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Community Broadcaster: Shine the Light

KBOO’s campaign conveys core ideas

The biggest challenge community radio has today is being responsive. The web, digital delivery and video are just a few areas that tend to be places where stations need to give more attention.

So, when a station is doing something special, it is time to take notice. Many organizations should take a cue from KBOO and its latest effort.

For several weeks, Portland community radio station KBOO(FM) has been driving forward its crowdsourced campaign on Kickstarter. Now past the 50% mark with about a week to go, whether KBOO succeeds remains to be seen — remember, Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing proposition, so this online fundraiser is a gamble. However, KBOO has many things to be proud of, no matter how this turns out. This crowdfunding campaign presents several takeaways for community radio stations as well.

First, KBOO smartly builds the case for giving, by creating a sense of urgency.

“Build a City of Media Makers” is intended to help KBOO to do more local trainings and grow its overall work. The station, which celebrates its 50-year anniversary this year, is in a city experiencing tremendous growth. The changes in Portland cry out for more nuanced engagement, KBOO contends.

Forbes recently recognized the Oregon metropolis as one of the top 10 cities in America right now. Among the more fascinating statistics is Portland’s spike in young, educated newcomers, who are flocking to a city without much in the way of major corporate offices or research institutions. Yet unemployment remains low, and wages are climbing. Housing costs, the preponderance of low wage jobs, and disparity have emerged as challenges for Portland. So have the sociocultural issues that often occur in small- and mid-sized cities that experience a boom like Portland has. In fact, moments like this are a perfect time for community radio to step up to the plate and offer context and conversation. KBOO aspires to do exactly that.

According to KBOO’s Kickstarter page, “Portland is undergoing drastic changes. We need to grow to meet the challenge of maintaining the vital creativity and engagement at the heart of life here, as well as through the Pacific Northwest. We believe that access and education are central to maintaining this energy.” Such a compelling message could resonate in many places. Numerous towns and regions are seeing shifts that occur with population increases, and the possibility the cities we knew won’t be there anymore. KBOO acknowledges its fans see a new Portland, and gives them a way to be part of it.

A second lesson stations can learn from KBOO is how to scale efforts during fundraising.

Last week, KBOO hosted a Kickstarter live chat, which was also streamed on Instagram and Facebook. Ostensibly the live chat was aimed at answering questions and interacting with supporters. While it might have benefitted with stronger scripting and focus, this was a bold move that demonstrates when experimentation can be a positive thing. Was it perfect? No. Yet, this component was authentic and gave a shot of excitement with just a week left in the campaign.

KBOO has also been very active on the social media front in support of the effort. Posts frequently address the community need for KBOO and the journalism and training the station offers. Messages like this one speak to the values KBOO wants to embody and which donors can support when they give. The passion presented on social media is palatable. You want to be part of it.

And finally, KBOO is using crowdfunding in a low-risk way that allows it the space to be ambitious.

To be clear, many community radio stations have used Kickstarter and the like over the years. Some have done exceedingly well. Others? Not so much. Why KBOO’s effort is special is the attention the station gives to it, its clarity of message and its ability to weave its story as one of its city. At the same time, KBOO isn’t making its pitch desperate, or negative, or one where the organization’s ability to function hangs in the balance. No one wants to donate to failing organizations. Ginning up fear only lasts so long. People want to give for a hopeful vision. Training and expanding educational opportunities in Portland exemplify a hopeful idea. More community radio stations could springboard projects exactly the same way.

Even though I’m not in Oregon, I took out my own credit card and dropped a few dollars down because KBOO did what good community media does: speaks to values I believe in and offers up an intelligent strategy to make a difference. If your station is considering crowdfunding, look no further for a dynamic example. You’ll likely have people like me, far away from Portland, helping out too.