Changing the Rules of Fundraising

Positive Alternative Radio just completed its spring fundraising season.  All five stations exceeded goal.  Much was different this time around and we learned a great deal.

We partnered with i58:10 Media to help us on air but also to train our teams.  One of PAR’s goals is to hand the baton of leadership off to the next generation in Christian radio.  That includes making them the best on-air fundraisers they can be.  i58:10 Media is doing an amazing job.  David Harms and his team not only helped host the event, but in-between the songs they were coaching the team.  

I could often hear discussion as to how to set up the break; who would “build”, who would apply the story, and changing our language so the fundraiser wasn’t about the station or the staff but about the listener.  To say we’ve gone through a transformation is an understatement and to be brutally honest for as much change as has occurred, it truly has only begun.

We’ve changed our focus.  It’s about her.  How the station makes HER feel, how it encourages her, offers her and her kids hope.  We didn’t give away CDs, iPads or make a big deal about t-shirts.  We spent six months gathering stories of how God used our stations to impact lives.  i58:10 Media coached us in how to tell those stories and ask for the gift.  The result was pretty astounding. 

Another huge change…we stopped asking for faith gifts.  Faith gifts were my gig.  I was good at it.  Very good.  I only blame myself and no one else, and if I’m being honest – I knew better.  A faith gift was when I went on the air and asked people who didn’t have the money to make a pledge of $1,000 on faith and perhaps God would supply that gift.    Here’s a big confession: I was wrong.  Giving on faith, from what I understand of the Bible, is when someone gives all they have and then they have faith that God will take care of their needs.  

PAR had used faith gifts in a significant fashion in the last two fundraising seasons.  It helped us hit goal but I knew it was wrong.  At this past January’s vision week, I stood in front of the entire PAR team and apologized.  I told them I was wrong and that I’d never do it again and that as a company we’d never do it again.  (Leadership Lesson Alert:  Leaders, know when to own a mistake.  If you do it right, it will build your credibility.)   The team actually stood and applauded.  It was an amazing moment.   

Three months after I apologized to the team and said we would never do faith gifts again, we began a data project.  Part of that project was to look at faith gifts.  I was nervous.  What if these faith gifts of $1,000 had an amazing fulfillment rate?  I knew I’d be tempted to go back to them.

Here are some real numbers from one of PAR’s stations.  In the Spring of 2015, Station A had $147,000 of faith gifts.   Fulfillment rate on the faith gifts was 44%.  The same station had $212,000 of faith gifts in the Fall of 2015.  Of that amount, only 37% was fulfilled.  

Faith gifts are hard and drain you emotionally on air.   But we discovered something else.  On non-faith gifts, we run an 80% fulfillment rate.   This confirmed our decision to not do faith gifts.  Why not work just as hard to get non-faith gifts and have a higher fulfillment rate and allow the team to leave the fundraising event feeling “clean”?

Now the real work began.  We began replacing faith gifts with individuals giving $30 a month or a single of $100.  It wasn’t easy but our income has never been higher.

PAR also adopted a new rule.  We fundraise until the need is met.  At what point in history did the entire industry gather and determine that if your fundraiser isn’t wrapped up in 3.5 days that it’s a failure?  You keep pushing and plowing until you hit goal.  KLove and Air1 fundraise for nearly two weeks straight and that sure hasn’t held them back, has it?

Another lesson that emerged from this fundraising season was that the more we allowed our teams to do the fundraising, the more they owned the process and the goal.   They wanted to do the work.  They wanted to ask for the dollars.  Instead of relying on someone else to do the heavy lifting, they wanted to learn and do the ask.   This is a huge mindset shift for any listener supported station.  

We adopted new technology.  A digital comrex is amazing.  The i58:10 Media team could be in Portland, Oregon but sound like they were sitting in a studio in Fredericksburg, VA.   This technology also allows us to keep the hosts on-air longer because there isn’t a plane to catch.

The technology is so amazing that we’ve ordered a digital comrex for each of our stations.  Why?  With that technology, we can now put our strongest PAR fundraisers on any of our stations.  If we have three strong fundraisers at our Fredericksburg location, with the technology –  they can go on-air and sound live and local with our station in North Carolina.  This allows PAR team members to practice fundraising and become experts.  

Finally, fundraising is hard.  Some make it look easy.  But trust me, it is hard.  You must be brave, have confidence and be willing to ask for the gift.  We knew all that already.  This fundraising season taught us something…fundraising is worth the battle.  Why?  Because we are inviting our listeners to join in what God is doing through our radio stations.  Our teams got to hear story after story of how God has used their labors to change a life.  While the fundraiser itself was tiring, it was also affirming and encouraging.

Dear Christian Radio,

  • Are you training up the next generation of fundraisers at your station to carry on the legacy?
  • Are you capitalizing on available technology to give you access to as many on-air hosts as possible?
  • Have a conversation with i58:10 Media. They are amazing people.
  • Is your team owning the fundraiser or do they dread it?
  • If your station does faith gifts, are you willing to have a conversation with your team about faith gifts and their future?
  • Fundraising is hard. Embrace it.  Learn to love the battle.

Brian Sanders
Executive Vice-President
Positive Alternative Radio

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