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Community Broadcaster: Will 2020 Elections Doom Radio Fundraising?

Community radio may need to make its best case yet

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

The last week or so, it seems like almost everyone in the United States has been transfixed on the impeachment hearings being held in Washington. Riveting testimonies, piercing questions and literally around-the-clock analysis of every word and nuance has made for penetrating coverage. If you were among the noncommercial media watchers, all of this focus may have prompted anxiety. Not for what is happening in Congress at the moment, but what is to come around the country in 2020.

This election year is shaping up to be a big one. With all seats in the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate, and the White House being contested, interest is going to be tremendous. Plus, love him or hate him, Donald Trump is going to inspire fiery passions for and against the incumbent president. Volunteer block walkers, phone callers and campaign workers will dot communities as they do every election, and indubitably shall in 2020, in presumably growing numbers.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Be Thankful for Community Radio]

And then there is the matter of money.

Even with the elections a year away, donations have been pouring in for all the Democratic and Republican contenders. By next spring, the massive field will whittle down and fundraising will be in full court press for advertising, staffing and winning.

Guess what is also in the spring? Pledge drives.

Is your station ready to go one-on-one with the election cycle?

For noncommercial stations, competing with others for financial support is nothing new. However, when other organizations have the greatest lightning-rod issues and personalities in recent memory that motivate people to give, stations must make a fresh pitch.

Right now, many community radio and noncommercial media institutions are doing year-end fundraising. If you’re a listener, you should certainly support your local radio. If you work with a station, the close of 2019 is a good time to map out your 2020 strategy.

Attention will be high for every election. Residents will be seeking context for the races and issues that they care most about. Understanding how your station can sustainably deliver election coverage is crucial to your audience. Your station’s ability to be relevant to your community also makes a strong case for giving in the future.

With a high-stakes election almost here, why not take an audit of your service? Making an appraisal of your news, talk and community coverage; what each of your programming resources can practically do; and possible collaborations and partnerships with your city and local nonprofits to get out the vote and elections education are all a good place a start. What questions do your listeners feel are most in need of answers? How are they even getting their information, and how can you reach them about the elections?

These questions are not intellectual exercises at all. They are asked with a purpose: to understand how community radio can have the greatest connection to the audience, and to create the best engagement possible.

Stations provide valuable coverage to their communities. The 2020 election promises to draw many ears and dollars. Whether your station stays in the hearts and minds of your listeners rests on your ability to respond.