The Origins of Latter-day Saint Charities

20 February 2018

A Yazidi woman hugs a representative of Latter-day Saint Charities.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always engaged in humanitarian work and service, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Church formed an official nonprofit organization called Latter-day Saint Charities. The formation of this organization allowed the Church to more easily partner with other relief organizations and enhanced the Church’s ability to assist people regardless of their race, religion, or ethnicity.

Between 1983 and 1985, a dire famine in Ethiopia killed nearly 400,000 people—the worst such famine to strike the country in over a century.

Long before YouTube, a news report about the famine went viral, and over 500 million people watched the report and its rebroadcast through television stations around the world. In response to the famine, public artists and performers created recordings and fund-raising events that were experienced by over 1 billion people worldwide. These efforts raised awareness for the humanitarian crisis as well as hundreds of millions of dollars for African relief efforts.

The international response to the Ethiopian famine inspired members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to consider how their church could also get involved. While caring for the poor and needy had always been a basic tenet of the Latter-day Saint faith, in light of the famine, a decision was made to collect large funds exclusively for humanitarian work. President Spencer W. Kimball asked the Church’s 6 million members to make this a personal experience by fasting—or going without food and water for a 24-hour period—and then donating the money they would have spent on food to famine relief.

Millions of Church members responded. In just two special days of fasting over $11 million was raised. This transformational moment in the history of the Church led to the creation of Latter-day Saint Charities. The funds raised by the Church provided immediate relief in the way of food, tents, and medical supplies through projects with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, and CARE. The funds also had long-term impact through agricultural and water improvements made in partnership with Africare.

Latter-day Saint Charities promised its donors that 100 percent of funds received would be dedicated to assist the hungry and needy in distressed areas, regardless of Church membership, and that it would work with established humanitarian organizations that shared its values of self-help, thrift, work, and service. These principles govern Latter-day Saint Charities to this day.

Rather than being funded by governments and large corporations, Latter-day Saint Charities is supported by donations from everyday people, whether or not they are members of the Church.

Since its modest beginnings in 1985, Latter-day Saint Charities has donated billions of dollars’ worth of food, commodities, and volunteer hours to relieve the effects of both natural and man-made disasters. To date, the organization has also supported tens of thousands of customized humanitarian projects in more than 170 countries.

The purpose of Latter-day Saint Charities is to discover, nourish, and protect the inner richness of each human soul. In truth, stronger character is the ultimate sustainable development.