The Truth About On-Air Fund Drives
The budget demands placed on fund drives have always exceeded the natural listener response rate to short, tasteful spots that don't preempt regular programming. Today, fund drives cannot meet their goals without the use of some commercial-like tactics to generate pledges and larger average gifts. For many stations, on-air drives are now delivering diminishing returns.
At the same time, stations are being encouraged to spend more money, not less. But all of this new spending -- for local news and talk programming, HD radio, and on-demand audio -- won't pay for itself. It will require subsidies.
Major donors, foundations, and other grants will cover the initial shortfalls. History shows, however, these income sources tend to dry up as new initiatives become established budget line items. The burden for funding these activities then falls on listener and business income. That leads to larger on-air drive goals, more on-air fundraising, and more of the tactics that cause listeners to dislike on-air fund drives.
As an industry, we talk a lot about doing less on-air fundraising and making the fundraising we do sound better. That won't happen as long as fund drives are used to bail stations out of short-sighted spending decisions.