January 31, 2024 by Preach Jacobs
“If you can see it, you can be it.”
– Elizabeth Marvel
I met Jamie Green, Multi-Platform Senior Producer at Public Broadcasting Atlanta, at an on-air fundraising conference in 2018. While we connected on strategy and being from similar markets, it was also noticeable that there weren’t many people in attendance who were African American or Latinx. Jamie and I shared our dreams for a future in public media where diversity, equity, and inclusion would be embedded in all fundraising efforts for the entire system. In the time since, we’ve both worked to make that vision a reality at our respective stations. We now find ourselves with an opportunity to share our stations’ DEI fundraising efforts, and, more importantly, with a public media system that is receptive to learning and committed to growing.
Authentic representation and building diverse community connections is important for all stations, regardless of the market. It is even more essential in the Greater Houston area, where I serve as Director of Membership and Donor Services at Houston Public Media. Houston has been named the most diverse city in America, and based on demographic studies, we can see that our youth is predominantly BIPOC.
It’s not uncommon to hear public media professionals expressing concerns about alienating their current audience with DEI-heavy fundraising. The key takeaway for all stations is if your content and messaging is not reflecting the diverse voices in your community, you’re not going to be prepared for the future.
At Houston Public Media, there are messaging concepts in our fundraising campaigns that have helped us connect with the entirety of our diverse Houston community. These concepts can be put into practice at any station large or small.
We sent “Voices of the Communities We Serve” to members in 2020. It highlights our DEI work, which is part of our mission at Houston Public Media. Before script writing, we recommend developing a case statement around your work in DEI. It will serve as a strong foundation for your on-air fundraising messaging as well as communicate the impact of your members’ giving.
While we know people of color are historically underserved, it is important that your station not view BIPOC communities solely in a context defined by deficits. Real community connection is achieved through storytelling that encompasses the entire BIPOC experience. Houston Public Media has created a collection of landing pages that highlight the contributions and culture of the different communities that make up our world. These are some of the programs we fundraise around:
Houston Public Media’s community fundraising and membership teams are made up of all BIPOC team members. I was empowered by our executive team to build out my department to better serve our community. Hiring committees for all positions were headed by myself and always included a team member from our Houston Public Media DEI Committee. We received feedback from our new team members that they felt safe, represented, and good about the culture because of the representation. Our team members often record and voice fundraising spots, and this truly aids in community connection. Our audience can see themselves in the station in a very real way. The key here is that this isn’t performative. These are the real people behind the fundraising and mission messaging.
Our live pledge messaging highlights our DEI work in important ways, like this example with I SEE U host Eddie Robinson, which highlights how Houston Public Media offers the community a place for meaningful dialogue, and this example from reporter Kyra Buckley which highlights the value in how we tell the DEI-related stories of our community. Spots that include our hosts and reporters talking about their work have a huge impact with the listener. We always make sure to emphasize that our members make everything we do possible.
We no longer do live TV pledging at Houston Public Media. Instead, we focus on interstitial messaging. While we are seeing a decline in TV pledge, we are continuing to see year-over-year membership growth. This is predominantly due to year-round, multi-media fundraising messaging like this spot featuring testimonials from our Young Leaders Council, a group of young professionals that have a personal passion for public media and work to spread its mission. The diverse members of the council represent a new generation of public media supporters and offer insight on ways to reach new audiences. In addition to sharing our programming on social media and participating in station brainstorming meetings, they also record fundraising spots. Their personal public media stories truly resonate with our audience and create deeper connections with the community.
It’s so important not to forget your traditional communications to complete the circle. We incorporate our DEI case statement messaging in our acknowledgement letters as well:
Houston Public Media is currently in the process of conducting a demographic screening of our membership data to develop real metrics around building a diverse donor base. We do not ask for donors’ demographic data on our donation form because it’s inessential information that serves to slow down the donation process, but having data about our audience is vital. If your station doesn’t have the resources to get comprehensive demographic data about your audience and the community you serve, there are alternate ways to obtain this information. In the past, we’ve conducted brief email surveys that include demographic questions. You can use free tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms to collect this data and you can then upload it into your database with minimal lift.
Greater Public is seeking writers familiar with public media for contract blog posts. Posts will primarily focus on fundraising case studies and will include a per-post honorarium. Please contact email@example.com to learn more.
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