Community radio stations prepare coordinated year-end fundraiser

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A new National Federation of Community Broadcasters initiative aims to help small radio stations increase their revenues through a coordinated year-end giving program.

The organization, which represents more than 200 community radio stations, is partnering with the social fundraising platform Click & Pledge for a campaign they’re calling “GiveBig to MyStation,” a two-day fundraiser Dec. 29 and 30.

By signing up to participate, community stations will get an individually branded fundraising website and access to a fundraising toolkit with resources like on-air scripts, email templates and graphics — “all the things it takes to do a fundraiser,” said Beverly Hacker, a fundraising consultant who is working with NFCB on the initiative. She was previously executive director of KDHX, a community radio station in St. Louis.

The campaign responds to a new emphasis on fundraising performance in CPB’s Community Service Grant program and aims to help stations improve their development practices. Community radio stations have small staffs and limited resources, and many serve economically disadvantaged communities. NFCB saw an opportunity to help them improve their end-of-year fundraising.

Hacker (Photo: Jon Gitchoff)

Hacker (Photo: Jon Gitchoff)

“An awful lot of stations will do one or two days, but they’re not always super-planned or strategic,” Hacker said.

The platform is also equipped for stations to utilize peer-to-peer tactics, allowing their supporters to act as fundraisers on behalf of the stations. The approach is similar to a local Race for the Cure event benefiting breast cancer research.

“To me that’s one of the perfect tie-ins for community stations,” Hacker said. “We have so many adoring fans and volunteers, and a whole lot of them don’t really have any money. This gives them the opportunity to be not just an advocate for the station, but really be a fundraiser for the station.”

NFCB chose the end of December for fundraising because, according to Click & Pledge, Dec. 31 “is by far the highest-volume giving day of the year,” Hacker said.

Though stations won’t be charged to use the platform, Hacker said, they will pay fees on the pledges it processes. Those include a 3.75 percent merchant fee assessed on the amount of the donation and a 35-cent per-transaction fee. The remainder of each donation will go straight to the station’s bank account and become available within 48 hours.

NFCB and Hacker will assist stations with setting up their accounts and learning to use the platform’s tools. They will also track giving on the two coordinated campaign days — during which stations are expected to pitch on-air and point to their GiveBig sites — amongst all participating stations. Those that raise the most money among other small, medium and large stations, as determined by revenue, will receive cash prizes from NFCB.

Fourteen stations have signed up to participate, but Hacker hopes to bring the total to 60 stations in the next few weeks.

The initiative is part of a larger NFCB strategy to help stations focus on three major components of successful operations: content, revenue and engagement, Hacker said. “If all three of those things aren’t working, it’s really difficult to make it a success,” she said.

On the revenue side, many stations can improve their fundraising performance by moving members into higher tiers of giving, converting them to sustaining donors and improving their underwriting.

“Those are the main areas. We think we can make some pretty big changes in our stations by helping them even just do a better job with what they have,” Hacker said.

Changes in NFFS

Improved fundraising performance has become especially important for community stations as they work toward meeting CPB’s new minimums for nonfederal financial support.

A higher threshold was adopted in 2012 as part of a larger CSG policy review. Certain stations were exempted from the new standard: those that are sole-service stations in their markets, those that have no minimum and those that serve rural areas or minority communities whose NFFS minimum remained at $100,000.

For all other stations, NFFS minimums increased from that amount based on the population density of their service areas, ramping up to $175,000, $250,000 or $300,000 in fiscal 2016. By fiscal 2018 the phase-in period ends, and stations have to raise either $300,000 or $500,000 to qualify for CSGs.

“NFFS had not been changed in more than a decade,” said Erika Pulley-Hayes, CPB’s v.p. of radio. “And it was really adjusted to reflect the cost of doing business.”

Stations that do not meet their NFFS minimum are given two warnings each year, she said. In the third year, CPB pulls their CSG funding. However, they can apply for the grant the following year if they are able to meet the requirements.

Because of the warnings, so far no station has lost CPB funding under the new policy, according to Pulley-Hayes. The earliest a station could lose its CSG due to the higher NFFS threshold would be next fall. Six stations are vulnerable to losing funding, she said.

Fundraising assistance

CPB has taken steps to help underperforming stations build revenue streams from non-federal sources. Over the summer it put out an RFP for a two-year project that will assist up to 10 rural or minority stations on revenue development.

The RFP builds on an earlier pilot initiative led by Greater Public, which worked with four minority stations on fundraising performance over the past two years.

“Most of them were right on the edge,” said Doug Eichten, president of Greater Public. “With the change in NFFS, [they] were more in danger of not being able to raise enough money to meet it.”

Greater Public hired Alice Ferris, a development consultant and founding partner of GoalBusters, to visit the stations, assess their current development strategies and study the broader philanthropic potential within the station’s community.

During the station visits, the consultants found that each “either had a weak or nonexistent corporate support program and a very weak individual giving plan,” Eichten said. “We started right away working with them on pledge drives.” Ferris and her team provided fundraising training and also pitched on-air.

Greater Public has completed its work with the stations and is awaiting final results, Eichten said. He expects to have a full assessment of the pilot’s impact within nine months. However, he believes “good progress was made at just about every one of them.”

Greater Public submitted a proposal to lead the next CPB-funded fundraising project, but it’s also looking to continue its work with smaller stations.

For next year’s Public Media Development and Marketing Conference in San Francisco, Eichten is considering adding “almost a full track of sessions just for smaller stations.”

“We’ve tried to do some of that in the past,” he said. “I’m thinking [of making] more breakout space available so we can do more to help people that are maybe not part of any of these programs but can benefit by the learning from it.”

Eichten credits CPB for developing programs to assist struggling stations. “It was important that CPB decided to do this, as opposed to just letting stations slip off the chart,” he said.

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