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How Stations Are Communicating the Threat to Federal Funding

Membership, Major Giving, General Management, Federal Funding

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As the system grapples with decisions about how to address possible cuts to federal funding with their donors and in their fundraising, we surveyed the approaches of four stations. Here are their current strategies, including examples of their email and on-air messaging.

WETA: Secondary Messaging on All Channels

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Jeff Regen, vice president membership marketing & Development Services for WETA TV 26 and Classical WETA 90.9 FM, explains that his station is using the threat to federal funding as a supporting fundraising message point across channels:

Our approach to the issue has several parts:

  1. Inform supporters about the risk to federal funding.
  2. Set them up for advocacy (for example, via Protect my Public Media).
  3. Gather assets that could be useful in an advocacy fight for funding.
  4. Tee up the issue - in an appropriate manner - for use in fundraising.
    And, if possible...
  5. Grow our list.

These may seem like a lot of goals to tackle, but it’s actually been quite easy to address most of them in limited communications.

For example, we did two sends to our list of an email asking WETA supporters, “What does WETA mean to you?” In these emails, we hit on all of the criteria above. The campaign was quite a success: We gathered 400 different “What does WETA mean to you?” stories, some of which were extremely personal and powerful.

In terms of fundraising, we have used the threat to federal funding as a supporting messaging point across channels: on-air, email and mail. For example, we sent an email before the end of our March TV drive that focused on the progress we’d made toward our goal, and it included a mention of the issue: “Especially now that federal funding to public media is in jeopardy, your contribution is more important than ever.”

We’re not leading with it, but we are using some version of that phrase across many channels, and we’re doing very well.

Of course, we’re constantly monitoring the state of the threat. We haven’t used this messaging since last week when Congress passed the stopgap spending bill through September 30. We may continue the messaging when the President’s FY18 full budget proposal is released if it eliminates CPB funding again.

KMUW: Targeted Experimentation

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Dalton Black, membership fundraising director at KMUW Wichita, reports that the university licensee recently experimented with a spring-drive email focused on the issue:

How to approach federal funding is something we struggled with. As a university licensee, we we’re nervous about toeing the line of lobbying. But we didn’t feel like we could completely ignore it either. We had many members asking how these potential budget cuts would affect us so we knew something needed to be said.

We tried many new things during our normal spring fundraiser. We always have a letter campaign leading up to our on air drive, but we also included a string of emails as well. We decided to include one email about federal funding – it was also sent on a Saturday which was another first for us.

Our general manager and myself talked about what it would say and we settled with the idea that we don’t know what’s going to happen with these potential cuts, but what we do know is that YOU are the future of public radio…you can continue to support it now! Support what’s important to you.

There were many factors in this email (first time email campaign, first time an appeal sent on a Saturday), but it had a good response in “open” numbers and donations. The first half of our email campaign happened before we actually went on air. The email and letter campaign was one of our most successful we’ve had in awhile.

WDET: Urging Supporters to Get Involved

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Lea Thomas, membership director at WDET 101.9 FM, says the station is using messaging across all channels to give supporters ways to get involved:

We've been very careful to sound an alarm and give people ways to effect change while not being overly alarmed.

Our initial email and blog post regarding the threat went out when the budget proposal came to light. It just happened that we were in the middle of a warp drive. Then we included notes in both our March and April e-newsletters; some of that copy was inspired by missives from other stations.

We’re also about to run this on-air spot:

“Some politicians think that public radio is an expendable line item. Thankfully, for now, there are still voices in Washington to stop them... but this threat isn't going away. Independent, influence-free programs and fact-driven news will ensure WDET's place as a resource for our community. You can help make that possible with your gift of support today at wdet.org.”

Our strategy moving forward will be to continue to explain and be more transparent about our funding model, and the costs and benefits of our product, dispel the myths that so many people hold about public broadcasting, and to celebrate everything we are able to do because of member support.

We are not sticking our heads in the sand or resting on the good graces of Congress. We will make it clear in our upcoming drives that the portion of funding that the government established, it can also remove with very little prompting. This message will push us to strengthen our case and continue towards increased transparency.

KGOU: A Focus on Existing State Cuts

Laura Knoll, membership director at KGOU Public Radio, Norman - Oklahoma City, says that this university licensee is focusing more on real cuts to state funding than the possibility of federal cuts:

We settled on a conservative approach to the CPB funding issue. We decided not to focus on the “what if” of possibly losing CPB funding and to focus more on the “what IS” of having our funding cut at the state level.

The state of Oklahoma has been in a funding crisis for several years, and the state appropriation for higher education (we are a university licensee) has been cut by about 10% year after year after year. I think we’re going on four years of cuts, with probably more in store for next fiscal year. Our university spreads the cuts evenly over every department, so if the state appropriation is cut by 12 %, that’s our funding cut as well, 12 %.

That was the message that we hit hard during our spring drive, the very real loss of state funding.

We also had messaging about funding sources in general, as we have leading up to and during every drive. The past couple of drives we’ve created graphics with a pie chart of our funding sources and shared those on social media or online. This spring our theme was “powered by people” and we incorporated the funding chart into our social media pre-drive slideshow.

Greater Public has some excellent scripts about the possible loss of CPB funding, but we are holding those in reserve to use if and when the threat becomes imminent. We have reinstated the web tile from Protect My Public Media that we used the last time funding was threatened, linking to their site. And some listeners have asked if we are concerned. We tell them we’re keeping an eye on it, but we also tell the story about our state funding loss as well. We stick to facts and steer away from advocating (or blaming!) but we do let donors know that losing our CPB grant would hurt. All of these conversations so far have been with individuals. We have not made any statements yet over the air or in our GM’s blog, but if the threat becomes more imminent, that could change.

We had an excellent spring drive. I don’t have exact figures at the moment, but anecdotally I know we had many, many donors upgrading to a higher amount, and more new members than I can ever remember getting. So far, we’ve opted to let the news coverage tell the story of the federal funding threat. Of course, if the federal cut comes, we’ll be telling listeners in specific terms what that means for the station, in dollars lost, programming changes, etc.

 

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