Community Broadcaster: Don’t Take Fundraising for Granted

Community Broadcaster: Here’s what we learned raising $60,000 online in 48 hours for community radio
By Ernesto Aguilar ,

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at radioworld.com.

On Dec. 29–30, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters hosted GiveBig to MyStation, an initiative that brought together community radio stations from across the United States and Puerto Rico for year-end giving. When all was said and done, 32 community radio stations raised just over $60,000 in a little over 48 hours.

To many, this kind of effort might seem insane. It’s the last day or so of the year, when a lot of people are otherwise distracted; community radio, by virtue of its size, may not be ready to hit social media to raise thousands; and something like this had never been done before. Heck, quite of bit of public radio checked out for the holidays, so listeners might too. Don’t tell that to community radio, though. Rural, urban, Latino, low-power and full-power community radio embraced GiveBig to MyStation. NFCB’s effort was largely successful.

One does not need to go fishing around for an abacus to figure out that the average take per station was not enormous. In fact, some community radio outlets fared far better than others. But why would KSKQ, a community radio station in the small town of Ashland, Ore., bring in considerably more than stations in cities with, in a few cases, millions more potential listeners? These community radio stations relied on a mix of good fundraising principles and digital savvy to post dynamite donor numbers.

As more nonprofit journalism and media outlets in general turn to their online audience for money, community radio looks poised to make gains. We at NFCB gleaned lessons from which all community radio considering social media-based giving or year-end fundraising can learn. Some takeaways:

It is all about the relationships. Social media has proven to be a boon for nonprofits, as efforts like Giving Tuesday demonstrate. However, your number of Facebook fans doesn’t guarantee you anything. Community radio stations that have cultivated strong bonds with supporters through content, communicating values and trust saw big returns. KALW landed a big haul in part because it has strong programming and knows how to talk about why it matters, even in media-saturated San Francisco. Having people who love your station and appreciate what it means to a community is the foundation of effective fundraising.

Preparation matters. I know, I know … many people assume the dollars fly when you ring the bell, but 99.9% of community radio stations know from pledge drive experience that such a windfall takes hard work. Brilliant fundraising requires lots of planning. Community radio stations like Radio Boise, which included year-end giving messages in their direct mail weeks in advance, saw success by thinking far ahead of the Dec. 29–30 campaign days and getting its audience pumped up to be a part of the movement.

Video has to be great. Community radio station WXPR did a series of videos on the importance of the station to its community as a reason for listeners to give a year-end donation. These well-produced vignettes captured the essence of the station and its culture. Rather than depend on film effects, local stars and top-dollar camera gear, WXPR leaned on plenty of personal anecdotes and funny moments. Whether it was the woman who could not remember exactly how long she’d been volunteering or the voices who depended on this station, those individual stories stick with you. The efforts paid off, as the station exceeded its expectations.

Be smart with online asks. A station need not go full-bore fund drive death march to encourage its audience to contribute in those last days for tax deductions. Philo, Calif.’s KZYX kept its Facebook updates cheery and entertaining, such as the “KZYX Kitten Twins: Catfish or Sharkbait” post. Keeping fundraising enjoyable is one of the oldest messages in the noncommercial radio book, but we all can take it for granted. Community radio outlets like KZYX did not, and discovered people love a little camp, and respond with their credit cards.

Support for ideas counts. As part of our training efforts, NFCB encouraged stations to remind listeners that they were supporting a larger practical project: stations doing the necessary work in neighborhoods. WPKN was a participant in GiveBig to MyStation and, beyond the usual end-of-year request, came out with an audacious offer. The Connecticut community radio station rallied donors during GiveBig to MyStation to aid its push to get a new transmitter. As any community radio leader can tell you, donors love an appeal with a vision and a tangible outcome. When an ask is compelling, as we’ve learned from Kickstarter, even people far away will give. It worked well for this organization, which brought in support from around the country.

The internet is helping make media more accessible than ever before. With this change, there is so much promise for community radio. From crowdfunding to peer-to-peer fundraising to GiveBig to MyStation, community radio has many lessons to learn about growth. Together, we can do great things.