‘Mormon Stories’ podcaster John Dehlin makes $236K a year from his nonprofit. Is that too much?

Whistleblower and critics shout yes, but Dehlin and others defend the group’s financial dealings.

(Annie Sorensen | Special to The Tribune) John Dehlin talks about the wealth issues surrounding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a THRIVE conference in St. George, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. The podcaster himself faces questions about his salary and his nonprofit's finances.

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The audience and donors for John Dehlin’s “Mormon Stories” and other podcasts have grown exponentially through the years, and so has his salary.

To well above $200,000.

And that has raised concerns from some insiders and outsiders about the finances and oversight of the nonprofit umbrella organization, Open Stories Foundation.

Tax disclosures show the foundation’s revenues from podcast contributions, events and direct donations shot up almost eightfold in a decade, from $58,580 in 2010 to $464,339 in 2019, the most recent year for which IRS documents are available.

Yearly revenues jumped by 67% in the aftermath of Dehlin’s widely publicized 2015 excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tax forms show, from $198,136 in 2015 to $332,678 the following year.

At the same time, as the foundation’s reach and output rose, Dehlin’s annual compensation ballooned by more than 700%, according to nonprofit tax reports, swelling from $27,429 in 2010 to $236,021 in 2019. That six-figure salary made up 60% of the group’s total earnings from donors and podcast revenues.

[Read more about John Dehlin’s growing influence and the questions emerging from followers-turned-critics here.]

Several employees who left the foundation in 2018 have complained he “curated” its board membership to boost his compensation and blur lines between donations and personal expenses amid what they assert was lax supervision.

“This evidence suggests that Dehlin sees the Open Stories Foundation as his and his alone,” a former associate producer, James Patterson, wrote in a 2021 complaint filed with the IRS, “with an independent board of directors merely a roadblock to him achieving his personal financial goals.”

In his whistleblower claims, Patterson also said the foundation maintained inadequate boundaries between donations to the podcast and Dehlin’s own life-coaching business, which the podcaster says he has since discontinued.

Dehlin, an avid fundraiser as part of his podcasts, has strenuously denied the financial allegations against him and touts his organization’s financial transparency. And as he takes an increasingly visible role in the nonprofit THRIVE and its in-person gatherings for former Latter-day Saints, Dehlin insists his efforts are about helping others, not financial gain.

Burgeoning audience numbers, donor support and revenue growth for the podcasts, Dehlin told a THRIVE audience in St. George, “are only proxies for impact.

“In my mind, we’re helping more people,” he said. “We’re reaching more people.”

In response to Patterson’s complaint, Dehlin said the Utah attorney general’s office audited three years of the nonprofit’s financials — and its investigators, he said, issued a letter saying it found no wrongdoing. Dehlin even noted in several podcasts he had feared bias from Attorney General Sean Reyes when the audit was initiated, given some of his critiques of Utah’s top prosecutor.

We were audited by the theocracy,” he quipped about Reyes and state government in a December podcast. “We willingly gave three years [of] financial information and literally the answer came back, ‘We find no wrongdoing.’”

Clint Martin, a fellow board member on the nonprofit THRIVE with Dehlin, said he had also seen the audit letter and confirmed Dehlin’s description of it.

After months of inquiries by The Salt Lake Tribune and an open-records request, the Utah attorney general said it had no record of such an audit.

In response to similar requests, the Utah Department of Commerce, which oversees nonprofits, would neither confirm nor deny it had audited the Open Stories Foundation. If it had, a spokesperson said, any resulting records would not be public — and they added that it was not uncommon for department investigators to seek anonymity in those cases.

Natasha Helfer, a sex therapist and motivational speaker who works with Dehlin and is a former member of the Open Stories Foundation board, said Dehlin’s compensation has been based on market analysis and comparisons with other nonprofits.

“I’m comfortable,” Helfer said, “that the board has made decisions that are fair according to market value.”

Dehlin said the Open Stories board had “generously set my salary at a fixed level” — one matching what he earned when he left his job as a Microsoft executive 17 years ago.

“I told my board I’d never need another raise, ever,” he said. “That’s how I feel now.”