Nonprofit Raises Big Bucks for Doomsday – What Now?

May 22, 2011; Source: Publication | Who followed Harold Camping, the almost nonagenarian leader of the nonprofit Family Radio empire, to believe that the Christian faithful would ascend to heaven at 6:00 p.m. local time on May 21st? Camping was smart enough to convince people that the apocalypse would occur at 6 p.m. local time in each time zone, respecting the 24-hour international clock that was recommended by Sir Sandford Fleming in 1876 and not adopted until 1884 or so.

Giving away all of their assets, giving up their jobs in anticipation that they would be taken up in the Rapture, many people relied on Camping and his message, conveyed and paid for through his rather well capitalized nonprofit. Through Family Radio International, Camping had predicted 200 million people would be saved. His previous prediction of the apocalypse in 1994 obviously failed to happen due, he had said, to a mathematical error. His colleagues at Family Radio suggest that the failure of the May 21 prediction is simply a test by the deity of the depth of believers’ belief.

Did Family Radio spend down in anticipation of the May 21 rapture and the scheduled October 21 destruction of the earth (in a giant fireball)? With money flowing in, Family Radio spent millions on 5,000 billboards promoting the news of the impending apocalypse. As of 2009, the Family Radio nonprofit had assets of $104 million including $34 million in stocks and reported $18.3 million in donations. Reportedly, donations have been on the upswing this year, perhaps as believers gave chunks of their worldly possessions to Camping to spread the good or bad news, depending on your status.

Where’s Camping now? No one answered press calls at his home or the nonprofit, and a knock on the door went unanswered. Who followed this guy? It’s pretty sad in a way. Many of Camping’s acolytes appear to be similar to this truck driver quoted in the article: “I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth.”

Interestingly, however, there were plenty of websites affiliated with Camping and others offering opportunities for people to make charitable donations to the rapture-promoting cause. Public charities or criminal rip-offs? The failed Rapture has become standard fare for humorists, but conducted under the guise of a nonprofit charity, with people donating millions, the humor dissipates rapidly.—Rick Cohen