Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TV's All-Time Worst Fundraising Gimmicks by Lee Grady

Christian TV's All-Time Worst Fundraising Gimmicks

Let's stop the hypnotism, the guilt manipulation and the high-pressure gimmicks. It's time to reclaim our lost credibility.

Normally I'd rather go to the dentist for a root canal than watch a telethon. But while channel surfing a few nights ago I tuned into PBS and discovered that Aretha Franklin, the legendary Queen of Soul, was hosting a fundraiser for the network. Seated at a piano, she was offering a 5-CD collection of classic rhythm and blues hits in exchange for a donation to public television.

It was simple. There were no gimmicks, no games and no strings attached in Aretha's offer. If you gave the suggested gift, she explained, PBS would mail you a big slice of American pop culture—including songs by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Al Green and Aretha herself, singing her classic "Respect."

"I still don't know what is more outrageous: That programmers allow such insanity on Christian television, or that gullible Christians fall for it year after year."

My respect for PBS was still intact when the telethon ended, thanks to this low-key, no-pressure approach to fundraising. I can't say that for some Christian networks, which have shamelessly extorted money from viewers over the years using heavy-handed guilt manipulation, hypnotic control and bizarre Scripture-twisting.

During the PBS telethon I wondered why Christian networks couldn't simply offer music, books or other premiums instead of resorting to the typical arm-twisting and tear-jerking that we've come to expect. We need an overhaul in this area. Somebody needs to lead the way in pioneering a new style of on-air fundraising that doesn't treat people like brainless zombies.

Here are five of my least favorite fundraising tactics. I wish all of them could be banned from the airwaves.

Gimmick #1: The magic Bible verse. You know the drill. The evangelist quotes Psalm 37:37 and then announces that if you will send $37.37 ("No more, no less!") God will unleash all the blessings of King David upon you. (Hint: The phones seem to ring more frequently when the number seven is included in the Bible reference.)

Gimmick #2: The urgent, time-is-running-out plea. Before the preacher asks you to reach for your wallet, dramatic music is piped in. Then "Reverend Cheatem" talks about how the crippled man waited by the pool of Bethesda, hoping that the angel would trouble the waters so he could be healed. "God is troubling the waters right now, my dear friend," the preacher says with his eyes closed. "Go to the phones now, before it is too late. Only those who give in this holy, anointed moment will receive a supernatural blessing in return."

Gimmick #3: The memorialized gift.
One popular evangelist announced on-air that she needed thousands of dollars to build a prayer room. She promised that those who funded this noble effort would receive recognition with special brass nameplates that would be mounted on the wall of the facility. The implication was that people could buy prayer coverage, sort of like a spiritual insurance policy. (I'm not surprised—since this woman offered her loyal followers the status of "spiritual son" or "spiritual daughter" if they paid a $1,000 annual fee.)

Gimmick #4: The debt-breaking anointing.
One preacher who specializes in telethons has raised millions by telling audiences that they are just one donation away from eliminating all red ink. All they have to do is give a sacrificial gift (usually four figures) to the TV network in the next few minutes. If they do this, God will wipe out their debts, no questions asked. No lifestyle changes necessary. (This technique was especially popular before the mortgage crisis.)

Gimmick #5: The Day of Atonement offering. This particularly odd strategy has been popular in the last couple of years, especially among gullible Christians who believe God blesses anything and everything that has the word "Israel" attached to it. The preacher announces that if you write a check to their network, and wave it in the air before you mail it (preferably while wearing a Jewish prayer shawl), God will forgive your sins, restore your health, bring back your wayward children, provide angelic protection and bless you with more than a dozen other special favors.

I still don't know what is more outrageous: That programmers allow such insanity on Christian television, or that gullible Christians fall for it year after year. Hopefully, emerging leaders in the religious broadcasting industry will restore our lost credibility by insisting on integrity, authenticity and good taste.

J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma and author of the new book The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale. Follow him on Twitter at leegrady.


  1. ouch! This is so true though. Unfortunately, I have fallen for this several times. Even at church... it's no different. Mammon!

  2. Still not as bad as the Catholic faith who has you pay in advance for sins you are going to commit. Makes you wonder just how many Basilica's were paid for through this method. So very sad indeed.

  3. It's time that the leaders lead and the teachers teach the command and promise of Biblical giving ... tithes, offerings? Such a small percentage of the "Church' gives. With so little regard for Biblical commands and promises by the vast majority of the Church, there is no doubt that as the world affairs intensify many Christians will be counted among those that become offended in God and fall away. Lord, please wake us up!And woe to those that would manipulate and pressure in His name.

  4. You are correct about the ways people are ripped off. I have to take issue on one thing. PBS, I would not, no matter what they offered, support them. I do not care what they promised, I would not buy anything that would support them. PBS supports the teaching of SATAN. They are worse than the rip offs you have written about.

  5. The emerging leaders are not going into "Christian Broadcasting" they are going into general market media and having a greater impact on their culture. Christian media claims to be reaching the world for Christ but they are not even having an impact on the Christian sub-culture.

  6. But WAIT! There's more. Just call in the next five minutes and God will DOUBLE your blessing. That's right friend. Call now and get ready to receive what the Buy-Bull calls the double portion. All you do is pay the extra shipping and handling.

    About the only TV I watch these days is the so-called "news" - where the stories are always the same (only the names change). This affords me the possibility of bringing relevant prayer to the Throne that addresses real and immediate need. Sounds like it may be time to do the same for these folks.

  7. Finally someone has spoken out about these gimmicks. A friend of mine from Australia asked how can you guys get away with this kind of stuff. It is interesting that the same preachers show up to do the telethons and say the same thing every year, with little changes. Thanks Again.

  8. Thanks Lee,
    It saddens me to say that most "Christian broadcasting" now resembles a circus sideshow. It's the same performers on every channel with their usual antics manipulating well-intentioned viewers out of hard-earned money (that never makes it to the local church where it could actually help someone in need). What's more pitiful is that we think it honors God. How do you explain such foolishness to an unbeliever who sees it and thinks that it represents the church?

  9. There is an old song that complains that TV Preachers tell you to send your money to God-but always give you their address. The world caught onto the fact that just because someone says that something is from God, doesn't mean it is really from God, long before the church. Even those who have reverend before their name do not always speak the whole truth.
    I long for the time when Ministers will heed Gods Word as stated in Ezekiel 44:22 Where He said that their job is to make plain the difference between the holy and the profane, the unclean and the clean.


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