In November 2017, the Legal Department at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses held their annual meeting. This 90 minute meeting was recorded on video for those who were connected remotely.
In a talk entitled “U.S. Legal Department Highlights”, John Fowler of the Legal Department interviewed a number of the staff of the Legal Department including Keturah Dunne, Richard Moake, Erna Neufeld, and Nathan Reed.
Fowler’s interview with Neufeld included notably generous donations from two elderly gentlemen, one being 99 years old. This is a transcript of that interview.
Fowler (F): Now, Erna, how does charitable planning help our brothers and sisters in the field?
Neufeld (N): Our group provides information to people who want to name Watch Tower on their estate planning documents, perhaps as a beneficiary on a retirement account, insurance policy, bank account. We also get calls from attorneys and executors telling us about a new estate. We generally have about 300 open estate files that we are working on.
F: That is quite a bit. We know you also get a lot of phone calls every week. Can you give us an idea of the volume there?
N: It is an estimate, but it is at least a hundred calls a week. Many of them are simple: how to name Watch Tower as the beneficiary; they’re interested in donating real property; sometimes we get a nice surprise on one of the calls.
F: A surprise? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
N: We got a call from a brother. He sounded a little bit feeble, somewhat elderly. He asked about a specific donation arrangement. A sister told him, ‘Brother, you have to understand that the minimum for this is five thousand dollars ($5000.00)’. There was a pause and he said, ‘Well, I’ll be putting in a million ($1,000,000.00)’.
F: [Pauses, nods, then responds] That is a very kind gesture on the brother’s part. Now, of course you get these phone calls. Are you always able to answer all the questions over the phone?
N: Usually, but sometimes there is unusual circumstances. For example, last year, in April, a brother who is ninety-nine (99) years old, donated stock as an outright gift. It was twenty-three million dollars ($23,000,000.00) worth of stock. And then about six (6) weeks later, his financial representative called and asked for a personal visit. So we went to see him at the facility where he is now residing.
F: So can you tell us how the visit went?
N: Certainly. Michael* is a very sharp 99 year old brother. Quiet, but he was happy to share his life story with us. He attended meetings with his wife for many years but he wasn’t baptized until after he retired. [Erna forgets what she wanted to say next so has to take a second to look at her notes.] We enjoyed lunch with him. Then he took a short nap. We visited with some other Witness residents in the facility and spent the afternoon listening to his stories about world travels, looked at his art and artifacts. And Michael told us that he was an engineer. One of his stories was that he had to invent a product that his boss had already sold to a customer.
F: So, apparently, he was successful.
N: Yes. And his generosity has greatly benefited the organization.
However much money people donate to the Jehovah’s Witnesses is their own business. Donations are a private matter and that the World Headquarters’ legal department would discuss such generous figures is a reflection of how fixated this organization has become regarding money. And yet, even with all these large sums of coming from the elderly faithful, the organization continues to regularly beg for money, even manipulating young children to donate their pocket money to the organization.
*Michael’s real name has been changed to protect his identity.