In this space we previously wrote about What The Mormons Can Teach Us About Major Donor Development. In the interest of providing equal time for all cults [Editor’s note: that’s a joke], we highlight today an absolutely fascinating piece from the New York Review of Magazines (tip courtesy of GetReligion.org) entitled The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World:
Every month, nearly 40 million copies of The Watchtower are printed in more than 180 languages and sent to 236 countries. There are no subscriptions and you won’t find it on newsstands, but it’s still hard to miss. Thanks to the efforts of Witnesses like the Tavolaccis, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed magazine in the world, with a circulation of more than 25 million. Last year, the world’s 7.3 million-strong Jehovah’s Witnesses spent 1.5 trillion hours knocking on doors and “street Witnessing” — stopping folks in parks and on streets — to preach the “good news” with a copy of The Watchtower. Its closest competitors are AARP The Magazine (circulation 24.3 million) and Better Homes and Gardens (7.6 million). It doesn’t hurt that The Watchtower has been free since 1990, with the option of a small donation.
Here’s the crucial P/E/O insight–don’t miss it:
The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t produce The Watchtower as a piece primarily to be read by their own constituents. They produce it as a tool for their constituents to use to spread the cause within constituents’ own spheres of influence.
What would happen if we nonprofits changed the way we thought about our newsletters and magazines? What if we saw them not as targeted at our constituents but rather as tools that we train them to use to reach others with the cause?
Armed with their copies, Frank and the other Witnesses at the Glendale Kingdom Hall head back upstairs for a pep talk. “Elder” John Juels leads the 10-minute session from the stage, offering tips on how the congregation might keep doors open this morning. Frank Tavolacci calls it “a little bit of rah rah rah.”
“Raise a topic of interest,” suggests Juels, a short, bespectacled man in a bright orange tie. He invites a young blonde, “Sister Rachel,” up from the crowd to the stage for a role play. After a quick knock-knock and some polite doorfront introductions, Juels says the government is a hot topic right now, so Witnesses might raise the spectre of Governor Paterson to keep their bleary-eyed targets listening. “The government of Jesus Christ is coming,” he tells his mock door-opener. “Certainly God would do a better job than some of the people we have today.”
Role playing. Training in how to use the tools. Creative suggestions on how to share the cause. Do you suppose any of this might provide useful insight into how we go about deploying our own periodicals and publications?
The article notes that a special “study edition” of The Watchtower is produced for Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. What a fascinating idea: a “mass appeal” issue of your newsletter or magazine to be used as a tool by your champions, and a special “study edition” of your newsletter or magazine to be read and discussed by your champions themselves.
Another key learning:
The articles in the Watchtower are not about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and what is happening in, um, Witnessdom. Instead, they are about subjects perceived to be of interest and value to the reader, making the cause of Witnessdom accessible and relevant to issues the reader is currently facing.
“It’s for Witnesses but also for the public,” Pellechia says of The Watchtower. “For people who would be interested in what the Bible would say about subjects like child-rearing and how to keep marriages united.” The magazine might focus on infidelity in May, homosexuality in June and earthquakes in July. Articles might answer questions like “Should you be honest at all times?” and “Has God left us?” (Yes, and no, in case you were wondering.) Each article is littered with scriptural references, which function like hyperlinks, directing readers to Bible pages for further reading. The committee also decides questions and answers for the special “study” editions of The Watchtower produced specifically for Witnesses already in the flock to study at Kingdom Halls every week. The number of study editions printed is undisclosed.
Study editions with questions and answers to help champions grow in the cause. I can’t get over that. That’s a million dollar idea.
Maybe I will develop a study edition of this blog that asks, “Why are cults, for-profit organizations, and secular nonprofits so much better at applying biblical principles governing the spread of causes than we evangelical nonprofits are? When will our development strategies become as evangelical as our theology?”