Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 7
Funding from listeners: section 1

7.1 On-air appeals

Some community stations - particularly public stations in the USA - depend heavily on funding drives. Several times a year, they have appeal programs on which they do little else but ask for money. They may announce a purpose for funding - such as saving up for a better transmitter. After each piece of music or spoken item, they invite listeners to telephone the station and to promise to donate some money.

This is more effective than asking people to actually bring the money in to the station. When a listener rings up during an appeal, a volunteer at the studio writes down their name, address, and the amount of money they are offering. All this goes onto a simple computer database, or an index card.

The listener is given the station's address, and asked to bring or mail the money within a week. As the fund-raising program continues, the total amount of money pledged so far is constantly updated and announced: "Now we're up to 9,350 dollars, well on the way to our target of 15,000 dollars for this weekend. If you'd like to help us to buy that new transmitter, please phone us on 98-765."

Fund raising can be maximized and simplified by suggesting a range of amounts, such asŠ "For 10 dollars you can be a bronze supporter, for 15 dollars a silver supporter, and for 30 dollars a gold supporter. Of course, any other amount is also welcome."

As bronze is not a very precious metal these days, if you set the level for "silver" only a little higher, this will produce more "silver" supporters. The "gold" level is for people who want to impress others, so it can be much more.

Over the next few weeks, as the money arrives, the database or index card is marked off as complete. Eventually, all the people who have promised money but have not yet delivered it are re-contacted, and reminded of their promise.

Though a few listeners never come good, nearly all the money promised is eventually collected - usually over 90%.

These appeals work best in countries where the laws allow donations to be tax-deductible - and your station has tax-deductible status - and you say so on air. Even if your station cannot be tax-deductible, you may be able to achieve the same result indirectly, by funnelling the donations through a registered charity (which will probably keep a few percent for its trouble).

For the donors to claim their tax deductions, you need to send out receipts. All this activity should be recorded in detail, in case of tax audits - e.g. recording on your database or index card the number of the receipt, and the date it was posted to the donor.

In a country with a culture of public donation, such as the USA, these on-air appeals can bring in most of a station's income. In other situations, on-air appeals are not nearly so effective. This applies in countries where listeners are so poor that they can't spare any money. And if most of your listeners are illiterate and don't have a telephone, bank account, or personal transport, it's not going to be easy for them to get the money to you, even if they want to make a donation.

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