Saturday, October 14, 2006

Valuing Listeners' Time

Nearly 20 years ago, WFAE experimented with raising $5,000 in 5-minutes. 10-years later that idea was played out over an entire hour at WBUR, where the Car Guys raised $74,000 in 60-minutes. What is now known as the "Power Hour" was born. KJZZ has done them for about 10 years, proving they are a sustainable strategy.

Now dozens of stations use Power Hours to start their pledge drives and leverage their direct mail and email results so they can do less on-air fundraising. Some stations "buy back" pledge days by encouraging giving through the mail. Wyoming Public Radio employs all of the above to run some of the shortest, most-efficient pledge drives in public radio.

On Friday the 13th, KBBI in Homer, Alaska met its entire fund drive goal in one day. They were following the lead of WSKG in Binghamton, NY, which reduced its multi-day drives to one day last year.

And over the past several years WUWM Milwaukee has used a combination of mail, email, and very short on-air announcements to completely eliminate its fall fund drive.

These are great fundraising success stories not only because a lot of money is being made. They are great fundraising success stories because these stations are signaling to listeners that their time is appreciated and valued.

The listeners' time is one of the costs of fundraising. Spending it wisely is not only good fundraising, it is also good public service.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kudos John. We loved every minute of our One-Day Friday. Our listeners couldn't say enough good things about it. It was fun, energetic and successful.

Comparatively, our on-air $s were down slightly from last fall, but it's offset by an increasing number of pledges through the mail. On-air pledge is less of a crutch for our fundraising increases.

Sonja Lee & I take the act on the road to our sister station KDLL Kenai, Alaska this Friday for their first-ever one-day drive. Their goal is 200+ pledges.

Jonathan Coke - KBBI development director

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Could you disclose which of the above-mentioned stations are or were your clients? Knowing this will help readers better assess the value and objective of this post.

7:15 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Glad you asked. The only current fundraising client is KJZZ. WBUR was a client during the big Car Talk fundraising hour.

I was at NPR in 1990 when we did the work with WFAE. Wyoming Public Radio isn't a client, but GM Jon Schwartz has built his strategy off of work I did with him in 1990, also while at NPR.

KBBI, WSKG, and WUWM have never been clients, though I did give KBBI some guidance when they did a Power Hour. Otherwise, they did all of this on their own.

The listeners who benefit from less on-air fundraising, they are all my clients.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it true that some stations that employ this stunt wind up getting most of the money from existing members rather than getting new contributors? Isn't it also true that at least one of the stations mentioned in this post wound up having to go back to long gruelling drives because of this flaw in your concept?

10:53 AM  
Anonymous man who's not a pledge drive fan said...

I think anon.10:53 is oversimplifying, but yes...WBUR briefly had the "day's worth of fundraising in one hour" concept going there several years' back. That concept crashed and they went back to more traditional fund drives.

In their defense, they've been slowly working back towards only having two or three hours per day of fundraising.

Also in their defense, I'll add that there was some seriously questionable fiscal management going on at the same time (towards the end of the Christo era) that left WBUR & WRNI about $12 million in debt (IIRC). So I don't think you can look at the fundraising methods without factoring in the giant hungering need for more money to keep the enterprise afloat while at the same time, underwriting revenue was way down in the wake of the dot-com crash.

11:41 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

The answer to question number one: No it is not true. And it is not a stunt. It is a repeatable strategy that works for years. Ask Scott Williams at KJZZ. Ask Jon Schwartz at Wyoming Public Radio. Call Dave Edwards at WUWM and ask him about their home-grown effort that has eliminated the fall pledge drive three years in a row.

The answer to question number two: the station in question is WBUR and its excessive spending, which is well-documented, outpaced the station's ability to sustain the less fundraising concept.

But lets get back to the real issue. Why is it that you don't think repecting listeners' time is an important aspect of fundraising? That's what the post is about. I'm eager to see your response.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question John.

If one goal of an on-air drive is to attract people who are not part of a station database now, this tactic may be effective financially but ineffective in growing the giver database.

Stations have an increasingly broader range of tactics at hand to get current givers to renew. While it may appear to be respecting listeners' time, this may not be truly the case if most of the people who are footing the bill are already part of your database in the first place. This is why I said it was a stunt in my earlier comment.

Do you have any data that shows that this approach does as effective a job of growing a station's roster of new givers as the more traditional method?

3:31 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

First let me point out that the second paragraph of the original post references using Power Hours to leverage their off-air fundraising results.

Commiting to less on-air fundraising improves renewal and lapsed mail response rates. It increases the number of donors who give additional gifts, further establishing their giving relationship with the station. Stations are starting to include Acquisition mailings around the less fundraising concept.

Before a mic is cracked open for a Power Hour, the database is growing faster than without the Power Hour.

Second, new members represent about half of the database growth potential during pledge drives. The other half comes from on-air renewals and lapsed contributors coming back. So an on-air strategy that accelerates giving from all three of the donor groups will grow the database faster than just concentrating on new members.

I can't give out my clients' information, but feel free to contatct them and ask about it.

Finally, new member donor growth has been stunted significantly by by public radio's obsession with higher average gifts. Getting new members at stations with high average pledge drive gifts is about the easiest fix to make. Just be welcoming of first-time gifts between $35 and $60.

But you know what? The same lack of respect for listeners' time spills into a respect for low gift amounts and that gets in the way of getting more new wmembers.

You'd be stunned at how many times I've heard of low level donors referred to as "cheapskates."

If fundraising is to ever embrace public radio's core values, those types of attitudes must go.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But don't power hours encourage high level gifts?

9:50 AM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

Power Hours encourage all levels of gifts. And stations get them because the idea trancends gift amounts. This is proved time and again in the frequency distribution of pledges from a Power Hour and the donors' lack of interest in premiums during Power Hours.

I have to say that this is beginning to feel like one of those, "I have a friend who's pregnant..." conversations.

If you need to learn about Power Hours and remain anonymous to the industry for good reason, why not write me directly? I'm happy to help you learn more about Power Hours and while protecting your anonimity. You'll learn a lot more faster.

You can also download the entire Power Hour kit for free at the website. It's free to any station or fundraising consultant to use. So help yourself.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks John. I appreciate your answers to my questions.

4:44 PM  

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