How You Can Build a Diverse Donor Base Through On-Air Fundraising

Membership, pledge drive, diversity & inclusion

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“As people of color become majorities in communities across America, successful nonprofit organizations will need to have a diverse donor base to sustain and grow their operations.” 

- Dr. Emmett Carson, Silicon Valley Foundation

“According to a recent report by Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, Diversity in Giving, nearly three-fourths of donors today are non-Hispanic whites, despite the fact that whites make up only 64 percent of the population. The underrepresentation of multicultural donors suggests that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities. For instance, African-American and Hispanic donors say they are solicited less frequently. Furthermore, they suggest they would give more if they were asked more often.”

- Tarsha Whitaker Calloway, nonprofitpro.com

Engaging a more diverse community of donors is key to fully realizing the potential of public media fundraising. However, many stations are at a loss when it comes to proven fundraising strategy to attract and retain a diverse group of donors – especially when it comes to on-air fundraising.

Here’s some good news! The fundraising leaders at Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) are finding success with the following innovative, culturally-savvy strategies that leverage core programming, unconventional thank-you gifts, and dynamic special events to attract and retain new, diverse donors and strengthen community connections. 

First, get uncomfortable.

Talking about race and structural racism at work can feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s okay. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a good thing because these conversations are the necessary starting point for us to move forward, to learn from one another, and to find solutions together. 

Build DEI into your DNA.

Atlanta is one of the most diverse metro areas in the United States. At Public Broadcasting Atlanta, the diversity of our listening audience and our viewing audience is in fact identical to metro Atlanta’s racial diversity by percentage. We have worked hard to achieve that audience diversity and are working to maintain audience representation. But like most American cities that are very racially diverse, Atlanta is also very segregated. We live in the second most segregated American city after Chicago. Through our programming, community engagement efforts, and our fundraising strategy, our intention is to foster a sense of community, despite the segregation that exists in our city. To do that, we’re always working to be an organization that reflects the audiences we serve. As our President and CEO Jennifer Dorian puts it, “DEI is in our DNA,” – diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of the work we do across the station.

Start with data.

We've all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” Our fundraising strategy starts with setting key metrics: How much money we aim to raise, how many new donors we intend to attract, how many of those donors should be sustainers, and so forth. Another part of the strategy involves asking questions about the composition of the membership file and it reflection of the diversity of our city: 

  • What are the demographics of our listeners and viewers? Does it match the diversity of the city?
  • Does our membership file reflect the diversity of the listening and viewing audience?
  • Is there a population that is growing in size and influence, that we may be overlooking?
  • Are we programming to a diverse audience and are we really asking all of our listeners to give?
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WBEZ Takes Chance on Sustainer-Focused Digital Campaign and Wins

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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After its spring 2021 pledge drive, Chicago’s WBEZ-FM realized it had a problem. Although the station was making its goal for one-time donations, it was missing the mark for sustainer memberships, a factor that could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revenue from sustainers is critical. At WBEZ, it accounts for more than $7 million of its $13 million annual membership budget, representing more than 60% of its donor base. Amy Wielunski, vice president for WBEZ Membership, could see that a sustainer downturn was starting to persist over time, something the station could not afford to ignore. 

“During the pandemic, we noted that pledge drives were effective in generating one-time donations,” says Wielunski. “We were meeting our budgetary goals for our drives, but were falling short in the number of sustainers per pledge drive. We knew we had to do something about it.”

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How to Plan a Collaborative Fundraiser

Membership, pledge drive

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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.

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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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How KPCC’s Mission Statement Project Could Help On-Air Drives in a Moment of Change

Membership, pledge drive, marketing

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Every public media station is changing how they approach on-air fundraising in this moment. The drive structure, duration, and tone that worked so well a few months ago are being reassessed. What remains constant is the message of public media’s critical service, whose value is perhaps more important than ever. 

A recent project in the newsroom at KPCC in Southern California captured that value in a way that could serve other stations, particularly during this time of change for on-air drives. 

In 2019, KPCC newsroom leadership asked all reporters and producers to write mission statements for their work.

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How to Use Your Airwaves to Support Other Nonprofits Legally and Responsibly

Membership, FCC, pledge drive, COVID-19

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives and the economy, many stations are extending their service to the community through collaborative fundraising for relief efforts. This might include supporting a food bank or local disaster relief. These efforts promote the wellbeing of the community and allow donors to make a deeper impact with their financial contributions by supporting two nonprofit organizations at one time. Take care, though, because there are FCC regulations that govern public media third-party fundraising. Here’s what you should keep in mind.

If you’re planning on holding an on-air drive in support of another nonprofit, you will need to request a waiver from the FCC. Typically stations work with their attorney specializing in FCC law to submit the official request in writing or by email. 

You don't need a waiver, though, if you are a non-commercial station not receiving CPB funds, and you are not an affiliate of NPR. There are still limitations, mainly that third party nonprofit fundraising appeals that interrupt regular programming can only comprise up to 1% of your total airtime in a year (about 88 hours).

Whether or not you need a waiver, the rules require on-air disclosures at the beginning and end of any fundraising appeal in which the station tells its audience that the money is going to a third-party nonprofit organization, not to the station. For longer programs, the same announcement must also be made at least once during each hour of the program.

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Station Results From the May 5 #GivingTuesdayNow Event

Membership, pledge drive, #GivingTuesday, COVID-19

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Facing a disrupted spring fundraising season, many public media stations around the country participated in the May 5 special international campaign organized by GivingTuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: #GivingTuesdayNow. In a survey of Greater Public member stations, we found that 86% of them participated in the event. Most of the 14% who did not participate didn’t believe the day fit their strategy.

The setting for the day was anything but promising: stations were shifting or cancelling on-air drives, personnel were scattered by work-from-home rules, and audience members were reeling from a relentless daily flow of news about the devastating health and economic consequences of a pandemic. But the special campaign was driven by three elements: 

  1. A near-universal sense of shared purpose
  2. A deep gratitude for the work of community groups including public media
  3. A desire to take some sort of action in response to the helplessness felt by so many stuck at home

The number of stations reporting strong results on May 5 far exceeded the number of those that did not, and a scan of some examples paints a picture of how to succeed in fundraising in the middle of the biggest disruption the nation has faced since the last world war.

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WBUR’s One-Day $1 Million Drive During COVID-19

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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On April 1, 2020, WBUR reduced its planned eight-day spring on-air drive into a single day and succeeded in meeting its $1 million goal.

The station has some experience running short on-air campaigns, but implemented several key components to make this unusual feat a success.

1. Lead-Up to the Campaign

WBUR’s traditional spring drive was slated to begin on March 30. As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the Boston area, it became clear to WBUR’s Director of Membership and Campaign Strategy, Mike Steffon, and his team that the drive as originally planned would sound inappropriate and curtail the station’s ability to bring its audience essential news coverage. They made the decision to reduce the drive to a single day on-air: April 7.

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When to Stop an On-Air Drive Due to Major News

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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On-air fundraising interrupts your core programming, but sometimes your core programming has to interrupt your fundraising. 

The COVID-19 virus spreading across the country is a major news event that can cause stations to pause their on-air drives to bring listeners breaking news and vital information. The need to provide critical information might prompt some stations to move their drives.

Public media is a public service first, and our primary obligation is to deliver that public service to our audience. This is the key tenant to come back to in any discussion about pausing or moving a fund drive.

Your listeners expect you to bring them breaking news and significant events such as press briefings as they happen. To continue fundraising in such moments sends the message that raising money takes precedence over your mission of public service.

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How Positive On-Air Messaging Can Remedy Listeners' News Fatigue

PMDMC, Membership, pledge drive

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The almost frenzied news coverage of the 2016 election and emotional response by many Americans has led to speculation about the rise of news fatigue among the public media audience and its effect on time spent listening and overall revenue. 

Several studies show that news fatigue is occurring. But this fatigue isn’t guaranteed to impact stations negatively. Many of our audience members see conventional media as the source of their news fatigue, and can still be reminded of the singular, trusted role public media plays for them.

First, the data. A 2018 Pew Research study reported that nearly seven in ten Americans were exhausted by the news, Republicans even more so that Democrats. Another study conducted by NPR found that 50% of Morning Edition and All Things Considered listeners said they sometimes needed a break from the news, and 38% said they felt overloaded with news and information these days1

However, there’s no indication that station listenership is down overall. RRC (Radio Research Consortium) finds that while some stations are experiencing decreased listenership, other markets are experiencing gains. (Of course, examining only listenership can be misleading, since people are consuming media across increasingly diverse platforms. Inside Radio estimates that Americans will spend over 11 hours each day interacting with content across various streams.) 

So where does this leave a fundraiser with a goal to meet and a on-air campaign looming? During this moment of news fatigue, it’s more important than ever to embrace on-air messaging that is positive and engaging.

At PMDMC 2019 we joined two experienced allies from the programming world to discuss on-air messaging that can combat the effects of news fatigue and positively engage donors right where they are during the drive and beyond.

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