Billy Graham was one of the most influential men of the twentieth century, but in his early years Graham owed his success to two wealthy newsmen: William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce. In 1947, Hearst instructed his newpapers to promote the Los Angeles rallies held by the 29-year-old evangelist. Hearst’s favorable coverage led to positive support from Time and Life publisher Luce, who had grown up as a Presbyterian “missionary kid” in Taiwan.
Financially, Graham’s ministry was built on grassroots giving. Offerings received at the rallies would be used to support local evangelistic groups and to organize future editions of the popular crusades. Throughout his career Graham depended on everyday giving from Christians rather than big philanthropy.
In his memoir Just As I Am, Graham recounts a story from early in his career, when he was approached by a man who at the time was among the richest in the country. The man offered to underwrite the evangelist’s crusades. Graham thanked the donor but told him, “We are getting about fifteen to twenty thousand letters a week. Most of those letters will have a little money in them, maybe $1, maybe $5. But every one of those letters is saying, ‘We’re praying for you.’ If they know there’s a rich man underwriting my work, they’ll stop praying, and my work will take a nosedive. So I can’t accept it.”
- Billy Graham, Just As I Am (Harper Collins Publishers, 1999)
- Billy Graham archive at Wheaton College, wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/bg.html