benefited from the Christian aid group’s provision of necessities like food and water. It also ran an emergency field hospital in Lviv and other outpatient clinics throughout the country, treating a total of 17,758 people at the height of the fighting. It has grown to fund 30 hospitals across the war-torn country.

Many millions of dollars’ worth of medical equipment, generators, and water filtration systems are purchased, repaired, maintained, and retrofit by 385 employees working out of the organization’s 160,000 square foot warehouse and offices in North Wilkesboro. There are currently six fully equipped emergency field hospitals in the warehouse, four of which include tents, hospital beds, anesthesia equipment, X-ray machines, and surgery suites that are designed to fit in the fuselage of a plane. In addition to the miles of tarps, mounds of clothes, and crates of teddy bears bearing the Samaritan’s Purse logo of a cross inside a circle, there is also a lot of stuff.

Now in its 52nd year, Samaritan’s Purse has established itself as a leading organization in the field of faith-based foreign aid.

Much of this money is currently being used in Ukraine, but each year the group helps people in between 110 and 120 different nations. This past month, monsoon rains caused historic floods in Pakistan, so the government there provided aid. The organization deploys mobile medical units to eleven locations in war-torn Yemen. It’s facilitating the cultivation of strawberries in Iraq’s Sinjar Mountains.

There are also a number of relief operations underway in the United States. The volunteer teams from Samaritan’s Purse recently cut down trees and cleared out flooded homes in Kentucky and Missouri.

The Good Samaritan story from the Gospel of Luke inspired the organization’s work with battered and nearly dead strangers. His rescuer is not someone in a position of authority, but rather a random person, a Samaritan, who tends to his wounds, brings him to an inn, and pays for his care.

Many people associate Samaritan’s Purse with the distribution of shoeboxes containing gifts for underprivileged children. Yet in the last decade of its existence, it has expanded to become one of the largest faith-based NGOs in the United States, with revenues exceeding $1 billion in 2017.

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Since 2014, Samaritan’s Purse has seen a doubling of revenue and a quadrupling of assets, as can be seen in the organization’s most recent Form 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service. It has risen to the number 23 spot on the list of the 25 largest US nonprofits compiled by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Samaritan’s Purse now competes with other large American aid organizations including the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Services in America. Its founder, the missionary and evangelist Bob Pierce, who was Franklin Graham’s inspiration and mentor, also founded the Christian organization World Vision, which it outspent financially in 2020.

Much of this expansion can be attributed to its heroic efforts in times of public health crises and natural disasters around the world.

Samaritan’s Purse planned and built emergency field hospitals far before the COVID-19 outbreak. Over the past two years, it has deployed them to places as diverse as Italy, the Bahamas, New York City, Los Angeles, Jackson, Mississippi, and Lenoir, North Carolina. Two of its medical staff got the fatal Ebola virus while treating people in Liberia in 2014, putting the organization’s ability to respond rapidly to growing health emergencies to the test. The patients were sent to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they received the care they needed to make a full recovery.

Ken Isaacs, the group’s vice president of programs and government relations and the logistical and regulatory mastermind behind their cutting-edge international business, has remarked, “When we say we run to the fire, that’s not idle talk.”

Samaritan’s Purse has educated a group of domestic volunteers skilled in debris removal, mud-outs, and light building to complement the international team of Christian doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who make short-term missions to mission hospitals around the world.

Boone, in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, is home to the organization’s headquarters. It has a cabin in Alaska where they host marriage workshops for injured service members and police officers, as well as warehouses in Coppell, Texas, and Fullerton, California.

However, Samaritan’s Purse stands out from other Christian organizations in a unique way: it is led by a charismatic figure who can both unite and divide its supporters.

I think most people today would be hard pressed to name the president of Catholic Charities, World Vision, or Compassion (International),” said David King, director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. As Franklin Graham does as the head of Samaritan’s Purse, “many organizations are not headed by personalities in the same way.”

Graham, 70, has enormous respect and influence among evangelicals as the son and successor to Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. His conservative and partisan views draw as many admirers as opponents, and his inveighing on some of the day’s biggest subjects has earned him 10 million Facebook likes and 2.5 million Twitter followers.

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He has always stood with former President Trump, and he recently criticized the FBI for invading Trump’s Mar-a-Lago house on the fallacious premise that Trump would return the records if asked. Graham frequently denounces what he perceives as a godless America set adrift by secular culture, including abortion, same-sex marriage, and sexuality, in his role as a cultural warrior on these topics. He thought Canada’s Freedom Convoy was fantastic. He said Disney’s tolerance of homosexuality made them a “moral disaster.” A victim of domestic violence was pressured by him to go back to her abusive pastor husband.

And as the head of Samaritan’s Purse, he has shown himself to be an efficient manager who is dedicated to responding to emergencies by using whatever means are at hand.

Mark DeMoss, a now-retired public relations executive who represented Graham, said, “Franklin always relished the challenge of getting on the ground swiftly and cutting through red tape and bureaucracy.” As one source put it, “He wants to get where others can’t go, get set up quicker than others, and show (them) you’re on the ground.”

Graham deviates from the norm in several ways. Direct mail campaigns are not outsourced by him to third parties. It’s unlikely that you’d find him mingling with the nonprofit sector’s elite.

“We’ve never employed outside fundraisers,” Graham said in a phone interview. People hear about what we’re up to and decide if they want to help us after we’ve explained it to them.

Protestants of the evangelical variety have given their response. Although Graham’s claim that hundreds of thousands of people give amounts of $100 or less is likely exaggerated, the charity does receive support from a wide range of people, including many evangelicals.

In 2021, federal funds accounted for only 5.1% of Samaritan’s Purse’s total earnings. It has worked with the US Agency for International Development in the past to aid Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Liberia, and Colombia. It cooperated with the UN’s World Food Programme, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, and the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

Samaritan’s Purse is dedicated to serving people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations, despite Graham’s personal beliefs to the contrary. In any case, it will share the good news of Jesus with them.

Potentially attributable to the Graham name is Samaritan’s Purse’s expansion and financial success. Graham’s evangelist father established a legacy of honesty and openness in Graham’s character.

Historian and author of America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of America Grant Wacker remarked, “There was no controversy in Billy’s life, and I think that’s true of Franklin, too.” Irrespective of one’s opinion of his politics, nobody can deny that he has maintained his moral compass. It does this by ensuring that the message and the public appeal are consistent.

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As Wacker pointed out, some contributors may not be aware of Graham’s politics, yet they still give to him.

“Trust is the foundation of the willingness to give,” he explained. “For evangelicals of all races and ethnicities, including blacks, whites, and Latinos, personal trust is to a good extent based on a perception of your personal life.”

Finally, there’s Operation Christmas Child. Established by Samaritan’s Purse in 1993, the program works in tandem with local churches to collect little presents for underprivileged children throughout the world by having their members pack them in shoeboxes. (The Internal Revenue Service’s new classification of Samaritan’s Purse as a fellowship of churches was also helpful.) There is no limiting the believers’ excitement for the show. The annual number of volunteers at Samaritan’s Purse is estimated at 90,000. More than 10.5 million shoeboxes were packed and sent all over the world by those dedicated volunteers in 2021.

Though Operation Christmas Child is still a highlight, it is no longer the group’s primary mission. According to their 990 return, in 2001, Operation Christmas Child accounted for more than half of the charity’s revenue and about two-thirds of the organization’s expenses. By 2021, Operation Christmas Child was responsible for less than a third of Samaritan’s Purse’s revenue and nearly half of its expenses.

However, because to the partnerships established with churches that either collect or distribute shoeboxes, Operation Christmas Child can now respond swiftly and effectively wherever calamity hits in the world.

It had been eight years since Sergii Syzonekno, pastor of Central Baptist Church in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, first became involved with Operation Christmas Child. Like other churches already part of Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child network, he received $5,000 in cash as soon as the war broke out.

That help has increased, with supplies being delivered once a week. Ukrainians trying to escape the fighting can now take refuge at the church. During the height of the conflict, about 430 individuals spent the night there. Church members risk their lives in their own vehicles to rescue civilians trapped by the Russians and supply them with food and water.

Syzonekno expressed gratitude to Samaritan’s Purse for the provision of food, medicine, and moral support. To put it simply, we’re in this together. As a group, we are serving God.

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