Here's a follow-up to yesterday's post on where tithing money goes--I feel like, having broached the subject, I should post what numbers are available. Chapter 7 of the Ostlings' Mormon America (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999) provides reasonable estimates of LDS assets and annual tithing revenues, based on publicly available data, prior estimates by other authors and journalists, and their own interviews of LDS leaders and informants.
As of 1999, estimated annual revenues were $5.9 billion, of which approximately $600 million was income from securities and Church-owned businesses, and the balance from tithing (p. 115). When these figures were first published, the official response from the Church was that the authors "greatly exaggerated" LDS income and wealth, but the LDS spokesman "did not provide even the vaguest hints as to what was wrong and what the truth might be . . ." (p. 115).
The asset estimates were presented in an appendix, which put total LDS assets as of 1999 "in the range of $25-30 billion" (p. 400). This was composed of investments (a portfolio of $1 billion plus direct investments like Beneficial Life and Bonneville totalling about $5 billion), real estate (ranches and farms, $5 billion), LDS schools and universities (about $1 billion, mostly BYU), and chapels and temples ($18 billion, which includes both the land and the structures) (p. 398-400). They quote an estimated price tag of $18 million per temple (p. 399), but that may derive from the traditional mega-temple architecture (San Diego, Washington DC) rather than the newer suburban (Newport Beach) and mini-temple designs. Excluding chapels and temples, and figuring about 6 million active Mormons, that works out to assets of about $2000 per active Mormon. Maybe I've been living in California too long, but $2000 per person doesn't seem like that large a figure to me.
Another interesting figure offered by the Ostlings is expenditures on humanitarian aid. They say the Church reported humanitarian aid expenditures of $30.7 million in total from 1984 to 1997 (p. 128). Compare this with the similarly-sized Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which provided humanitarian cash to the tune of $15.44 million in 1997 alone, not to mention various "assistance programs" providing "medical and educational" help (p. 129). This lends some credence to the idea that most LDS have an exaggerated idea of the extent to which tithing donations are directed to humanitarian purposes. It also offers a possible rationale for the recent emphasis on service projects by local wards and stakes, a non-cash vehicle for filling a perceived humanitarian services PR gap. Finally, I should note that the Ostlings do note that "in their commodity production and welfare systems, the Latter-day Saints have created and maintained a remarkably massive and efficient mechanism for meeting human needs of their own members" (p. 129).