Many large churches are mega conglomerates that operate outside of the everyday business world. There is obvious positive cash flow and growth potential, and if you're an investor who also supports a particular church or religious organization, perhaps putting your money on something you believe in has crossed your mind. Is it possible to invest in a religious organization? In some cases, yes. In fact, for those who are strong adherents to a particular faith, this is just one more take on socially responsible investing. (For background reading, see Change The World, One Investment At A Time.)
Can You Put Your Money Where Your Beliefs Are?
Religious organizations need capital to accomplish their missions, but they are nonprofits and receive about one-third of their incomes from contributions, according to the IBIS World religious industry report. The rest of religious organizations' returns are made up of return on investment holdings, bequests, contributions for a specific purpose and miscellaneous other sources. Religious organizations' need for cash is often reduced by donations of free services. As a result, churches don't offer stock to raise capital.
Faith-based colleges and universities are run under separate nonprofit organizations. These organizations can issue municipal bonds. (For more insight, see Can a church issue a bond?)
Faith-Based Publicly Traded Corporations
While it may not be possible to invest directly in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple, there are plenty of for-profit corporations that focus on religious.
These supply-chain companies produce goods and services that believers in a particular faith would buy. For example, book publishers that specialize the Bible or the Quran or media companies that offer religious programming. The trend toward social media encouraged internet hosting companies to specialize in faith-based organizations, such as multimedia corporation Salem Communications Corporation (Nasdaq:SALM).
Because one of the goals for most religions is to broadcast their beliefs, larger religious denominations have branched out to own their own television and music studios. These are traditionally nonprofits as well.
Seeking Religious Investment
Jay Peroni and Dan Miller in their book "The Faith Based Millionaire" (2008), encourage investors to use their faith as a barometer for investing. Seeking individual stocks that incorporate a particular religion involves careful examination of corporate missions and how they are implemented.
Social investment mutual funds attempt to match some social values that may be shared by many, not just particular religions, to financial investments. Fund companies select profitable companies that practice social, environmental and governance prudence. Most fund companies create their own benchmarks to judge investments. Organizations like the Social Investment Forum screen social investment funds based on criteria they use such as whether chosen companies produce weapons, abuse human rights, have good employer-employee relations and are involved in community investing. (For more on this, see Socially Responsible Mutual Funds.)
If you're questioning whether to invest in faith-based initiatives, consider that the corporations allowing public investing do so on purpose. If you believe in their cause or philosophy, you can show your support in dollars and cents.