Doomsday church: Still open for business

@CNNMoney May 19, 2011: 3:23 PM ET
end of the world, may 21, harold camping, judgment day, rapture, times square, religion, family radio

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- By now, you've probably heard of the religious group that's predicting the end of the world starts this weekend.

Harold Camping and his devoted followers claim a massive earthquake will mark the second coming of Jesus, or so-called Judgment Day on Saturday, May 21, ushering in a five month period of catastrophes before the world comes to a complete end in October.

end of the world, harold camping, family radio, doomsday, judgment day, may 21

At the center of it all, Camping's organization, Family Radio, is perfectly happy to take your money -- and in fact, received $80 million in contributions between 2005 and 2009. Camping founded Family Radio, a nonprofit Christian radio network based in Oakland, Calif. with about 65 stations across the country, in 1958.

But not even all of his own employees are convinced that the world is ending on Saturday.

In fact, many still plan on showing up at work on Monday.

"I don't believe in any of this stuff that's going on, and I plan on being here next week," a receptionist at their Oakland headquarters told CNNMoney.

A program producer in Illinois told us, "We're going to continue doing what we're doing."

According to their most recent IRS filings, Family Radio is almost entirely funded by donations, and brought in $18 million in contributions in 2009 alone.

Take a look at Family Radio's IRS filings

According to those financial documents, accountants put the total worth of Family Radio (referred to as Family Stations on its official forms) at $72 million.

With those kind of financials -- and controversial beliefs -- it's no wonder skeptics have accused the group of running a scam.

Camping first inaccurately predicted the world would end in 1994. Even so, he has gathered even more followers -- some who have given up their homes, entire life savings and their jobs because they believe the world is ending.

Esther, the receptionist in the Oakland office, said some of her most extreme coworkers have recently driven up in fancy cars or taken their families on nice vacations as a last hurrah.

But overall, she estimates about 80% of her coworkers don't even agree with Camping's May 21 forecast. She has stuck to her work as usual, booking appointments and filling up calendars for her coworkers well beyond the May 21 date.

Meanwhile, some employees are questioning the meaning of Harold Camping's goodbye letter sent to the Family Radio mailing list last week. While he says farewell, he encourages employees to "steadfastly continue to stand with us to proclaim the Gospel through Family Radio."

Could that mean he plans on disappearing, but the company should still go about its business as usual?

Read Harold Camping's goodbye letter

The producer in Illinois said, "We're trying to guess what it means for the company. Our producers have programs done through the end of the month, so we're not looking at that having any effect on the work."

Also curious is why Family Radio requested an extension to file their nonprofit paperwork. The group is required to submit financial documents in many of the states where they solicit donations, and in Minnesota they requested an extension from their July 15 deadline to November 15.

July 15th was already well past their Judgment Day prediction -- when they say believers will ascend to heaven -- so why bother requesting an extension to November?

But Family Radio's financial filings otherwise look hardly unusual for a religious nonprofit.

"At first glance, it looks like they have a lot of assets, but they actually don't have a lot of cash that they're stockpiling," said Laurie Styron, analyst with the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Most of the group's net worth is tied up in FCC broadcasting licenses, valued at $56 million. Family Radio claimed it held only $1.5 million in cash on its books at the end of 2009.

The paperwork shows Camping has so far, never taken a penny for his own salary, but Family Radio has plenty of other paid employees.

The nonprofit employed about 350 people and paid them a collective $8.3 million -- or roughly $23,000 per person -- in 2009.

What the 2009 IRS filings don't show, is how the organization's donations and expenses may have changed during 2010 and leading up to the May 21 Judgment Day prediction.

In the last few months, Family Radio billboards have popped up across the country. And the group purchased RVs to drive around the country on its evangelizing missions.

Those expenses could have changed their financial picture, but since Family Radio doesn't have to turn in their next IRS filing until November, it may not even matter.

"If people donating to this group think the world is ending on Saturday, then I'm not sure that they care," Styron said. To top of page

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