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, Audience 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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Should I Shorten My On-Air Member Drive?

Membership, pledge drive

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Many of us have discussed the anecdotal reasons for or against shortening our member drives: “So-and-so station tried it and it worked great for them.” “This is how we’ve always secured the majority of our revenue. Why would we mess it up?” Of course, as a fundraiser, it’s your job to go beyond instinct and evaluate this strategy based on a calculated potential for revenue.

At Greater Public, we’ve created a tool that calculates what shortening a drive would mean for your station, based on three key numbers from your Greater Public Benchmarks Trend Report.

 

Once you’ve assessed this option for your station, keep in mind three “principles to live by” when it comes to shorter on-air drives:

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The Changing Messaging of Minnesota Public Radio’s Music-Service Member Drives

PMDMC, Membership, pledge drive

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Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) has shifted the focus of their music-station member drives away from drive goals and toward the value their music services provide. MPR fundraising and event specialist Liz Meyers took some time at PMDMC 2016 to explain the details of this changing philosophy, as well as how it has affected the station’s membership bottom line.

MPR is a 45-station network made up of three services: MPR News; Classical MPR; and The Current, the station’s AAA stream. Member drives occur on all three streams at once, and member-drive messaging is tailored for each, but all donors are MPR members, not members of an individual service.

Shifting the Strategy

MPR has deemphasized messaging around money and member goals in its on-air fundraising. The station’s new philosophy is that financial goals are for the membership team to worry about, not the audience. The primary message to the audience has become:

“This is our value. Help keep this service strong.”

 

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How to Use Social Media Engagement During Drives to Earn More Gifts

Membership, Social/Mobile, pledge drive, social media

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Public radio and TV stations have been early adopters of social media since the days of Myspace. The ability to donate online was launched in 1999 and it has taken almost two decades for donors to trust the technology. It took just half that time for your donors to embrace social media. If you have a been a skeptic of the power of social media for online fundraising, that may have been a somewhat wise instinct, but today there is no doubt that the futures of online giving and social media are deeply entwined. In fact, 43% of Millennials, 24% of Gen Xers, and 21% of Baby Boomers cite social media as the communication tool that most often inspires them to give online (Nonprofit Tech for Good, 2016).

What has remained elusive, however, is social media’s power to convert passive online supporters into active online donors. The fact is, your station must be good at using social media in order to convert your social audience into online donors. 

Central to multichannel communications is the concept that well-written, visually compelling, and creative content emailed, posted, and shared at the right time and at the right intervals is the secret to successfully converting a passive supporter into an active donor.

Greater Public members can access our full Social Media Playbook for On-Air Drives, including instructions on how to develop a comprehensive content strategy, refine your landing page, create effective graphics, and map out your before/during/after-pledge action plan.

And read on for the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram best practices that will instantly improve your social media campaigns during pledge drives.

Facebook Best Practices

The truth is, no one knows exactly what the magic number is for how often to post on Facebook based on the size of your following. The News Feed algorithm makes Facebook the most difficult social network for which to define best practices. What works on the 14 national NPR and PBS Facebook Pages most likely will not work for small stations with 25,000 followers or less, but the data reflects that even pages with more than 100,000 followers that post twice daily perform much better in reach and engagement, on average, than those that post multiple times daily.

If your posts receive very little engagement (1 reaction per 1,000 followers), then you are either posting too often and thus very few of your followers are seeing your posts, or you are posting the wrong kind of content.

Post twice daily.

On average, you can expect your first Facebook post within a 24-hour period to reach 3-8% of your followers. After that, reach generally declines with each subsequent post.

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8 Guidelines for Airchecking Your Drive

pledge drive

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You've completed your spring member drive. Perhaps you're in the final throes of a fiscal year-end campaign. Hooray! You did it! A completed drive is always worthy of a moment to savor your accomplishment.

And then... it's time dive back in and start building your success for the next drive!

Airchecking is one of the most reliable ways to monitor, evaluate, and constantly improve the sound of your drive. The best times to evaluate your sound are just after or just before a member drive.

A recent article in Current reminded me of one of the most important adages in public media fundraising: “It takes years to build an audience, and only a few seconds to drive them away.” In our industry, both the best fundraising break and the biggest fumble will be heard... and remembered by someone. When you and pitchers listen back and evaluate pitch breaks, you'll be able to increase the frequency of your most brilliant moments and avoid repeating mistakes.

This acronym captures a few simple rules that will help you create or refine your station's aircheck system.

  • A = Always aircheck all or part of your drive.
  • I = Include everyone who pitches (that means managers!) at least once.
  • R = Require each staff pitcher to participate in at least one aircheck session.
  • C = Communicate in advance with staff about how the airchecking system will work.
  • H = Help pitchers get better; don't aircheck to criticize.
  • E = Evaluate tape just after or just prior to a drive.
  • C = Conduct aircheck sessions with both your PD (or programming staff)  and development staff present.
  • K = Know what needs to be accomplished at the end of each aircheck session.
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