Promise Keepers Fundraising Scheme Fools Media, Not NOW

by Lisa Bennet-Haigney, Managing Editor

NOW President Patricia Ireland speaks out against the Promise Keepers' agenda during their Oct. 1997 rally in D.C. On the far left is Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal. To the right of Ireland: NOW Action Vice President Elizabeth Toledo and Membership Vice President Karen Johnson. Photo by Lisa Bennett-Haigney.

Rumors of the Promise Keepers' demise have been greatly exaggerated. Feminists were briefly excited when it looked as if PK—the radical right group that calls for men to take back control of their families—might be in crisis. The reality? PK staff members went without pay for a total of 11 work days and as of April 16 the organization was back in full force, planning its 1998 conference schedule.

When the Promise Keepers announced that it would not pay its staff of 345 people after March 31 "until revenues increase," the media reported it as a "layoff" saying PK was "ailing financially," when in fact it was a strategic effort to jump-start its fundraising from churches and individuals. At the PK rally Oct. 4 in Washington, D.C., founder and CEO Bill McCartney announced that the group would no longer charge men to come to stadium events. According to the PK press release, 72 percent of its income has come from the $60 fees charged for these events.

To make up for this loss, McCartney appealed to church leaders. A day after the announcement, McCartney stated at a Florida news conference that the churches have a God-given duty to give money to PK.

The possibility always existed that PK could go back to charging admissions if donations did not come in as planned. There was never any real danger that PK was folding its tent. And even without the stadium admission fees, the group was still left with more than $50 million in annual donations before this new tactic—nearly 10 times NOW's budget.

The media campaign—letting its followers think PK is in trouble and about to lay off staff—was nothing more than a cynical fundraising ploy, reminiscent of Oral Roberts' assertion that God would "call him home" if supporters didn't send $7 million to his ministry.

And the campaign worked. In about one month PK raised more than $4 million, approximately half of that coming from churches. Other right-wing affliates also profited from the PK operation. Focus on the Family and other conservative organizations are using the vast PK mailing list for direct mail fundraising campaigns. Just two weeks after the scare, PK "recalled" the 315 employees who were still available.

Even before the staff recall, PK was moving forward with its plans for major rallies in all 50 state capitals on Jan. 1, 2000. The group has 19 stadium and arena conferences scheduled across the country, and it is continuing an aggressive schedule of clergy conferences, averaging nearly one a week so far this year. McCartney has not gone back on his plans to expand the ministry overseas, stating after last year's D.C. rally that God "wants us to go global."

But McCartney doesn't want potential donors to think things are too rosy. The latest PK press release warns that "It's still too early to say the financial transition of the ministry is complete . . . We are counting on the partnership of churches and individual believers to see the mission through."

Predictably, the press covered the PK revival exactly as they were intended to—as if the end were truly near—and offered little in the way of critical reporting.

"Don't be fooled by the Promise Keepers tactics," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "Some of the media were clearly taken in -- but the Promise Keepers have made it obvious that their group is not going away. And neither are we. NOW promises to continue exposing the political agenda of PK leaders, protesting their stadium events and keeping a watchful eye on their media ploys." For more about PK, see the page.

1998 Promise Keepers Conference Schedule
May 15-16 Detroit, Mich Pontiac Silverdome
May 22-23 Little Rock, Ark. War Memorial Stadiuim
May 22-23 Los Angeles, Calif. L.A. Coliseum
June 5-6 Fresno, Calif. Bulldog Stadium
June 12-13. St. Petersburg, Fla. Tropicana Field
June 12-13 Knoxville, Tenn. Thompson-Boling Arena
June 19-20 Columbia, Mo. Faurot Memorial Stadium
July 10-11 Philadelphia, Pa. Veterans Stadium
July 17-18 Minneapolis, Minn. Metrodome
July 24-25 Indianapolis, Ind. RCA Dome
July 31-Aug 1 Eugene, Ore. Autzen Stadium
Aug 7-8 Omaha, Neb. Civic Auditorium
Aug 14-15 Grand Rapids, Mich. Van Andel Arena
Aug 21-22 Houston, Texas Astrodome
Sep 18-19 Tuscon, Ariz. Convention Center
Sep 25-26 Milwaukee, Wis. Bradley Center
Oct 2-3 Columbia, S.C. William-Brice Stadium
Oct 9-10 Colorado Springs, Colo. Pikes Peak Speedway
Oct 9-10 Sacramento, Calif. Arco Arena
PK advises that all venues and dates are subject to change

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