Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 7
Funding from listener: section 2

7.2 Off-air appeals

As well as (or instead of) appealing for funding on air, you can do it off air. For this, you need a mailing list, with the addresses or telephone numbers of potential donors.

People who already listen to your station are going to be much more receptive to a request for money. In fact, you'd be wasting your time to approach people who don't listen - so this approach is feasible only if you have a mailing list of listeners.

Also, the mailing list needs to be up to date. In my experience, about 25% of entries become out of date each year. So if a list is more than two years old, you might as well ignore it, and make your appeals on air.

How much money you get will depend entirely on the wording of the letter - so take a lot of care with that. If the letter only asks for money, listeners are less receptive than if it involves them in some way, and offers them something in return - even if this is only an invitation to contact you with a request.

Consider what you could offer the donor that would please them a lot, but cost you little. This might include something as simple the right to request a particular piece of music (for a small donation) or naming rights for big donations ("If you give us $10,000 or more, we'll name the new transmitter after you.")

Before printing lots of letters, I suggest you produce several different versions, show them to people, and ask how they would feel if they received that letter. Tiny differences in wording can make large differences in the revenue you receive.

In the USA, the Pledgewell organization carried out a study they entitled "Listener-focused fundraising." This involved a series of tests of the effectiveness of various types of appeal. They found that public radio listeners in the US preferred off-air appeals, by mail rather than by telephone, with plain mail-outs. Colour printing and gimmicks were not as effective in gathering contributions as simple requests. This confirms my Australian experience in audience research: when printing looks too professional and glossy, questionnaires are less likely to be filled in and returned.

Pledgewell also found that prizes, sweepstakes, and so on did not increase the value of contributions, and that long letters were not needed. Considering on-air fundraising, a light and humorous style of request was more successful than a more intensive style.

With mail requests, Pledgewell found that it was more effective to be open about your finances and how you spend your income, and to quote the cost per hour. More details of this valuable series of studies can be found at the website - and though the study was done only in the USA, my own research confirms that this type of approach also works well in Australia. However, in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia, there's little point in trying to get donations from listeners: they simply don't have any money to spare.

Letterbox drops in promising areas

If you don't have a mailing list, but you do know that some parts of your coverage area have a high proportion of donors or listeners, you could canvass those areas - by dropping a letter of request (combined with a program flyer) in every letterbox.

Such letters work better if they don't simply ask for money, but also offer something in return. Maybe you should invite people to become subscribers - see the next section.

This approach of blanketing a small area will probably work only if your suggested donation seems cheap, the benefits seem substantial, and the proportion of people who listen to your station is high. So begin by doing a trial, in a small area, with only 100 or so letters - and be sure to collect details of the results. If too few people respond to your written appeal, you might end up spending more on printing the letters than you gain from donations. If the trial, in the most promising area you can think of, doesn't produce enough donations, I suggest you give up on this idea entirely - or totally rewrite your letter.


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