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Select all letters, right-click and make them a compound path.
Or just leave it as Live Type, if needed (I am still with 10) delete the Fill and in the Appearance palette/panel flyout Add New Fill, and at the bottom of the Toolbox change from Color to Gradient. This way you can have editable type with a gradient.
The way jacob describe is probably the best way unless you which to modify the characters. Or you prefer to have outline text for some other reason.
Once yo outline the text it is a compound path so no ned to make it one. Even if you release the compound tpath of the outline text still no problem.
Just select the gradient tool , once you have applied the gradient to the outlined text. and drag it across the entire length of the outlined text now the text is filled with the gradient as if it were one shape.
At least in 10 the outlined type becomes a simple Group, only individual letters becoming Compound Paths. I was not sure whether, and if so when, this has changed.
Well I guess I sort of mislead the OP in this case yes the individual letters are compound paths that are grouped.
What I wanted to point out was that it is unnecessary to make the the outline text a compound path in order to fill the letters as if they were one path or to have it grouped. Just drag the gradient tool across the whole outline text art and it will fill with on gradient across all the letters.