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December 3, 2022

Where Does $100 to the NRA Go (2021)?

by Anne Paddock

When most people think of the NRA they think of the National Rifle Association of America and the second amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) but there are seven (7) separate non-profits that comprise the NRA:

  • NRA (National Rifle Association of America):  501 (c)(4)
  • NRA Foundation, Inc.:  501 (c)(3)
  • NRA Freedom Action Foundation:  501 (c)(3)
  • NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund:  501 (c)(3)
  • NRA Special Contribution Fund: 501 (c) (3)
  • NRA Political Victory Fund: PAC Section 527
  • NRA Victory Fund:  PAC Section 527

NRA (National Rifle Association of America)

These are the big guns (no pun intended) – a 501 (c) (4) corporation at the heart of the NRA whose mission is to preserve the organization’s interpretation of the second amendment – and the subject of this post.

A  501 (c)(4) differs from a 501 (c)(3) in four ways:  the organization can engage in unlimited lobbying as long as the lobbying pertains to their mission, participate in political activity, endorse or oppose political candidates, and donate money and/or time to political organizations.

Contributions made to a 501 (c)(4) are not tax-deductible which means the NRA relies primarily on other sources for income: membership dues, program fees, other contributions and grants, royalties, related organizations, investment income, sale of assets, advertising, subscriptions, and other sources.


According to the Form 990 (2021), the NRA has a 75 member board, of which 74 are independent (although the Form 990 lists 84 board members which appears to be due to timing differences).   68 are males (81%) and 16 are females 19%). Marion P Hammer, a Director who reportedly works 5 hours a week received $270,000 in compensation in 2021 ($5,200 per week or $1,040 per hour).  Ms. Hammer, an 83-year old director (and the first female president of the NRA in 1996) has received approximately $250,000 annually from the NRA for years and years, for 5 hours of work per week as a director.

Press and Litigation

The NRA hit the press in recent years for a variety of reasons:  accused of misuse of funds and an investigation of the President and CEO, Wayne LaPierre for criminal tax fraud by the IRS, a dispute between Wayne LaPierre, who has received $2 million annually and Oliver North, a board member, who was paid $1 million annually from the public relations and advertising firm the NRA used, numerous lawsuits including the State of New York whose attorney general filed suit to dissolve the non-profit. As a result, the NRA filed for bankruptcy (which a judge dismissed) and released a statement stating the NRA was leaving New York and relocating to Texas (although the NRA lists a Fairfax, Virginia address on the 2021 Form 990).  Consequently, the NRA has spent more than $135 million on legal fees between 2018-2021.

For detail on the alleged allegations and misuse of funds, see Schedule L, Part V (pages 83-87) of the Form 990.


In 2021, the NRA reported a 20% decline in revenue or a total revenue of $227 million (compared to $282 million in 2020, $292 million in 2019 and $353 million in 2018), which came from the following sources:

  • Member Dues ($98 million) and Program Fees ($4 million):  $102 million  (45% of total revenue)
  • Contributions, Grants, and Related Organizations:  $84 million (37% of total revenue)
  • Advertising:  $22 million  (10% of total revenue)
  • Royalties:  $12 million  (5% of total revenue)
  • Investment Income/Gains and Other Income:  $5 million (2% of total revenue)
  • Sales of Inventory:  $2 million  (1% of total revenue)

Membership Dues

The NRA does not release exact member figures annually except to say there are approximately 5 million members. Over the past several years annual membership dues have been between $40-$45 although a variety of member dues options are available with an average annual cost lower for longer commitments.  With annual membership ($45), 2-year ($75), 3-year ($100), 5-year ($150), and lifetime ($1,500) available, it is difficult to confirm membership figures because the NRA does not release membership composition figures either.

Membership revenue decreased in 2019 (an estimated 1.3 million members left the NRA) which contributed to the NRA posting a $12 million loss in 2019 resulting in a further deterioration in net assets to a year-end balance of $10 million (compared to $75 million just 5 years prior in 2015). In 2020, revenue continued to decline (by $10 million) to $282 million but the NRA cut expenses drastically and spent $45 million less ($237 million) than the organization received which resulted in $49 million in net assets at year-end.

In 2021, membership dues totaled  $98 million (a nearly 20% decline from 2020) compared to $120 million in 2020, $113 million in 2019 and $170 million in 2018. If $98 million were divided by $45, then that means there were 2.2 million members. However, if an average of $40 was used (since arguably membership dues are not equal), then there were 2.5 million members. If an average of $30 was used, then there were 3.3 million members.

Membership revenue clearly dropped in 2021 – by $22 million – which means the NRA lost members because the membership fees didn’t change from year-to-year. Although the exact number was not released by the NRA, the numbers indicate the NRA lost at least 500,000 members in 2021 ($22 million/$45 = 500,000).


Expenses totaled $216 million (not including $2 million in depreciation) in 2021 which were categorized as follows:

  • $48  million (21% of revenue):  Fees for Services (primarily legal and professional fundraising)
  • $45 million (20% of revenue):  Member Communications
  • $42 million (18% of revenue) :  Compensation
  • $20  million (9% of revenue):  Printing and Publications
  • $14  million (6% of revenue):  Office Expenses
  • $11  million (5% of revenue):  Other Expenses (primarily fulfillment material and bank fees)
  • $10 million (4% of revenue):  Training and Community Services Expenses
  • $10 million (4% of revenue):  ILA Program Expenses
  • $ 9  million (4% of revenue):  Advertising
  • $ 7  million (3% of revenue):  Travel and Conferences

As illustrated above, fees for services is the largest expense with the majority ($36 million) for legal fees. The second largest expense is member communications (note: there is no detail on what this actually is). It is also unclear what the expenses were for training and community services and ILA (Institute for Legislative Action) program (the lobbying arm of the NRA) since there is no detail.

Compensation – the third largest expense – was for 521 employees (120 less employees than in 2020 and 426 less than in 2018) who received  $42 million or an average compensation of $81,000.  92 employees received more than $100,000 in compensation (compared to 107 in 2020 and 149 in 2019).

The 15 most highly compensated employees received more than $13 million in 2021 with the most highly compensated employees reported to be Chris Cox who received $6.2 million and Wayne LaPierre who received $1,143,868 in 2021 (compared to $1,665,627 in 2020, and $1,884,709 in 2019).  In addition, it is important to point out the NRA paid for first class or charter travel in 2021.

How Revenue Was Spent

Using the above information, every $100 in revenue was spent as follows:

$100:  Membership Dues

-$ 21:  Fees for Services (primarily legal fees)

-$ 20:  Member Communication Expenses

-$ 18:  Compensation

-$  9:  Printing and Publications

-$  4:  Training and Community Services Expenses

-$  6:  Office Expenses

-$  4:  ILA Program Expenses

-$  5:  Other Expenses (primarily fulfillment materials and bank fees)

-$  4:  Advertising

-$  3:  Travel and Conferences

-$ 94: Total Expenses

  $   6:  Remaining Revenue:  To General Fund

As illustrated above, the NRA spent more than half of revenue (57% of revenue) on fees for services (primarily legal), compensation (for the 521 employees), office, advertising, travel and conferences and other expenses.  37% of revenue was spent on member communication, printing and publications, training and community services, and ILA program expenses.

Net Fund Assets

In 2015, the NRA had $75 million in net fund assets. By 2017, the net fund balance was down to $25 million – a significant decline that is probably due to a variety of reasons, including a decline in membership and excess spending.

In 2018, the net fund balance fell to $16 million. This decline appears to be attributable to spending more than the organization brought in (appears to be for legal expenses: $25 million compared to $7 million in 2017) and a $5 million unrealized loss on investments, and $2 million in agency transactions between the NRA and the NRA Foundation for endowment contributions and earnings.

In 2019, the financial situation further deteriorated with a decline in revenue (by $61 million with most in the membership dues category), high legal fees ($39 million), and spending more than they raised resulting in a further deterioration in net assets down to $10 million.  However, it is interesting to note the top 10 executives did not take salary cuts. In fact, they received more than $9 million in compensation in 2019, just as they did in 2018.  And, the NRA, a tax-exempt, non-profit organization,  is largely supported by public funds, continued to pay for first class or by charter, companion travel, health or social club dues or initiation fees, residence or provide a housing allowance, and provide tax indemnification and gross up payments.

In 2020, the NRA cut expenses drastically (the 10 most highly compensated employees received nearly $7 million) but not first class or charter travel – which appears to be an attempt to increase the net assets and reverse the deterioration.  The NRA actually spent $45 million less than they raised increasing the net assets to $49 million at year-end.

However, in 2021, the NRA did pay for first class or charter travel and paid 15 executives more than $13 million in compensation. And, although the NRA had more than $36 million in legal fees in 2021, the organization spent about $10 million less than they raised by cutting staff and other expenses. In 2021, net assets improved from $49 million at the beginning of the year to $78 million at year-end because of three things:  (1) unspent revenue ($10 million) allocated to the general fund; (2) $4 million in net unrealizable gains; and a $15 million change in net assets which resulted from pension gains and an agency transaction between the NRA and the NRA Foundation (in other words, the Foundation gave nearly $5 million to the NRA).

To read the IRS Form 990 (2021), click here

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