The Rapture didn't happen on May 21 as predicted. The saved among us didn't shuffle off their mortal coils and ascend into Heaven, and everyone else hasn't been left behind to survive in a post-Apocalyptic Hell on Earth until the real end comes on Oct. 21.
But Harold Camping, head of California-based Family Radio and the man behind the Judgment Day prediction, isn't giving up. He's now saying that the Rapture did indeed happen — except that is was invisible — and that the end really will befall the Earth on Oct. 21. Pretty ballsy, Harold (especially since you made a similar prediction in 1994 and were wrong then, too).
Whatever his motivation — be it devotion, delirium, dementia or dollars (donations to Family Radio spiked wildly in the months before May 21) — Camping made an impact. Followers quit their jobs, got rid of all their worldly goods, even euthanized their pets. Nonbelievers planned post-Rapture looting parties. There were jokes galore, as well as impassioned pleas to take it all seriously and repent while there was still time. When the (invisible) dust settled on that Saturday evening, lots of people had a good laugh and many others were left to deal with confusion, sadness and a sense of betrayal that it all didn't go down as Camping promised.
It was the ultimate viral campaign. So the first inclination among the fine folks of fundraising might be to examine Camping's strategy for ideas that can be used in their own efforts.
But it's a mixed bag. First, we're dealing with the Rapture here. No matter how serious or important your mission, it can't compete with the end of the world. Sorry. Then, many (more likely, most) of the people who believed so vehemently in Camping's extreme proclamations are pretty far out there on the fringe and probably wouldn't respond as well to more mundane appeals. Camping wasn't actively seeking donations, and he has religious fanaticism in his corner. So in reality, you can't credit his "strategy" for the reactions to the Judgment Day campaign.
What Camping did have going for him, though, was persistence. He never backed down, never balked, and even now, he's still holding steady. He presented his case with passion, like he believes what he's selling. (If it's an act, it's a damn good one.)
But that steadfast belief (or appearance of it) caused Camping to break one big ol' cardinal rule. He made a promise he couldn't keep. Of course, it wasn't up to him to bring the Rapture, but he promised it would happen. He based this whole thing on his research into guarantees that supposedly appear in the Bible about the time and date of Christ's return to Earth. Still, Camping's failure to deliver in 1994 didn't seem to hurt his impact this time around. It remains to be seen how his devotees will react as we draw closer to Oct. 21. Of course, fundraisers can't risk making promises they can't keep. But if you take the religion out of it … do you think this whole thing has anything to teach fundraisers about getting out their messages and engaging supporters? Send me an e-mail or use the comment section. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the matter.