The word “free” has a nice ring to it. When Bill McCartney of Promise Keepers vowed last year that both the clergy conferences and men’s conferences would be free in 1998, a lot of people cheered. After all, the $60 the group charged for the two-day conferences in major stadiums across the U.S. was a little steep for some of the men. There were scholarships for men in need, but the feeling was that many men were too prideful to ask for help.
By having the events free, attendance would climb and more men would me able to give to support the ministry.
A series of free clergy conferences was scheduled for nine U.S. cities in mid-January through March. The San Diego Sports Arena was host on Jan. 29 to the only clergy conference on the West Coast. The attendance of 4,800 was average for a regional clergy conference, but by having the events at different locations it’s more cost effective for the participants than traveling to a single site. Last year, 40,000 pastors attended the single clergy conference in Atlanta. This year, an equal number are expected to attend the regional events.
Although this year’s free conferences may sound great, corporatly it’s not working financially.
On Feb. 18, the Denver-based Christian men’s ministry, gave its staff six weeks notice that they will be paid until March 31, and no further. As stable and sufficient donations are received, re-staffing will occur.
As Promise Keepers begins to rely solely on donations to fund its ministry, this income shift represents a transition of a magnitude unique in the history of non-profit organizations. McCartney said changes are due to a financial shortfall caused by the move from a fee-based income to support from donations alone. The new dependence upon contributions has proved to be both a financial and an operational challenge.
This year all Promise Keepers’ events will charge no admission fees. “Open the Gates in 98” is designed to remove all financial barriers to participation in Promise Keepers.
McCartney, founder and CEO of the ministry, told the staff in the face of the layoffs, “I have a broken heart. But, I don’t have a discouraged heart. I have a heart that is filled with hope.” McCartney said the ministry is moving from a salaried staff to an all volunteer staff for an indefinite period of time – until revenues increase. McCartney stressed that the organization will honor the commitment to all Promise Keepers vendors and they will be paid in full.
Cutbacks in the ministry began last year in anticipation of a reduced revenue stream. Staff layoffs occurred in July. McCartney pledged last November that there would be no further staff reductions. He said at the time, “We’re all in this together. If one can’t get paid, then no one will be paid.”
Most nonprofit organizations experience a drop-off in donations during the months of January and February. This follows the traditional pinnacle of giving at Christmas and year’s end. Promise Keepers’ 1997 year-end revenues were already committed to pay millions of dollars for Stand in the Gap, the sacred assembly Promise Keepers sponsored on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The Oct. 4 event was perhaps the largest religious event in American history with more than a million men.
In the past, registrations of $60 each have provided a reliable revenue stream for Promise Keepers; enough to fund 64 conferences over the last six years. During those years, these admission fees provided 72 percent of the organization’s income. It reportedly had a $70 million budget last year.
Promise Keepers has 345 full-time staff members nationwide. Many have volunteered to continue to work with the organization in a concerted effort to complete preparations for 19 stadium events planned for this summer. The ministry expects that donations from local communities and national sponsors will cover the considerable cost of producing the events.
McCartney issued a challenge to church leaders to rally around the ministry’s twofold mission of calling men to church, and of bringing the churches of America together. He said, “We have seen how God has used this ministry to change men’s lives and lead them back to church. Now, as the fees to all events are removed, it is time for those churches to assist us in our mission to men.”
Last year the Promise Keepers board of directors unanimously supported McCartney’s call for removing all admission fees from the signature stadium events that have been the hallmark of the ministry. More than 2.6 million men have attended such events in stadiums all over the U.S. since 1991.
Promise Keepers can be contacted at: PO Box 103001, Denver, CO 80250, USA. Phone: (303) 964-7777 or FAX: (303) 964-7702. The website address is: http://www.promisekeepers.org/.