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Community Broadcaster: Giving Mood

A new report’s silver lining indicates a prospective noncom radio opportunity

Ernesto Aguilar, Community Broadcaster, National Federation of Community Broadcasters, NFCBThe author is executive director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

Is your noncommercial radio station taking advantage of increased listener support? And, if you did not know such interest was a thing, how might you act now?

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting unveiled its State of the System report at the Public Media Business Association’s annual conference. The figures were not especially encouraging in several areas. Most notably, underwriting saw a steep decline. In addition, foundation grants were down. How much? Underwriting saw a dip of 14%. Foundation support fell by a whopping 32%.

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This is not great news particularly for rural radio, which may rely on underwriting revenue to stay on the air. Many noncommercial stations may fund their news initiatives with grants, making that foundation nosedive particularly stinging. In all, the fall of 2021 and into 2022 could be quite difficult for noncommercial radio stations.

The one bright spot is a shocker, though. Individual giving grew by 5%.

Why? The reasons may reflect the moment for radio. Elections, big news events and a public obsessed with media in 2019 were flashpoints. As with any ebb and flow, such attention may shift, but it may not be now. With pandemic reopening on many Americans’ minds, it is almost assured that the media will remain a central reference point. Noncommercial radio would be wise to talk with audiences about its value in their lives.

Community and public radio depend on on-air fundraising to keep the lights on. Pledge drives have been parodied on television and in movies. However, savvy noncommercial station managers know fundraising is a year-round operation that goes on even between pledge drives. We must be constantly stating our case for relevance, and reminding listeners why financial contributions matter in keeping content they turn to coming.

Tn Cup, fundraising
Photo: BewitchingVintage

What better time than now for public and community radio to fire off a fresh email, on-air spot, or social media post that speaks to how valuable individual giving is for stations?

You might think people can’t give due to their money woes. In fact, Americans have saved a great deal of cash during the pandemic. People are in a spending mood. And, as any good development professional will tell you, people are happy to give when they believe the donation is appreciated and supports something they care about.

It can sometimes be in the DNA of some community radio stations to shy away from asking for money, or do it when only absolutely necessary, like during a pledge campaign. Your station is missing out on not only a critical fundraising opportunity. You are neglecting your fans who want to support your station beyond pledge drive. They are just waiting to be asked.

Increases in individual giving are not a constant. Audiences will find new interests, or not be as charitable due to a range of factors. Thus, when it is clear listeners are giving more than they usually do, public and community radio station leaders should be intelligent with the renewed attention. It’s more than money. It’s about reminding your community how radio amplifies the news and culture that residents want to hear more about.