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Community Broadcaster: Just Give

Can ultralow donations help community radio?

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

With noncommercial radio station pledge season in full effect, these delightful media organizations are pulling out all the stops to get you to donate. There are socks aplenty available as thank you gifts for your gift. Would a warm hat motivate you to give? How about a candle that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker? Your local station has concert tickets, books and any number of incentives to get you to pick up the phone or go online.

Typically, a donation to your local station will get you one of the fancier premiums when you give $10 per month on up. All well and good if you are a longtime listener or someone used to the noncommercial radio pledge drive. But what if all this is new to you, or you’re worried about making that big of a gift? The lingering concern among many stations is that these numbers as we know them might turn away first-time donors.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Acting on Equity]

What if your community radio station tried something altogether different?

For stations constantly on the hunt for financial support, messing with established protocols might seem improbable. However, this is precisely the bet a group of stations are placing, with the help of one of their stations’ most recognizable names.

Ira Glass is known around the world as the host of “This American Life,” a radio sensation for decades. Glass is also a fixture during radio on-air fundraising. He’s done some of the most legendary and successful pledge drives, including telling listeners they don’t need to donate and calling up people who don’t donate, who are turned in by family and friends. Here is a sampling of some of these humorous spots from years past.

This year, Glass has come back with the most surprising of suggestions: just give $1.

Radio fundraising types may find that number a little shocking, especially when you discover it comes with streaming thank-you gifts. But credit Glass and almost two dozen stations with the temerity to spark a conversation with new donors. This level is a clever way of introducing them to what is referred to in the noncommercial radio space as a sustaining membership.

The aging of noncommercial radio’s base and the need for fresh members is an ongoing issue nationwide. Glass is one of many people thinking deeply about what inspires people to give, and how do stations make the giving process as easy and welcoming as possible to those reluctant to make a larger commitment. This latest experiment is an effort to win new donors, particularly those accustomed to giving-by-text and making small gifts in the digital era. In this effort, these new members will receive in the coming months emails written by Glass himself, encouraging them to take their $1-per-month donations up higher.

Many community radio stations have tried these sorts of initiatives. Do they work? Time will tell if this one knocks it out of the park, though having Ira Glass on your side is a huge boost.

Even if your station doesn’t have a heavy hitter like Glass to help, this kind of model could be tried near you. Or maybe it is a little too risky. Getting $12 annually could hurt some stations, surely. However, one thing is certain: your station cannot afford to not try bold moves to bring in new donors. Your station and its unique local programming depend on future generations.

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