Becky Chinn

Recent Posts

Build Powerful Local Pitches to Raise More Money On-Air

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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Out of adversity comes opportunity. 

Especially now, with most of your listeners stuck close to home, in extremely challenging times – the local reporting, culture and music sharing, and community building that your station has done in recent months holds even greater importance in people’s daily lives. 

Across the nation, at stations large and small, so much gratitude has poured in for the role that stations are playing right now. In most cases, this gratitude has also paid off with strong financial support. 

As the impacts of the coronavirus continue, and as the dramatic election season approaches, fall is the perfect time to make a strong case for your local station and its services in your local market, whether you’re on the ground reporting the news or providing essential music and culture to lift spirits and provide a respite in difficult times.

In a few simple steps you can make sure your whole team is prepped (and excited) to pitch the value of the vital work your station is doing – and will continue to do.

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Increase Donations Over Time With the Right Gift Ladders

Membership, direct mail, email

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Whether online or in the mail, the gift ladder is often one of the final items to be set before a campaign is launched. Or, in some cases, a gift ladder is the one thing that hasn’t been changed in years. But there is tested strategy behind how to encourage members to increase their donations over time.

It matters how your gift ladder is laid out, and what options you give prospective donors.

Here are seven strategies for building effective gift ladders:

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The Secret to Getting Election Members to Renew

elections, Membership, donor cultivation and stewardship

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For most news stations, and a solid percentage of music stations, significant gains in new donors were achieved in the wake of the 2016 election. An increase in new donors may occur again during future election cycles or as a result of political news. There’s no doubt that unbiased, public-centered, truthful news is an utter necessity today and will continue to be so in the years to come. Likewise, access to the respite and inspiration that music and culture bring to our lives feels particularly potent for our need to re-connect with our shared humanity.

Of course, an influx of new donors is never something to be taken for granted. Now is the time to get to work stewarding your newest members:

  • Welcome your new donors with warm and grateful acknowledgement letters, e-welcome series, and communications designed to ensure that donors feel like insiders and have the chance to get the most out of your services.
  • Engage donors and demonstrating the impact of their support through on-air spots, through highlights of station accomplishments in print and online, and even through opportunities to connect in-person.
  • Thank them more than once with a postcard, a surprise email, a thank-you phone call, or an opportunity to receive a discounted or free offer exclusive to supporters.
  • Convert them to monthly donors through the mail, on the air, and on the phone.

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Advisory: Communicating with Donors Post Election

elections, Membership, Major Giving, General Management

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One week ago, the outcome of the presidential election left many thinking about how to approach the important work of the nonprofit sector.

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Email Copywriting

Membership, email

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The essential prerequisite for effective e-fundraising is to have already built an e-relationship with your recipients. Once that’s in place, your messages should…

  • Keep it simple, direct, and to-the-point.
  • Employ short, bold, passionate copy, no more than three or four lines per paragraph.
  • Streamline your message, focus on just one thing.
  • Share an obvious reason to give right up front.
  • Include multiple clearly marked links in a variety of locations, including the header.
  • Make it look, feel, and sound like a personal email, not a marketing piece.
  • Assure ample white space to make it feel open and easy for the reader to absorb.
  • Use a single signer only, and include a P.S. just like direct mail.
  • Employ an intriguing subject line that will encourage more opens. (Subject lines that allude to fundraising usually receive fewer opens.)


You want your emails to be seen as “must-engage” messages. Always remember that it’s your non-fundraising messages that will set the stage for your appeals and their potential for success. So, to set things up right…

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Three Ways to Improve Your Station’s Direct Mail Program

direct mail

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1: Are you sending enough direct mail?

It’s important to remember that the person who just donated is the one who’s most likely to donate again. Yet so often, stations shy away from truly maximizing revenue opportunity for fear of asking too much.

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Three Key Ways Impact-Centered Cultivation Makes a Difference

sustainers, Membership, marketing, philanthropy

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When it comes to revenue and donor retention, good fundraising practices are paramount to success. Yet for the most part, outside of recent sustainer success, public media’s record of retaining donors year after year, and transitioning more people to philanthropic levels of giving has often been mediocre at best.

In order to retain more donors, it’s vital to make the most of opportunities as they present themselves to signal impact and value to donors. This means finding ways to talk about what the station brings to the community that goes beyond the simple act of listening to programs on the radio. It’s about helping listeners and donors build a deeper sense of meaning and understanding of the importance of your mission.

Here are three key ways that demonstrating the impact of your programming makes a difference in donor cultivation:

1. It shows their donation makes a difference.

It keeps your new and long-time members connected to the “why” of their support, serving as a regular reminder that their listening and support has true purpose and importance – that it matters – and their continued participation makes it all possible.

2. It paves the way toward major giving.

It sets your potential major donors up for a more fruitful conversation at a more advanced starting place, a position likely to result in greater levels of giving.

3. It draws in younger (more impact-sensitive) donors.

It strengthens connections with younger donors, a generation that we will count on to fund the work of public media in the decades to come. This is a generation that – at least to date – has shown that impact is a key driver of their charitable giving choices.

Even though budgets are tight, a creative approach coupled with a little time invested can ensure that some important impact ideas reach your donors on a regular basis.

Here are two excellent recent examples of stations using existing tools and resources for an additional purpose of signaling impact.

OPB's Story

In the midst of the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, OPB utilized its weekly e-newsletter to go beyond a “tune-in-for-developments-here” message. President and CEO Steve Bass crafted a timely and significant leading letter that:

  • Shares behind-the-scenes information about the coverage
  • Tells readers why it’s important
  • Gives donors props for making it possible
  • Touts how OPB’s work is central to national reporting efforts, an idea that builds pride amongst supporters.
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Public Radio and TV Donors Expect to Give at Year-End

Membership, pledge drive, direct mail, scripts, calendar year-end

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A recent NPR station survey revealed some interesting trends in calendar year-end giving. Stations reported that year-end drives led to an increase in giving over the previous year, although the number of new members remained about the same.

Year-end giving should be a part of your station's annual individual giving strategy. People expect a little boldness from organizations at the end of the year. They can be asked to contribute... more than once. Strong, assertive year-end campaigns will stand out at this time of year and will get results.

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Get Them and Keep Them: The TWO Pillars of Successful Membership

sustainers, Membership, pledge drive, direct mail

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There are nearly as many approaches to the details of an effective membership program as there are public media stations. But one thing stations with top-performing programs have in common is that they apply the full array of identified best practices when it comes to membership strategy and technique.

Many stations approach each technique in membership fundraising as if it were performing in isolation from the other techniques: How did our on-air drive perform? What was the response rate on that lapsed letter? What’s the growth rate on our sustainer program? But the long-term health of any one technique is intricately intertwined with the fundraising ecosystem as a whole.

From a long-term growth perspective, for stations where on-air fundraising is still the largest slice of the revenue pie, there is a point where the number of people willing to join as sustainers will begin to plateau. Growth will slow and increases in member numbers will begin to flatten again. We’re already seeing some of these effects as a number of stations with high percentages of sustainers on the file are having a difficult time reaching on-air revenue goals that were previously achievable.

Additionally, as we have all learned, sustainer programs are not foolproof. This revenue can be vulnerable to credit card breaches, requiring stations with large sustainer programs to develop deeper plans and to allocate staff and budgets towards managing sustainer churn, acquiring new payment information and attempting to move these donors over to electronic funds transfer, once again proving that no fundraising program is either free or a silver bullet.

While stations can (and should) intently focus on bringing as many donors onto the file over the air, particularly as sustainers, when it comes to new single-gift members joining the station, a central challenge to achieving healthy growth is the fact that typically only 30% or fewer of a station’s new on-air-acquired single-pay members will return for a second year of membership, and for many of them it will take either an expensive telemarketing phone call or another on-air premium to entice them back, leading to a cycle of member churn and high-cost fundraising.

This fact, of course, is why successful sustainer programs are so valuable to a healthy membership file today. These programs have given the system a way to make on-air fundraising a more viable activity from a net and long-term revenue standpoint.

But maximum program growth will still only occur when both pillars of “retention-positive” membership programs are fully functioning – sustained giving and acquisition mail. Indeed, the strongest and most efficient membership fundraising programs in public media today – defined as those with the largest member ranks – are diverse programs that maximize every technique available.

In fact, as we compare the basic retention curves of monthly giving; direct mail and email; and single-pay donors to on-air drives, it is clear that the retention path of direct mail and email acquired donors is a positive path. Indeed, at a number of stations, after 5+ years have passed, a higher percentage of mail-acquired donors remains on the file compared to sustainers acquired in the same year.

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Finish Strong With a Fiscal Year-End Campaign

Membership, direct mail, scripts

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Whether you’re sailing toward your goal, or whether it’s going to take a bit more work to get there this year, a fiscal year-end campaign can be a powerful tool in your fundraising toolbox.

It can sometimes be a challenging sell to your audience though, because a “fiscal year-end” is really something that’s all about your station, about “us,” not about them. And we know that the best fundraising happens when it’s all about “you,” your listener.

So to be truly effective, it’s important to remember that the tone should be urgent, timely and specific, not desperate, needy and unconvincing. And that your campaign isn’t about the station’s need to meet its goal, that it’s rather about the community’s ability and responsibility to ensure that its treasured public radio service continues to thrive.

This is about being confident and crystal clear about what you want, why you want it, and when you want it.

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