Home Christian News From Shoeboxes to War Zones: How Samaritan’s Purse Became a $1 Billion...

From Shoeboxes to War Zones: How Samaritan’s Purse Became a $1 Billion Humanitarian Aid Powerhouse

Graham is unconventional in more ways than one. He doesn’t hire outside companies to produce direct mail appeals. He doesn’t socialize with charity professionals.

“We’ve never used outside fundraisers,” Graham said in a telephone interview. “We tell people what we’re doing, and people decide if they want to help us.”

Evangelicals have responded. Graham claims thousands of people make small donations of $100 of less, and while that may not be entirely accurate, the charity draws from a large net of donors, many in evangelical circles.

Only 5.1% of Samaritan’s Purse’s revenue in 2021 came from federal dollars. In past years, it has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide aid in Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Liberia and Colombia. It also worked with the United Nations’ World Food Program, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, another U.N. organization.

Despite Graham’s social views, Samaritan’s Purse is committed to providing services to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. It will, however, tell them about Jesus.

Part of Samaritan’s Purse’s growth and financial success may be due to the Graham brand. Graham inherited from his evangelist father a reputation for personal integrity and financial transparency.

“There was no scandal in Billy’s life, and I think that’s true of Franklin, too,” said Grant Wacker, a historian and the author of “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of America.” “Whatever one thinks of his politics, he has stayed on track in terms of his personal ethics. What that does is it creates a consistency between the message and the public appeal.”

While some donors may be unaware of Graham’s politics, Wacker said, some give precisely because of it.

“The inclination to contribute is based on trust,” he said. “For evangelicals, both black, white and Latino, personal trust is to a good extent based on a perception of your personal life.”

A painting of the Good Samaritan hangs in the office of the Samaritan Purse warehouse in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

A painting of the Good Samaritan hangs in the office of the Samaritan’s Purse in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Then there’s Operation Christmas Child. The longstanding program, begun by Samaritan’s Purse in 1993, partners with local churches, who in turn enlist members to buy small gifts and pack them in shoeboxes for needy children around the world. (It also helped Samaritan’s Purse to be reclassified by the IRS as an association of churches.) Churchgoers’ enthusiasm for the program knows no bounds. Samaritan’s Purse estimates it has 90,000 volunteers each year. In 2021, those volunteers packed and shipped more than 10.5 million shoeboxes worldwide.

Operation Christmas Child remains a signature program, but it is no longer the central focus of the organization. In 2001, more than half of the charity’s revenue came from Operation Christmas Child, and about two-thirds of the organization’s expenses were spent on that program, according to a 990 report. By 2021, less than a third of Samaritan’s Purse’s revenue came from Operation Christmas Child, and the program made up about 44% of the organization’s expenses.

But the relationships formed with churches who either donate shoeboxes or receive them for distribution has given the organization global reach and quick access when disaster strikes.