There’s got to be a better way to fundraise for public radio

It’s time for yet another membership drive for our local public radio station.

Even as a fundraising professional that knows the need to raise money, these drives irritate the crap out of me. As far back as 2005, I posted a rant on entitlement in public radio fundraising.

I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. MPBN charges my credit card every month. I don’t need to be sold on the importance of membership. I’d prefer to listen to NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered in peace. But during these membership drives I can’t, so I choose to flip the dial.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, most listeners don’t give. They probably do need to be sold on the importance of being a member. But if I’m flipping the dial during these drives, how much more will they?

In direct mail fundraising and major gift fundraising, we can be selective. We can communicate with the individuals or groups that we want to. That doesn’t happen in radio or TV. Everyone gets the same broadcast, whether they give or not.

At least with TV you can DVR it and skip over the drives. I wish there were a Tivo-like option for radio!

There has to be a better way for public radio stations to fundraise incessantly badgering their core supporters. So what would you suggest stations do rather than this awful interruption marketing?

Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman helps leaders lead their teams with more effectiveness and less stress. The author of "Ask Without Fear!®," he is the founder of The Concord Leadership Group and He's also the executive director of and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook. To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Trey Pennington

    Hear, hear! Right on Marc.

    It really is simply, isn’t it? Non-commercial stations need to care about their listeners as much as they ask their listeners to care about them. They need to be “present” in the same space their listeners are and listening to their listeners.

    How? It’s easy and practically free. All of the “celebrities” of public and non-commercial radio should be actively reaching out to, connecting with, and proactively encouraging feedback from, their listeners on social media. Though social media is certainly far from the center of the universe, it is a place where engaged people tend to hang out.

    Imagine if all the NPR celebs had regular, ongoing, two-way conversations with their die-hard fans on social media (after all, that’s who’d be there, right—the passionate fans?). The station could “run” a “fundraising campaign” all year long—quietly, efficiently, and probably quite effectively—through social media and the web, all without ever bothering the casual users who only listen to the radio.

    Sometimes the obvious and the simply are just too hard for proud people/organizations to do.


  2. Marc A. Pitman

    Thanks, Trey!

    What a great idea. If a personality I “connected” with asked me to help a project, I think I’d be far more likely to do it than respond to the membership drives!

  3. Barbara Hart

    I used to work at MPBN — MANY moons ago and was on the fund raising team for both radio and TV. I think the changes they have made — and keep making to shorten the campaign have really helped. I pledge and I listen through the breaks. While Trey’s idea has merit — the reality is that the majority of listeners aren’t yet on Twitter or other new media. You’ve got to reach them where they are.

  4. Marc A. Pitman

    Thanks Barb! It’s always good to have perspective.

    For the past couple years, I’ve sort of followed a PBS annual conference. Both years, people were amazed by the growth of people streaming the shows rather than tuning in to radio. So there’s hope!

    Do they do major gift fundraising too? They must, so this is probably a dumb question…

  5. Trey Pennington

    Barbara makes a great point. This IS a time of transition. As with probably most things in marketing, it isn’t so much an “either/or” question as much as a “both/and” challenge.

    Tweetups, promoted both through social media AND on the airways, all year round, (you know, doing that face-to-face kind of marketing), would probably be a good solution for the challenge. I think this approach to marketing public radio would truly fulfill the public radio mission of “listener supported” over the long run.

    Will be implementing something similar with a non-commercial network in the region.

  6. gk

    I could go on for pages about the challenges of public radio fundraising in 2009. But I’ll give one comment on pledge drives–they work. More or less. At my station we do all we can to minimize the amount of time we interrupt programming…”hit it and quit it” pledge drives, one day drives, more direct mail, ongoing giving options, more corporate underwriting (studies show listeners are less annoyed with such “ads” then they are with pledge drives), major giving clubs,…but the simple fact is…when, on average, 10-20% of your audience makes an annual gift…going on the air and talking directly to people is the most tested and successful method public radio has. In fact, when I talk to other fundraiser they express great envy that we have such a “megaphone” to talk directly to our constituents. But..your point is well taken and many people (including public radio employees!) would agree-they are kind of annoying.

    We just have to be more creative…try new things and be honest with our audience..communicate the need for support and the desire to give them more progamming with less fundraising.

    It’s not simple–but it can be better.

    And as for the Tivo like option for radio–check out The Radio Book Mark:

    Love your blog, one of my weekly reads.

  7. Marc A. Pitman

    Thanks Greg,

    It is hard to argue with success, isn’t it?

    I listened today and the breaks were much more enjoyabe? Endurable?

    I know stations are trying. They serve an incredibly important role in the landscape of broadcast media. I’m hoping some crowdsourcing may help these stations.

    Can’t wait to check out the web link!!

  8. Carlton

    I like the idea of NPR building and commuicating case stories around consequential planned giving such as the Kroc (sorry, it makes me laugh a bit) gift.
    Let a number of different fans, as described above, tell the story compellingly and of course define how every gift plays into the bigger gifts impact, etc, etc.
    Seems simple to me.

Leave a Reply