A Marketing Lesson: Trust Fueled Rick Warren’s 3-Day, $2.4 Million Fundraising Drive

Trust is the most valued asset of any nonprofit or charitable organization.

Nonprofits can execute media relations campaigns that produce waves of placements. They can produce fundraising videos that bring tears. Their events can draw thousands of members or participants.

But a nonprofit organization’s marketing and communications are worthless without trust.

Last week, Pastor Rick Warren became the most trusted man in the United States of America. Who else could publicly admit his church had a $900,000 deficit on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009, and erase it three days later by raising more than $2.4 million in donations? (Read Associated Press Story In Washington Post.)

Fundraising in churches and religious organizations wasn’t as severly affected by the recession as arts and other cultural institutions. But religious leaders travel a rocky road. Glance back at the 1980s and you see the misdeeds of television evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Look over your shoulder at the 1990s and you shudder at the clergy abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church.

A quick search and review of blogs and news sites on Warren’s fundraising efforts revealed nothing more than tired, old back-and-forth comments. There was the typical criticism of organized religion. There was the same old stereotyping of donors to religious organizations as mindless sheep. The mandatory accusations of fraud, stealing or extravagant lifesytle of church leaders were present.

Despite all of this, Warren’s simple appeal was overwhelmingly successful. His message was simple:

  • He told the truth simply and clearly: “On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive – leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year, unless you help make up the difference today and tomorrow.”
  • He shared how donations were used: Feeding the hungry, helping the poor and people in pain, changing lives, helping people find God and grow spiritually.
  • He asked for a gift and offered three ways to make the donation–online, through the U.S. Mail or dropped off at the church.

Warren’s Purpose Driven Life has sold millions. He delivered the invocation at President Barack Obama’s inauguration last year. He was named the top newsmaker for 2009 by the Religion Newswriters Association. He angered religious conservatives by not actively campaigning for California’s Proposition 8, which overturned gay marriage.

Reports say most of the donations were less than $100 and they’re still coming through the mail. If the average gift was $100, it would take 24,000 people to donate $2.4 million in three days. That’s a formidable army of people who believe in a mission and are motivated to act.

Marketing and communication played a role in Warren’s success. Nonprofit communicators would be wise to observe and learn.

Disclosure: I’ve read the Purpose Driven Life. I believe in God. Rick Warren didn’t compensate me for this post, but God gives me everything.

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2 responses

  1. Thank you for this honest assessment of what drives the congregation at Saddleback Church to support our Pastor Rick and the work of our church.

  2. Nonprofit Marketing Communications | Reply

    To the anonymous commentor above,I have a degree in journalism and spent almost seven years working for daily newspapers. So, as a classically trained journalist, I strive to gather as many facts as possible before writing a post.Take care,–Joe Mueller

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