- Mon, February 21 2011
- Filed under: Fundraising essentials
I just endured one of my local NPR affliate’s week-long fundraising drives, wherein they repeatedly interrupted programming to recite the same fundraising messages I’ve heard for decades. After a day, I quit listening. (I already gave, by the way.)
The messaging tends to be along these lines:
1. Don’t you love us?
2. If you love us, you should be donating (guilt, guilt).
3. If you donate enough, we’ll give you this (fill in the blank: tote bag, radio, book, etc.).
I can’t believe that NPR, which is rife with excellent storytelling and fascinating programming, throws their playbook out the window when it comes time to fundraise. Instead of getting creative to tell the story of their members and tapping into the emotional ties people have to their stations, they trot out the same station managers year after year with a highly transactional, “extractional” message that feels like an endless series of unimaginative interruptions. It’s messaging that is focused on the station, not the listeners, and that feels like a commercial transaction rather than a charitable gift. Instead of being reminded of how much I appreciate the station, the fundraising drive always leaves me annoyed with the station.
Imagine if NPR used its own programming methods on its fundraising! They might actually grow their dollars at closer to the pace they are growing their listener base.
Dear WAMU: I like you. So here are some free ideas (in addition to my paid membership) that I offer in support.
1. Remember you ARE your members. You want to show, not tell, this in your fundraising.
2. How about making your members the centerpiece of your fundraising drive? What about instead of station managers filling air time with lame fundraising banter, you had the members who love you most on the air, telling stories about what the station has meant to them personally? Think of The Moth (which airs on NPR), featuring your members.
3. Why not have the members do the asking? After each story, the member could ask for support. Let the members cite the fundraising goals. Nothing like social proof to inspire giving!
4. Instead of having programming interrupted every 9 minutes to ask for money, make some of the programming about the ask. Imagine if you took a story that was being reported and went behind the scenes, sharing at each turn what the reporter had to do to get that quote, find that fact, or record that sound? How did they get into that African village? What did they encounter when there? Think Behind the Music meets public radio. I’ve heard this done a few times but only superficially over the past decade.
5. Experiment with different themes other than “we’re great, give us money.” Why not do more to highlight themes in programming for which people have specific affinity? For example, if you haven’t guessed, I love storytelling. Have a listener or member tell a great story, then ask for money to support This American Life, The Moth, and other programs that show storytelling at its best.
6. Stop making supporting the station an odd mix of social norms (give to support programming you love) and marketing norms (give so you can get a free or discounted xyz). Lots of research shows you diminish giving when you mix the two.
I have a feeling none of these things will happen, because somewhere, someone is saying, “we’re sticking to what works.” Sure, some people will give if you stay the same . But I think you could double what you do now by doing a better job connecting with listeners on a deeper, less shallowly transactional level. You’re leaving behind what you do best - telling a great story about the people who matter - and you’re leaving money on the table.