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NFCB Sessions’ Fundraising Tips for Radio: Celebrity Smackdowns, 1-Day Drives and the Philanthropist Next Door

Fundraising Tips At NFCB 2011 (Photo: J. Waits)

The National Federation of Community Broadcasters‘ 36th annual community radio conference was an incredible few days full of radio education and community radio bonding. Held in San Francisco from June 1st to June 4th, it featured an action-packed schedule of sessions, keynotes, and workshops. I’ve already recounted the Saving College Stations panel and Matthew has recapped the session that he moderated, Great Music Programs, in a 2-part series (part one, part two).

For me it was exciting to attend this conference for the first time and I was impressed by the passion that everyone had for community radio. There was a huge sense of both camaraderie and urgency in terms of communicating to the world the importance of public media. Not only did I gain some practical radio tips in sessions about programming, fundraising, and legal issue in radio; but I also learned about activism and consensus-building, which are particularly relevant to the efforts of people trying to save college radio.

In this post, I’m going to focus on some of the fundraising tips that came up in 2 of the conference sessions: “7 (or 17) New Ideas in 75 Minutes” and “Lunch and Money: the Philanthropist Next Door.” The first break-out session that I attended on Thursday, June 2 shared a number of suggestions for radio stations embarking on fundraising campaigns. It was interesting for me to hear a bit about the tactics used by several San Francisco Bay Area public radio stations, as it had been awhile since I’d checked in on their on-air fundraisers.  A handout compiled by the panelists outlined the following 10 innovative fundraising tips:

1. Smackdowns: In a recent fundraiser, San Francisco public radio station KALW utilized “short, pre-produced messages to drive fundraising” during their on-air drive. General Manager Matt Martin also described a “celebrity smackdown” feature that they ran during their fundraiser. Each day during their news program they would feature guests battling it out for the most fundraiser donations. In their fundraiser, KALW also emphasized shorter fundraising breaks (60 to 90 seconds) and creative fundraising spots. This “no-interruption” fundraiser also garnered some media attention for the station as people saw this as an innovative way to solicit funds.

2. Challenges/Matches: Many stations attempt to increase donations through the use of “challenge money, matching funds, and employer matching gifts.” Some even solicit matching funds from potential donors in advance of on-air fundraisers.

3. One Day Drives: Diane Hering of KZYX (see my profile of this rural community/public radio station here) talked about the one-day on-air fundraiser that her station did. She first learned about this idea from the consultant John Sutton & Associates. She pointed out that a radio station can raise needed funds in just one day if the fundraiser is done in a certain way, adding that “the idea of getting regular programming back tomorrow motivates people.” Hering said that pre-promotion played a huge role in their 1-day fundraiser.

4. Groupon: Yoon Lee from San Francisco public radio station KQED talked about how her station has worked with Groupon in order to offer coupons for KQED memberships for half price. For KQED this turned out to be a good tool for acquiring new members. It’s important to remember that this sort of deal can’t be promoted on-air since it’s a revenue-sharing arrangement. Others mentioned that this type of offer might not work in every community and that there are a number of potential partners one can consider for a coupon promotion, including local newspapers.

Sales Department at Commercial Radio Station in NYC (Photo: J. Waits)

5. Collaborating with other Non-Profits: Although not thoroughly discussed in the session, the concept behind this is for radio station to donate gifts to other non-profits in response to a fundraiser donation. An important thing to keep in mind is that it is illegal for a non-commercial radio station to fundraise on-air for another organization (although this rule has been waived by the FCC following specific emergencies, including Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan), so tread carefully.

6. Countdown Shows for the Final 24 Hours of the Drive: Panelists described various countdowns that they have aired in the final day of a fundraiser. At KALW during each hour they played a numbers-related song (1 to 24) chosen by their music programmers. Other stations have had listeners vote for favorite songs and those have been played in the final 24 hours of the fundraiser.

7. Sweepstakes/Raffles: In KQED’s recent fundraiser they included a few raffles for bikes, TVs and $1000 gift cards. Listeners were told that if they donated within a certain time frame (for example, by 12 noon today, within the hour, or on a specific day), they would be entered into the drawing. With raffles and sweepstakes it’s imperative that stations have clear guidelines so as not to break FCC rules related to “consideration” and underwriting, as well as regarding contests. Additionally, anyone who calls up asking to be included in the raffle should be included, regardless of whether or not they make a donation.

8. Special Day Programming: Instead of doing a traditional fundraiser, some stations air special programming that incorporates a fundraising message. An all-classical station in New Jersey does a 1-day fundraiser every month in which they air special programs that can range from a celebration of Strauss’ birthday to a day filled with complete symphonies. Apparently they have managed to cut their fundraising time in half. Rather than promoting these events as fundraisers, they describe them as special programming days. June Fox of consultancy DEI argues that this is a way for stations to show their “commitment to quality programming.”

9. Pledge Free Streams: KQED recently offered access to a “pledge-free” Internet stream for listeners who donated in advance of their fundraiser. This second audio stream was free of fundraiser pitches and required the use of a special pass code.

10. Pre-Drive Buy Down: Another fundraising strategy is to reach out to listeners in advance of an on-air fundraiser, encouraging them to donate early (before the drive begins) in order to reduce the length of the pledge drive. KALW’s Matt Martin agreed that sending an email newsletter in advance can help to reduce the length of a fundraiser.

The conference closed with a steak lunch on Saturday, June 4th focused on the topic of “Lunch and Money: The Philanthropist Next Door” (you can listen to an mp3 of that session here). Fundraising consultant Kay Sprinkel Grace spoke of her own college radio past at KZSU (Stanford University) and talked about her passion for radio as one of the most “intimate” forms of media. She said that we need to re-think the way we categorize people who donate to radio stations and should consider “how much they care” rather than “how much they give.” She shared 4 main points, including: “people give to you because you meet needs, not because you have needs,” a gift to a station is “a gift through you and into the community,” fundraising is about “relationships” and not about money, and “it’s not about you. It’s about the donor.”

Darryl Lester of Hindsight Consulting  asked the audience to rethink their ideas about what a philanthropist is and argued that everyone is a “giver” in some way and that you are still a philanthropist if you give your time. He also suggested that often organizations focus more time on getting grants from foundations, when in reality it’s individuals who provide most of the donations. He said, “give everybody a chance to tell you no.”

Alice Ferris from GoalBusters shared some wisdom, saying, “If you want to get money, ask for advice and if you want to get advice, ask for money.” She said that in this economic climate stations should also be re-examining budgets, looking for donated equipment, and investigating how vendors can provide support. She suggested that stations “diversify” sources of funding and talked about how a casual conversation in a cocktail bar ended up resulting in a big donation for a station that she works for.


Our complete coverage from the 2011 NFCB conference can be found here. Future posts will recap additional sessions from the conference and audio archives of several presentations (including a few others related to fundraising and underwriting) are here.

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One Response to NFCB Sessions’ Fundraising Tips for Radio: Celebrity Smackdowns, 1-Day Drives and the Philanthropist Next Door

  1. John Goslino September 16, 2011 at 5:32 am #

    Some good and fresh ideas in the article, not least the use of special day programming that can really engage specific listeners and sponsors, and stimulate donations and more. The book Participative Marketing for Local Radio by Dennis List provides a host of tips and ideas for community radio development and sustainability, including multi-legged funding models, these are freely available via the website

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