Many stations have used or considered using collaborative fundraisers to contribute to the wellbeing of the community and provide opportunity to donors for deeper impact.
Collaborative drives appeal to donors because their gift simultaneously benefits the work of another community issue that they care about.
WFDD in Winston-Salem has run a collaborative drive since 2009, gathering insights along the way about what makes these campaigns successful. Our BackPack Campaign works to alleviate childhood hunger through a partnership with our regional food bank’s BackPack Program, which provides children experiencing food insecurity with a backpack full of kid-friendly, nutritious food to take home over the weekends.
The BackPack Campaign offers a model for any station wishing to hold a collaborative fundraiser.
What Is the BackPack Campaign?
The BackPack Campaign is a four-way partnership. The first partner is a food bank that runs a program to send children home with a backpack of food each weekend. The children have been identified by their school as getting most of their meals at school, and as not having reliable access to food over the weekend. An identified corporate partner agrees to fund the backpacks for children through a direct donation to the food bank. The third and fourth partners are the station, and, of course, the listeners.
It’s structured such that every gift to the station results in offsetting the cost of one backpack of food for a child. Listeners make a donation to the station, and 100% of their gift remains with the station supporting the programming; the corporate partner funds the backpack; the food bank distributes the backpacks through its program, which provides continuity of service to the children who are enrolled and can serve additional children because of the partnership. The backpack is the thank-you gift for the donor, it just goes to a child in need. Because it’s structured as a one-for-one (one donation equals one backpack), rather than a “when-then” (“when we meet the goal, then this will happen”), it’s very positively received. The station is coming together with the community to serve the community in amplified ways.
History of the BackPack Campaign
WFDD has always held its BackPack Campaign in December. It’s a time of year when the focus on food insecurity is high. It’s a time of year when charitable giving is also high, and people are looking for ways to expand their giving and do more good in their communities.
The first campaign in 2009 had a goal of 300 gifts of support for WFDD which also meant 300 backpacks of food. By 2019, the goal had grown to 1,300 gifts for WFDD and 1,300 backpacks. After a special spring 2020 BackPack Campaign, in light of COVID-19, and this past December’s campaign, the total number of backpacks filled by this effort is 11,600 (the equivalent of 58,000 meals for children).
The WFDD BackPack Campaign has occurred annually for more than a decade. It inspires giving from a wide donor base, gets a positive response from the community, and has sustained an increase over time in the number of children served by the food bank. Among the 1,300+ gifts received during the campaign are even gifts from kids, who give their weekly or monthly allowance, or ask their parents to make a donation in lieu of receiving a holiday gift, in order to provide a backpack to a child facing food insecurity.
What Is the Potential Impact of a Collaborative Fundraiser?
- Increased revenue
- Increased connection to the community
- Increased listener affinity for the station
- Support for an additional cause in your community
What Are the Key Elements of a Successful Collaborative Campaign?
There are a few things you’ll need in order to make this kind of campaign successful.
- A clear need in your region.
- A local or regional organization with an ongoing effort or program that addresses that need in the community.
This organization should have a history addressing this community need along with impact data. Vetting this partner is essential, since your station isn’t an expert in work like direct social service, for example. When you partner with an organization that’s reliable and experienced, you can feel good about telling your audience that their donation will make a difference for public media and the additional cause.
You’ll also feel good about listening to your partner. It’s essential to work closely with them to understand where they see the greatest need and potential for impact.
Ideally, this partner organization should serve a similar footprint to that of your station to assure listeners that their gift is serving their community.
Finally, they should understand that the fund drive is still about raising money for the station and that you won’t be fundraising on-air for them, although you will mention them as the organization that runs the partner program.
- A strong corporate partner: Work with a partner you know you can trust to uphold their commitment and who understands the relationship and how the campaign works.
You’ll want commitment from this partner that they’re bringing new money to the service partner and will follow through on their obligation. Vet your corporate partner with your service partner before finalizing any agreements. If the corporate partner you choose is already a supporter of the service organization, make certain they understand that you are seeking an additional contribution, above and beyond what they’ve already given or planned to give.
- Solid testimonials from partners: Work with your service organization to identify constituents served who would be willing to work with you to record testimonials. Additionally, both partners should be willing to record testimonials.
- Excellent scripting which clearly and concisely explains how the fund drive works. The main messaging is still about your service. But additional scripts talk about the why of the collaborative campaign and how it works.
- A goal that will fulfill your fundraising needs and also make an impact for your community. Talk to your service partner about what would be impactful for them. Does that fit with your goals?
- A stated contingency plan in the event you don’t meet the goal (or if you exceed it). This should be discussed with both of your partners so everyone understands how things will proceed if the goal is not met or is exceeded. This could include a provision for allowing extra time to promote the campaign if the goal is not met, an allowance for the corporate partner to fulfill the entirety of their commitment even if the goal is not met, and an understanding that it is at the discretion of the corporate partner whether to fund any additional contributions should the goal be exceeded.
- A memorandum of understanding (MOU) that clearly defines each partner’s role. It should explain what on-air mentions for both partners will sound like, so there is clear understanding, as well as the value of that and any other promotion. It should also include a deadline for the corporate partner to disburse the funds to the service partner. Do not proceed until the MOU has been signed by all partners.
How Does It Work?
- First, you’ll need to make sure your service partner has an existing program. And, you’ll need to know their cost so you can determine the best way to connect this to your fundraising. For WFDD, this means knowing the cost to provide one backpack.
- Second, you’ll need to identify a corporate partner whose mission and values align with your own, and who sees the value in partnering on this initiative. This is a locally-based company that cares about demonstrating a commitment to the community. They may have a foundation specifically for supporting good works in the community, or they may fund this from their marketing budget.
- Third, vet the corporate partner with your service partner to make sure they aren’t already committing money to the organization. If they are, then you need to make it clear to the corporate partner that you are seeking NEW funds.
- Fourth, set your goal. The number of gifts = number of items/services contributed. As stated above, talk with your service partner about what would make a significant impact for them and determine how that aligns with your need. WFDD’s ask to our corporate partner is our goal times the cost to fill a backpack.
[cost to fill one backpack] x [number of donations]
= corporate partner contribution
- Fifth, set your dates, and make sure you’re allowing enough time on-air to achieve your goal. Will you conduct a pre-drive push?
- Sixth, create an MOU between partners, so everyone knows and understands their role and what they are committing to. Sample MOU from WFDD available upon request.
How Does It Sound On-Air?
For a fund drive which draws attention to staggering statistics surrounding childhood food insecurity in the regions served by WFDD, this is a campaign full of heart, joy, and positivity. Pitch breaks feature lots of community voices through testimonials and often through guest pitchers (usually members of the WFDD Community Advisory Board).
The nuts and bolts:
- Gift goal, not dollar goal (e.g. 1,300 gifts, which means 1,300 backpacks).
- A gift in any amount results in a backpack. There is NO MINIMUM GIFT AMOUNT. Yes, this has the potential to reduce your average gift, but it reduces barriers to giving and allows anyone to participate, even those who may have limited financial resources. It opens the door to new donors. For a campaign that is all about community, this is essential. It’s an ECHO campaign (everyone can help out).
- No premiums/thank-you gifts. The backpacks are the thank-you gift.
- Lots of community voices: testimonials and guest pitchers. Partners are invited to record testimonials; guest pitchers are generally Community Advisory Board members.
Recorded testimonials will discuss statistics about the community need you’re addressing and what the service partner’s program does. This is part of the why of the campaign. But those testimonials also include messaging about the importance to a community of a strong public radio station. When you select the right partners, this kind of balance in messaging comes easily.
The primary pitch message is still about the value of public radio and the reliance by listeners on the programming. However, there is heavy weight on the station’s position as a vital member of the community . . . as demonstrated by this campaign.
A close message might sound like this:
“In thanks for your gift, instead of sending you a tote bag or coffee mug, our partner XYZ Company will fill a backpack of food for a child in need in our region, through Food Bank’s BackPack Program.”
(Sample WFDD scripts, testimonials, and promos available upon request).
A heads up: Be prepared that some listeners may request to split their gifts so that they can contribute to more than one of your community items (e.g., “I want to make a $100 gift, but I want to split it into ten $10 gifts, so that I can contribute ten backpacks.”) Whether you allow this is up to your internal policies, but processing multiple gifts costs you more (and most listeners will understand this if it’s explained to them). This would also limit the opportunity for as many listeners as possible to be able to participate.
How firmly you need to stick with this planning timeline has many factors, and it will change once you have established relationships. For a first effort, some of this will depend on how quickly you can arrange a relationship with your service partner and secure a corporate partner. Depending on your connections, it could take up to six months to set up this kind of relationship the first time out.
- 3 - 6 months out: Secure partnership with service partner.
- 3 - 6 months out: Secure corporate partner.
- 3 months out: Finalize goal.
- 3 months out: Finalize MOU.
- 2 - 3 months out: Schedule testimonial recordings with partners; work with service partner to identify constituents for testimonials.
- 2 months out: Begin work on scripting; intermix usual value-proposition scripts with specific scripts about the importance of community, the station’s connection to the community, the community need you’re serving, and how the whole thing works. (WFDD sample scripts available upon request.)
- 2 months out: If you use volunteers to answer incoming donation calls, invite both your partners to take a shift.
- 1 month out: Draft email communications and social posts; schedule pre-drive promotion.
- 2 weeks out: Teaser promotion.
- Day before: Teaser e-blast.
- At the conclusion of the drive, notify both partners of the results.
- If desired, coordinate a check-presentation event/ceremony for your team and both partners.
- Produce and air thank-you spots letting the community know of the results.
- Send a thank-you email, announcing the results.
- Schedule a post-mortem with your team and with partners to determine anything that didn’t work.
- Seek early commitment from partners for the next campaign, if you intend to do it again.