Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reinventing Pledge Drives

It's looks like a very successful fall fundraising season in public radio. Most of the stations we worked with matched or exceeded last Fall's results. A few stations had record-breaking drives for dollar raised and number of givers. Direct mail and other off-air fundraising appears to be strong as well.

A few more stations conducted one-day pledge drives including WRKF in Baton Rouge and WFDD in Greensboro/Winston-Salem.

Several stations -- WSHU in Fairfield CT, and KBSX in Boise, WBHM in Birmingham -- are trying to reinvent their fundraising by conducting nothing but 1-Day drives. They are following the lead of KBBI in Homer, Alaska and more recently, KUNC in Greeley. WSHU even published its plan to do nothing but 1-Day drives. You can see that here.

One big question we had about 1-Day drives is what happens when the station doesn't meet the goal? We now know the answer as a few stations have missed their goals.

First, the station typically makes at least two-thirds of the goal. For example, a station that usually raises $150,000 in seven days raises $100,000 in one day.

Not surprisingly, there is a let-down among station staff members. That's followed by a recognition that the station just raised $100,000 in one day, blowing away any previous level of fundraising performance without having to use any premiums, sweepstakes, or challenge grants.

A series of on-air spots and eblasts over the next week further reduces the balance of the remaining goal. Then the station comes on the air to mop up. Most stations hit goal with another day of fundraising. Instead of interrupting programming for seven days, the goal is met with just two days of preemptive pitching.

Audience response to this is quite good. Listeners appreciate the transparency of the process. In time we will learn if they appreciate it enough to make future 1-Day drives successful enough to abandon longer drives for good.

No matter what happens, it's great to see so many stations trying to address that old listener question, "Can't you do something about those long, annoying pledge drives?" These stations are trying and the lessons learned will benefit all of public radio.

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