Thinking Out Loud

January 27, 2015

Dr. David Jeremiah: King of Mailing List Abuse

David Jeremiah Turning Point“Please, make it stop; make it go away…”

I have no doctrinal issues with David Jeremiah. Although his radio and television programs are not broadcast at times I can listen or watch, as far as I know he is very mainstream Evangelical.

His fundraising mailings however are relentless.

If you are the type of person who really enjoys getting snail mail, this is the mailing list for you. As a family member told me last week, “I got another one from D.J.;” she has now stopped using the name since understanding is implicit, “That’s three this week.” She doesn’t have my knowledge of printing processes, paper stocks, bleeds, color separations, etc., but notes, “They’re all on glitzy paper.” Well, the letters are on standard bond, but yes, the enclosures are all on glossy stock, and color envelopes unique to each mailing.

Lots of trees gave their lives.

The latest pitch is for the Turning Point Bible Strong Partners program. For $25 per month you can choose from a couple of gifts or curiously, this option: “Please apply my entire gift to the needs of the ministry.” Those needs however would include printing and mailing more appeal letters.

This is a beast that requires constant feeding.

We’re not even going to get into the whole ResultsSource thing here. This is one of the big Christian publishing stories of 2014, where authors including Mark Driscoll — and David Jeremiah is also listed in reports — paid the consulting organization to ensure placement of their books on the New York Times Bestseller List.source

Turning Point’s 2012 Form 990 shows it as having nearly $40 million income that year.source There is a principle in business that once something reaches a critical mass it is capable of perpetuating itself on its reputation; other factors have to start working against it in order for it to start to experience decline (market changes, competition, economy, etc.). But with charities you have to keep asking, keep begging. You have to keep your name in front of the public. Each mail appeal produces a bump in donations.

For David Jeremiah, there seems to be no law of diminishing returns. The appeal letters keep coming.

In 2012 the ministry paid nearly $700K to In Service America which operates call centers. $400K to Majestic Productions which provides equipment for large arena-type events. Officers, directors and trustees received just under $900K while general salary and wage expenses were approx. $4.6M.  (Jeremiah is also pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, an SBC church in California founded by Tim LaHaye.)

It’s a big ship, and it takes money to make money.

I wonder what God thinks of all this?

I don’t begrudge these people some fundraising or donor development costs. They believe in what they’re doing. While individually they would acknowledge the existence of similar ministries, corporately they are no doubt passionate about what they do. Just as Christians we believe we’ve got the hottest news on the rack, many organizations feel they’ve got a great distribution system for that news.

What you end up with is a group of creative people being paid to develop fundraising appeals because the ministry needs money in order to pay people to develop more fundraising appeals.

But when people are getting three mailings in a single week… That’s not right is it? It seems driven by an ambition that’s gone into overdrive, and historically, when that happens, often the organization experiences collapse.

The time to rethink all of this is now. It’s time to develop long-term sustainability that doesn’t involve the rape of so many trees, the theft of so much carbon. Otherwise, their ambition could lead them, like so many others, to find it impossible to sustain the minimum income they now require.

And that could be their turning point.

For an alternative view about fundraising costs, check out this 2013 TEDTalk.

March 25, 2012

Inspiration Network CEO Pay Tops $2.5M US

In the part of the world where I live, they’ve just published the 2011 edition of the “sunshine list.” Basically, it requires that the compensation package for anyone working in the public sector totaling $100K or more has to be made public. Each year’s announcement is usually followed by the predictable amount of outrage, but each year the list gets longer.

So I was somewhat distressed to see this story in the Charlotte (NC) Observer:

Inspiration Networks, a nonprofit Christian broadcaster based near Charlotte, paid chief executive David Cerullo nearly $2.5 million in total compensation in 2010, newly released IRS returns show.

His pay increase since 2008: 47 percent.

Operating from a 92-acre campus in Indian Land, S.C, the cable television network has become one of the world’s largest Christian broadcasters, bringing religious programming to more than 120 countries.

With a budget of more than $95 million, it has raised much of its money by telling viewers that God brings financial favor to those who donate. Televangelists tell viewers to expect miracles if they send money.

A 2009 Charlotte Observer investigation found that Cerullo was the best paid leader of any religious charity tracked by watchdog groups…

Continue reading here.

One of the challenges that we face living in the Christian bubble involves interacting with a larger world where the concept of “right and wrong” has vanished off the radar. Yet here is a Christian organization with a situation that so clearly flashes “wrong.”  Their defense?

His pay is determined largely by an independent committee that studies executive compensation at “similar organizations” – including cable television networks, media companies and national ministries – and then makes a recommendation to Inspiration’s board of directors, the network said.

But many philanthropy experts say it’s unfair to compare salaries in nonprofit organizations with those in the for-profit world. That’s because nonprofits get substantial tax breaks – a form of public subsidy. In exchange, they’re expected to keep salaries at reasonable levels.

Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, said that he considers it “outrageous” for a nonprofit of Inspiration’s size to provide a $2.5 million compensation package, no matter what the organization’s pay studies say.

“You can manipulate the studies to put a good face on something that defies common sense, which is what we’re talking about here,” said Berger, whose group evaluates nonprofits.

Even religious nonprofits with far bigger budgets pay their leaders less than Cerullo, the Observer found. The Christian Broadcasting Network, founded by Pat Robertson, has a budget that’s nearly three times as large. Its CEO got total compensation of $383,000 in 2010.

This story also feeds those who feel religious charities and churches should pay their share of property taxes. And who can argue that with executive compensation of this degree, INSP is nothing more than a business?  The ministry relocated from Charlotte to Lancaster County. “I’d love to tax them at market value, for the county’s sake,” said Smith, the deputy assessor. “In the long run, it would help every taxpaying citizen in Lancaster County.”

In addition to David Cerullo’s pay package, the article goes on to state that according to 2010 tax returns:

  • Wife Barbara got $191,000
  • Daughter Becky got $195,000
  • Son Ben got $188,000

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

As someone I know once said referring to a similar situation a few years ago, “Do these people get to heaven or are they exempted because they’ve experienced it already?”

And all these salaries are paid through the donations of people naively sending in their monthly donations of $10 or $20, which they can ill-afford; people who will never hear how much the ministry boss takes home.

Again, you’re encouraged to read Ames Alexander’s article at The Observer (click here)

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