Televangelists devote less time to fundraising than commercial television does airing commercials. That is the latest finding of Stephen Winzenburg, a communications professor at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa. He just released his eighth independently funded survey of religious programs.
On average, televangelists use 17 percent of their airtime fundraising and promoting their programs, while commercial television devotes 28 percent.
Winzenburg has been studying television ministries for 25 years and takes televangelists to task for some practices (like refusing to reveal financial statements), but his studies have consistently found that fundraising is a different matter. "The criticism so often is that TV preachers spend so much time asking for money," Winzenburg said. "To be honest, they don't."
The programs of Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, and Paul Crouch were among the least focused on financial appeals, spending less than 2 percent of airtime fundraising.
Leaders at Trinity Broadcasting Network, after being scrutinized by national media last year (CT, November 2004, p.19), were pleased with the results. Winzenburg said his study only surveyed Crouch's Praise the Lord, not the network's full lineup. TBN, for example, has two weeklong fundraising telethons per year. The network's total time spent fundraising is between 4 percent and 6 percent of airtime.
Winzenburg also noted that TBN did not provide adequate financial statements when asked, even after the network requested an endorsement from him.
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Stephen Winzenburg's page at Grand View College has his full study "2004 TV Preacher Study of Airtime, Politics, and Fundraising" along with his other television studies.
TBN says the study helps show that "the evidence is clear that TBN is primarily about helping people and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ."
TBN has more information about their programs and other activities on their website.
Christianity Today's past coverage of Winzenburg's studies includes:
Televangelist Report Card | A recent study reveals how religious broadcasters actually use their airtime. (Oct. 24, 2001)
Preachers Dwell Less on Fundraising | On-air fundraising and promotional activities by TV preachers have dropped to their lowest level in 15 years, according to televangelism expert Steve Winzenburg. (April 7, 1997)
More on air coverage is available from our Television page.
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