Friday, October 21, 2005

The Truth About On-Air Fund Drives

Public radio forces too much money out of its on-air fund drives. And the problem is likely to get worse.

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.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am with you on that - having worked at stations as a host for 12 years and having worked in the museum industry too - they are both the same - they overspend and demand more money every year to cover new programs and new ideas.

Frankly I liked parting with my dollars when many stations had on air auctions - it was fun to tune in and watch the action - they had me as a viewer because I didn't want to miss out on an opportunity.

Guess what - commercial TV caught on to this and called it QVC...whose making more money?

The beg a thons are pathetic and take the wrong approach. If you make it fun and the audience can participate they don't realize that they are giving money and they want to tune in tomorrow.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you can slam membership drives without proposing another realistic way to generate funding for stations. As a person of influence in the system, it's irresponsible of you attempt to make station professionals feel ashamed of their primary source of funding. All that does is take the wind out of their sails, and that energy depletion will be evident in the drives and will render them less effecient. And if they are less effecient, they'll need to add more days, because YOU haven't proposed an alternative.

Maybe the problem is that because of people like you, public radio has not embraced the ADVANTAGES and mission friendliness of membership drives: First, for the listener contact and feedback. Second: drives are grassroots public radio in action -- demonstrating that public radio really is different in the best way possible -- it is TRULY listener supported, accountable to members and listeners, not shareholders and investors and finally, public radio is not-for-profit.

As talk increasingly dominates public radio, credibility is key to making people continue to tune in. The membership drives are proof positive that public radio cares about listeners and is rooted in the community. There is every reason to be proud of these characteristics -- including as they are demonstrated by drives. And if that pride is pumped up within the public radio community, it will come across during the breaks -- and the drives will be more successful.

Public radio professionals, especially in development should feel proud of what they do -- so don't force other to wallow in your negativity.

Keep it real Sutton

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest Mr. Sutton propose some alternatives to on-air fund drives. Foundations and corporations are stretched to the limit!

10:19 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

To anonymous #2, I'm sorry your feelings were hurt by this post. Cleary it is a sensitive subject for you. Please read it again without being defensive about fund drives. You will see that it is a piece about the burden poor spending choices are placing on fund drives. Fiscal discipline is the alternative. As for my slamming fund drives, it's the listeners who don't like them. We have two decades of research to demonstrate that. We can, and do, use this knowledge to our advantage. As for me, my work covers 18 years of supporting station fundraising through local and national efforts on-air, off-air, and through underwriting. That body of work includes plenty of alternatives to more on-air fundraising. This past fall more than 90 stations took advantge of free fundraising support services offered via our website radiosutton.com. Finally, competition is good for public radio. Though we always welcome anonymous comments on the site, I encourage you to identify yourself and bring your perspectives and ideas to the national discussion. Become a national player... and make a difference!

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our public radio station's spring pledge posted a 17% increase over last year's.

We feel that, twice a year, we can suspend our programming in favor of producing a Special Event that is as much entertainment as revenue producing.

This approach has led to many of our listeners saying that our Pledge Drives are a wonderful change from other public radio whinings for money.

1:37 PM  

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