The Healthy Station's Secret to Getting More Donors

Membership, pledge drive

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What’s the most effective way to get more donors? This is among the questions we at Greater Public hear most frequently from our colleagues in membership. And they’re right to ask.

Increasing the number of people who actively give money is the most reliable path to building and sustaining public radio’s financial health over time.

While some stations have had great success strengthening their membership core with sustainers, sustainers aren’t immune to attrition. The pressure on membership as a revenue source continues to increase, and would increase significantly if public media were to face cuts in federal funding. And, simply put, there are so many members who have the potential to give! Why leave them without the opportunity to connect to the content they love?

So how do we get more donors?

It’s important to remember that more donors include both lapsed donors and those who have never given in the past. While lapsed donors are the easier prospects simply because they have given in the past, the core approach we must take in order to increase the number of those who give doesn’t change based on whom the message is directed towards.

The strategy to gain more supporters is simple: explain thoroughly and consistently over time the vital role that listeners and their financial support play in funding public radio’s independence.


In other words, the most effective way to get more donors is to ask listeners to give.

Tell them why we need their money and how their giving will make a difference.

The most important place to do this is in an on-air membership drive. In some ways it’s also the easiest. You don’t have to lead your audience to the services you provide, because they’ve already made their own choice to listen.

Stations often experiment with new member days and goals, asking for smaller gifts, and talking specifically to new and/or lapsed donors over the air. But those approaches are bound to have varying levels of success because, on their own, they don’t address the core concept that turns listeners into donors.

To obtain new donors, stations must:

1. Ask listeners often enough to give.

Stations reach and sustain their full potential of donors when they have:

  • sufficient on-air fundraising breaks at the optimal length of five minutes
  • enough fundraising days within a drive
  • enough fundraising drives throughout the year

2. Ask effectively enough for listeners to understand our need for their money and how giving it to us will make a difference.

Answer these questions in your listeners’ minds:

  • Why you’re here
  • Why it matters to them
  • What you want them to do and why
  • Why they should do it now, not later
  • Why their money is important, and what it will accomplish

Remember to follow these other golden rules when asking for new members on-air:

  1. Follow the tone of the programming. The tone of a break coming out of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! should be different than one coming out of Morning Edition.
  2. Always focus on one listener at a time. (“It’s your member contribution that makes this all happen.”)
  3. Always speak to “you” (“YOU know you enjoy this program.” “Now is a great time for YOU to show your support for the service you use every day.”)
  4. Make one point per pitch and pass to your co-pitcher.
  5. Sell each pitch, don't just say it. For example, don't say merely that we.'re listener supported and we need you to call now. Explain that listener support is the reason the station has its editorial independence / plays music that commercial stations don't and ask the person you're talking to to support this.
  6. Choose a few compelling messages and dig in rather than skimming the surface of many messages. Build on a theme. “This service is free to everyone.” “Your support allows everyone to benefit from WXYZ’s wonderful programs.” “Your community is stronger because of the programming found on WXYZ.”
  7. Cite specific examples to strengthen pitches. “Somebody became a sustaining member of WXYZ during the last membership drive. They’ve ‘played it forward’ for you. The songs you just heard are on the air because of them.”
  8. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Your listener is not paying attention as closely as you are.
  9. Turn station needs, including fundraising goals, into listener benefits. “Reaching that goal of $$$ means that we can plan better for the future. We can discover new programs, expand our library, and provide you with the best news and public information found anywhere.”

Consider this as well: stations typically have a harder time attracting more donors and sustainers when they shorten or eliminate too much of their on-air fundraising (find out if it’s wise for your station to be experimenting with shorter drives). Simply put, this doesn’t leave time to explain often enough and effectively enough why the station needs donors.

View the on-air giving fundamentals guide >>>

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