Those awful public radio pledge drives: self-fulfilling prophecy?

A recent post at the TechSoup Blog took a look at public radio fundraising: Guilting Donors in 30 Seconds or Less and made this important observation:



[What] drives me crazy, both as a public radio fan and as a member of the nonprofit community, is the “help us stop this dreaded pledge drive!” approach. Shouldn’t our fundraisers be a cherished event for donors to look forward to every year?

Okay, I hate pledge week too. It’s tedious, it takes over the programming I want to hear, and it takes too long.


But I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons the pledge drive sucks is the people who run it think it sucks. They hate it so much that they’ve actually turned everyone’s mutual hate for the pledge drive into a fundraising hook!


How might it be different if they thought it was special?


That’s the number-one reason so much fundraising is so awful: It’s created by people who do it as a necessary evil — not a joy and a valuable thing.


I don’t know what a great public radio pledge week would be like. (Though I do remember that public TV pledge week used to be the only time you could watch “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” This is back before the Internet, hundreds of cable stations, or even wide-spread video rental. Watching Monty Python was a huge and rare treat.)


Whatever kind of fundraising you do: If you think it’s special, cool, fun, joyful, or helpful — you’ll do it differently.


Comments

4 responses to “Those awful public radio pledge drives: self-fulfilling prophecy?”

  1. Thanks a lot for the shout-out!
    The big example I always use of what a great fundraising event can be is WFMU’s annual pledge drive. WFMU is a non-NPR-affiliate public radio station in New Jersey. Lots of musicians show up for in-studio appearances during the pledge drive. The band Yo La Tengo comes in and plays donors’ “requests” (literally any song that YLT can find and listen to in the WFMU library). The premiums are all homemade mix CDs and inside-jokey T-shirts made by the DJs. The pledge drive always ends with a live event in New York, with the bar donating all proceeds.
    I’m sure it’s all A LOT of work, but it’s fun enough for listeners that they talk about it year-round and get excited as it approaches.

  2. Thanks a lot for the shout-out!
    The big example I always use of what a great fundraising event can be is WFMU’s annual pledge drive. WFMU is a non-NPR-affiliate public radio station in New Jersey. Lots of musicians show up for in-studio appearances during the pledge drive. The band Yo La Tengo comes in and plays donors’ “requests” (literally any song that YLT can find and listen to in the WFMU library). The premiums are all homemade mix CDs and inside-jokey T-shirts made by the DJs. The pledge drive always ends with a live event in New York, with the bar donating all proceeds.
    I’m sure it’s all A LOT of work, but it’s fun enough for listeners that they talk about it year-round and get excited as it approaches.

  3. James Read Avatar
    James Read

    Agree with your post, Jeff. Reminds me of the pitch, “Sign up for our monthly giving program and you’ll receive fewer of our dreaded fundraising letters!” I’ve always felt that is shooting oneself in the foot as well.

  4. James Read Avatar
    James Read

    Agree with your post, Jeff. Reminds me of the pitch, “Sign up for our monthly giving program and you’ll receive fewer of our dreaded fundraising letters!” I’ve always felt that is shooting oneself in the foot as well.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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