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The Dreaded On-Air Fundraiser

KQED Fundraiser Promo

KQED Fundraiser Promo

Fundraiser season is in full force on the San Francisco airwaves with no fewer than 3 non-commercial radio stations pitching for dollars this week. Although on-air fundraisers seem to be a necessity, I find the majority of them to be unlistenable.

In a few weeks I’ll have to start doing my own on-air cash pleas at KFJC, so I always give a lot of thought to how our fundraiser compares with other stations.

The buzz at one of our recent staff meetings was a rumor that big budget stations have learned that the longer one talks during a fundraiser break, the more likely it is that people will donate. We were all horrified, as we try to keep our on-air pitches short and to the point.

Here’s a recap of what I’ve heard this week on PBS-affiliated public radio station KQED-FM:

1) Teams of DJs talking incessantly for 5 or more minutes

2) Big emphasis on “thank you gifts” (and their retail value), as if they are products for sale

3) Commercial-like odes to sponsors offering “Dollar for Dollar Challenges”

4) Ringing phone bank sound effects as a sound bed for breaks

5) Time-sensitive offers (CALL NOW TO GET THAT TOTE BAG!)

6) Cheesy fund raising jargon and catch phrases

7) Emphasis on how quick and painless it is to donate (it takes 2 minutes, only $12 a month)

KQED is a very prominent radio station, with large numbers of listeners and a big budget. So, it’s no surprise that they’ve got their fund raising shtick down to a science. Unfortunately, that makes for a very predictable-sounding fundraiser.

The worst part for me is that I feel like I’m listening to QVC, since there is so much emphasis on the thank you gifts that they are offering. Even worse, they use cheesy terminology like “speed-dial gift” (only available for the next few minutes!) and try to whip the audience into a buying frenzy by emphasizing the number of minutes left during the break. CALL NOW!!! The clock is ticking…

KALW T-shirt

KALW T-shirt

Thank you gifts are described in elaborate detail, as if they are products being sold and often they are only available for a short time (during this break only!). What’s even worse, to me, are their “dollar for dollar” challenges in which a company (lawyer, investment firm, etc.) offers to give money up to a certain amount, matching donations during a specific break. As with the thank you gifts, these companies are described using promotional terms; making it all feel more like one big ad for a particular firm rather than a charitable act.

Additionally, KQED features a soundtrack of ringing phones (most likely fake) in the background during the fundraiser break. It seems to always be a team of DJs bantering about the fundraiser and emphasizing phrases like “small financial contribution” and “membership levels.” They also keep making the point that calling to donate only takes “about 2 minutes of your time” and that this is a “fairly painless way to show support.”

In kind of a departure, KQED also aired an Ira Glass spot in which he pretended to be calling a listener who’d never donated, guilting him into coughing up some cash. This type of humorous spot is more along the lines of what we do at KFJC and I think it makes for a much better listening experience. You’d have to ask the experts to see if a spot like that is more likely to make people donate money.

KCSM Fundraiser Promo

KCSM Fundraiser Promo

KALW and KCSM are also doing fundraisers right now. Their on-air presentations are similar to KQED (although not as slick and professional-sounding—and that’s a good thing!), with a team of DJs talking about the need for money, thank you gifts, etc.

KCSM (who really is in dire straits after losing funding from their school district) mentioned specific monetary goals. One DJ said that they wanted to reach $115,000 in donations by the end of his show. He kept reiterating the word “milestone” and also mentioned that he wanted to hear from at least 10 more callers. He also made me laugh when he said “give us a holler with a dollar.” Humor definitely helps. It was refreshing to hear both KCSM and KALW talk about connections their stations have to the local community, local music scenes, and the arts.

Unfortunately, on-air fundraisers are the way that many stations pull in donations that help to sustain them from year to year. I know that for my station, it is the primary source of funding for us. A necessary evil so to speak.

But the real trick is how to make on-air fundraisers a little less annoying. Any ideas?

What makes you pick up the phone to donate? What makes you turn the dial?


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One Response to The Dreaded On-Air Fundraiser

  1. dougfaunt September 18, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    And KPFA.

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