I’ve heard more than 4,000 hours of on-air fundraising over the last eight years. I’ve heard pitching on stations of every market size from every part of the country in just about every format. I’ve heard pitching from program hosts, news reporters, station managers, fundraising professionals, administrative staff, business managers, community leaders, volunteers, and engineers.
But I’ve seldom heard fundraising that consistently articulates the value of public radio to our listeners.
Giving begins when our listeners realize how personally important public radio has become. And helping listeners recognize how much our programming fulfills their needs not only convinces them to give, it also affects how much they will give. Therefore, as major audience and fundraising studies have revealed, listener support starts with selling our service.
Yet today we are much better at selling Grundig emergency radios than we are at selling public radio. We are great at convincing listeners there won’t be a better time to give than “NOW, during this challenge, while your pledge is worth twice as much.” And we are even pretty good at getting listeners to believe that a week of Morning Edition listening is equal in value to a Starbucks’ Gingerbread Latte.
But we could be much more effective if we would just get better at asking listeners to give based purely on value. So few can do it well.
If you don’t believe that, try this test:
Find someone with on-air fundraising experience. Ask him or her, right on the spot, to explain to you, as a listener, why your public radio station is worth $100. Here are the ground rules.
- The $100 cannot be broken down to monthly, weekly, or daily amounts.
- Comparisons to other expenditures such as Internet services or a cup of coffee are not allowed.
- No comparisons to other media such as newspapers or cable TV.
Chances are good you'll get silence. Chances are better you'll get clichés.
Rarely do we see someone post on the fundraising listserv that their station had a successful pledge drive because the last four months of programming was so compelling. Success is usually credited to hot premiums, big challenges, and cool sweepstakes prizes.
This is not to say that fundraising tactics aren’t important. They are. But they do not appeal to all listeners. In fact, we know certain tactics can cause listeners to tune out. So while tactics deliver some success, the array we use does not speak universally to all potential givers. What all of these people have in common is this: At some time during the week, they tune in to the station's programming.
I’m not suggesting that we completely fail to convey the value of public radio during our fundraising. Some of the pledge production from the networks does that very well. We could use more.
There are also some very good pitchers out there. The best tend to be people with programming and news backgrounds because they create exactly what listeners value.
However, the people who get more excited on air about the Grundig radios than the programming need something else before they pitch again – a greater understanding of who listeners are and why they give, a familiarity with VALS, and with Core Values. And they need training and practice to turn that understanding into effective fundraising. These are resources available now, and they are as easy to absorb as a Gingerbread Latte.