* Have you donated after receiving personalized emails or letters from a televangelist promising to pray for you?
* Has a telemarketer pressured you into donating to a ministry while claiming that you would receive financial blessing or physical healing if you donate?
* Have you purchased products through a ministry website but never received your order?
If so, you may be the victim of financial fraud. If you’ve been defrauded, please let us know by filling out a questionnaire linked at the end of this article.
MinistryWatch has built a database of the top 1,000 ministries in America and Trinity Foundation has analyzed an additional hundred plus megachurches in our “Governance Project” (here). These non-profit organizations generate $35 billion in revenue annually.
The vast majority of these funds are raised through telemarketing, email marketing and direct mail fundraising. While most ministries appear to be honest in their fundraising, there are fraudulent organizations ripping off donors.
In the early 1990s a series of court cases explored the deceptive methods employed in direct mail fundraising by one of America’s best known televangelists.
An ABC News exposé reported cash and checks were removed from envelopes containing prayer requests sent to televangelist Robert Tilton’s church and the prayer requests were tossed after donor information had been entered into a database.
Tilton sued ABC News and Trinity Foundation for libel. Donors sued Tilton claiming they had been defrauded. During depositions, Tilton was extensively questioned about how fundraising letters were composed.
One of the plaintiff’s suing Tilton was the husband of former Tilton donor Mary Harrison. In March 1992, Tilton sent Harrison a fraudulent letter.
God really touched my heart and told me to send you a message of hope and faith for the miracle touch that you need today. And he told me to touch your needs . . . personally . . . and to ask God with you through the prayer of agreement for his miracle touch. And on Thursday, April 9th . . . I am going to do exactly that for you!!!
. . . I know when God speaks to me. I am saying this to simply tell you that God spoke to me and told me to send this letter to you.
. . . He told me that he wanted to give you a miracle touch from heaven. Yes! I have done this before for others. And yes, I will do it again for you. . . .
. . . I am responding to his direct command to me. He told me to write to you.
. . . When I say God has spoken to me, he has.
Mary died the previous year from cancer. God never spoke to Tilton telling him to send Mary a letter. The case was settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount of money.
Almost 30 years have passed since the Tilton investigation revealed the dark side of ministry fundraising. The techniques and technology of ministry fundraising have rapidly evolved without much media scrutiny.
Thirty years ago, most donors sent cash or checks. Today, a donor can set up recurring payments to a favorite ministry in less than two minutes by visiting a website.
If you have financially supported a church or ministry, and since concluded that you were defrauded, please fill out the Religious Abuse and Fraud Questionnaire.