Falwell's Megachurch Merges with Global Charity

Correction appended

Gleaning for the World – it's recognized as one of the top charities in the country by Forbes, yet hardly anyone has heard its name.

But that's about to change.

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This week, the Concord, Va.-based non-profit announced a merger with Thomas Road Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the country with 22,000 members.

An international humanitarian aid organization joining hands with a congregation is viewed as unprecedented and historic.

"It is just very unique that a successful charity would approach a single church and both of us have the same desire; and we're only eight miles apart," the Rev. Ron Davidson, founder and president of GFTW, commented to The Christian Post.

Merging with a well-known and connected church that is also affiliated with Liberty University – one of the largest evangelical Christian universities in the nation – will help spread awareness about the aid organization, not to mention give the aid group access to tens of thousands of potential volunteers and staff as well as donations.

GFTW will also have the opportunity to be marketed to millions of people through Thomas Road's weekly television broadcast.

"We expect to double the organization and supplies we're placing in the field," said Davidson, who left his position as pastor of a 1,200-member church to start GFTW in 1998. "That's what this merger means to us. We're simply going to reach a lot more people."

Davidson approached Thomas Road senior pastor Jonathan Falwell with the merger proposal last fall. The charity, which Forbes ranked in 2008 as a top charity in both fundraising efficiency and charitable commitment for the second year in a row, was successful in its work – locating, managing and distributing millions of dollars worth of supplies to survivors of major disasters or poverty-stricken areas – but was struggling to raise funds.

"We are very good at what we do ... [but] we are not real good in fundraising and marketing who we are and what we do," the charity head said.

The timing was critical as non-profits around them were shutting down or cutting programs in the midst of an economic recession.

Guide Star, a source for non-profit information, projected that contributions from foundations and individuals for humanitarian work would drop 60 percent, according to Davidson.

Gleaning for the World's staff was reduced to seven after two employees left and the charity was never able to replace them.

Now with the merger, GFTW expects to add at least another five full-time workers to its staff, including a volunteer coordinator who would work with the anticipated flood of volunteers.

For nearly 11 years, GFTW has been "gleaning" surplus medical and essential supplies to provide to humanitarian projects worldwide. Gleaning requires contacting industries in the country to locate and collect supplies that aren't sold but are still of top quality and then working with humanitarian organizations to sort and ship the supplies to people working in the field.

Last year alone, the non-profit handled supplies totaling $42 million.

A marketing director at Thomas Road Baptist Church called the charity's work the most complicated business plan he'd ever seen, according to Davidson.

At the same time, he called GFTW the best kept secret, Davidson said.

The church and charity will operate as separate 501c3 non-profit organizations but the charity will have the resource of some 40,000 people.

"We've added an army of people to help us do what we do," Davidson commented.

Pastor Falwell, meanwhile, believes the merger will get his church more involved in humanitarian work.

"I am excited about the opportunity for our church to get involved in providing assistance to many hurting people as well as having new opportunities for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them," Falwell said in a statement.

While the two non-profits see nothing but gain in the future, Davidson said he is uncertain the merger will be replicated by other non-profits.

On the Web:

Correction: Thursday, April 9, 2009:

An article on Thursday, April 9, 2009, about the merger between Gleaning for the World and Thomas Road Baptist Church incorrectly reported that Guide Stone magazine projected that contributions from foundations and individuals for humanitarian work would drop 60 percent. The Christian Post confirmed that the source for the projection is Guide Star, not Guide Stone.

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