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

Membership, pledge drive

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

The impeachment inquiry into President Trump is the latest major news event to cause stations to pause their on-air drives to bring listeners breaking news and vital information.

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

If there is breaking or live coverage of a significant event such as a press conference or live testimony, your audience expects to hear it in the moment from you. To continue fundraising in such moments risks sending 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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How to Use Air Checks to Make Each Drive Better Than the Last

PMDMC, Membership, pledge drive, aircheck, pitching

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When we surveyed stations last year about their on-air fundraising practices only 30% said they used air checks from on-air drives. Programmers use air checks to review and improve everything else on your station. Since fundraising is programming, we should use air checks to make drives better too. 

Air checks are the best way to experience your membership drive the way a listener does, which is exactly what you need to do to create a listener-focused pledge drive. Air checks are the best tool we have to make our drives sound better (keeping listeners with us) and perform better (turning listening into more givers and revenue).

When you do listen to air checks, here are some good ideas about when and how to listen, and how to use what you hear to improve the sound - and fundraising effectiveness - of your drive.

1. Listen to air checks after every drive.

And don't wait too long to do it! It's best to listen soon after the drive so the experience is still fresh in everyone's minds.

Don't look for your best or the worst pitch-breaks. Instead, find a handful of typical examples of how your drive sounded. This is what your typical listener heard.

And, of course, listen to the same air checks again right before your next drive to reinforce what you're aiming to improve.

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IRS Rules You Must Follow for Contests and Drawings

Membership, pledge drive, tax law

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Raffles or drawings can accomplish fundraising goals for a tax-exempt organization while also providing entertainment for the organization and participants. But these fundraising events require a bit of tax planning to keep IRS issues at bay (and note that separate laws apply to state-level and federal income tax exemptions).

The IRS views raffles and drawings similarly to lotteries: participants pay for the chance to win prizes, and the host typically determines winners by drawing tickets at random.

When hosting a raffle or drawing, tax-exempt organizations may need to:

  • Obtain information about the prize winners
  • Report prizes to the IRS
  • Notify the winners of this reporting
  • Withhold federal income tax on the prizes
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What You Should Know About How Most Stations Run On-Air Drives

Membership, pledge drive, General Management

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On-air fundraising practices are the very lifeblood of public media. That's why we at Greater Public take a moment every so often to scan the landscape to discover what most stations are doing and not doing; how much, how often, and when. 

We've just released our 2018 On-Air Fundraising Practices Survey. This snapshot includes responses from 101 public media stations from all over the country and reveals how most stations are running their on-air drives. It shows us what practices are nearly universal, and which ones may be trending. 

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Here is a glimpse of a few of the findings we captured in this year's survey:

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Creative New Ways to Engage Listeners During Your Next Drive

PMDMC, Membership, Social/Mobile, pledge drive

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Informed by recommendations and case studies from Paul Jacobs of Jacobs Media, and Frank Auer of WGBH.

On-air drives remain one of the biggest fundraising opportunities for public media and certainly the biggest driver of new donations to stations. But how can you keep listeners tuned in, engage them more effectively, and get more of them to give? Try experimenting with one of these ideas:

1. Connect with Millennials using relevant language and giving options.

Engaging Millennials is a buzz topic. While there is no single Millennial profile, Jacobs Media Strategies found several relevant takeaways about public radio listeners from this generation as part of their Millennial Project.

Non-commercial radio is a key concept for Millennials. They like that “it’s not trying to sell me anything.” The medium is viewed as trustworthy and credible. Also:

  • A connection to the world that offers lifelong learning.
  • Civil, not sensational.
  • Educational and challenges preconceived notions.
  • “The least partisan way of staying informed about things that matter.”
  • “Intellectual thinking with community-focused programming.”
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How to Approach Fund Drives at Music Stations During Natural Disasters

Membership, pledge drive

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In difficult times, the power of music is vital to our listeners as a reflection of our lives, as a respite from difficult news, as an inspiring and energizing force.

However, when it feels like the outside world is turning upside down, with a political environment that’s as divided as ever, and now major natural disasters impacting millions of Americans, fundraising for music can be decidedly tough, especially for a distracted audience.

Conducting fund drives while  natural disasters unfold requires a great deal of sensitivity. Settling on the right strategy and finding the right messaging mix is essential.

We know that some donors will reallocate money they might have donated to their local station to disaster-relief. That’s understandable. But it’s important to continue to educate your listeners - with sensitivity - about the importance of supporting the music programming they value. Our set of scripts for music stations to use in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma can help you give context and balance to your messaging efforts.

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How to Approach Fund Drives at News Stations During Natural Disasters

Membership, pledge drive

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2017 has already dished up a dizzying array of news. As the fall drive season starts, our country is facing multiple natural disasters, including one of the worst in recorded history. These events are front-and-center in our listeners' minds, as they should be.

Handling drives as natural disasters unfold requires a great deal of sensitivity. We know that some donors will reallocate money they might have donated to their local station to disaster-relief. That’s understandable.

But catastrophic events are also an opportunity to educate listeners about our vital role  providing news and information when disasters happen. Even if some listeners decide not to give to your station this fall, make a strong case for the value of your service for when they do return or finally join as a new member. Our on-air scripts for fundraising during a natural disaster can help you find the right language.

First, do not apologize for fundraising right now. Your station provides an important service that listeners depend on.

Here are other messages to focus on right now:
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Three Great Ways to Grow Listening Among Your Audience

PMDMC, Membership, pledge drive, Engagement

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Informed by recommendations from Michelle Owens of Vermont Public Radio, Craig Oliver of Greater Public, Jody Evans of Public Radio Program Directors, and Izzi Smith of NPR

Listening is the most elemental unit of the public radio economy. The past year has seen record increases in listening, and many stations are converting that increase into new revenue, updated case statements, and new content for future audiences. The importance of listening is simple: Those who listen more have a better ability to understand and internalize the value of public media and the public funding model. Decades of studies have indeed shown that station revenue is listener-sensitive; more people listening means greater opportunity for fundraising success. Better fundraising leads to more investment in great programming, which brings in more listeners and so on.

Here are some great ways to grow listening over the long-term.

1. Understand that listening actually decreases during a drive and plan accordingly.

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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?

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