March 19, 2018
Discipline: Membership


Informed by recommendations and case studies from Paul Jacobs of Jacobs Media, and Frank Auer of WGBH.

On-air drives remain one of the biggest fundraising opportunities for public media and certainly the biggest driver of new donations to stations. But how can you keep listeners tuned in, engage them more effectively, and get more of them to give? Try experimenting with one of these ideas:

1. Connect with Millennials using relevant language and giving options.

Engaging Millennials is a buzz topic. While there is no single Millennial profile, Jacobs Media Strategies found several relevant takeaways about public radio listeners from this generation as part of their Millennial Project.

Non-commercial radio is a key concept for Millennials. They like that “it’s not trying to sell me anything.” The medium is viewed as trustworthy and credible. Also:

  • A connection to the world that offers lifelong learning.
  • Civil, not sensational.
  • Educational and challenges preconceived notions.
  • “The least partisan way of staying informed about things that matter.”
  • “Intellectual thinking with community-focused programming.”

Many Millennials interviewed understand the rationale for giving, but haven’t made the leap. Here’s why they choose to give:

  • Sense of ownership (community connection, local content)
  • Appreciation for the costs of quality programming
  • Fear of losing news source (especially with 2016 election)
  • Sense of obligation (pay for what they consume)
  • Sense of pride

But here’s what’s holding them back:

  • Few have excess cash, others give what they can ($5 or $20).
  • Some don’t know what membership means.
  • Sustaining is by far their preferred way of giving, it fits their model (think Netflix).
  • They hate on-air drives, podcasts allow them to escape.
  • Some suggest stations should use celebrities on-air to promote giving.

Their mindset can be reflected using this language on-air:

  • Nonprofit journalism
  • Lifelong learning
  • Listener-supported radio
  • Story discovery

Create an independent fundraising event using only social media.

WGBH has experimented with digital pledge to engage their social media and online users who may not be enticed by traditional pledge activities. The digital pledge is a one-day event held after the on-air drive. It’s primarily a WGBH Facebook Live event that’s supported by Instagram and Twitter; it’s run by the station’s digital team in consultation with fundraising staff, especially regarding the timing of asks.

The station wanted to know why national organizations haven’t been particularly successful  using social media as a fundraising tool. They discovered some common big mistakes:

  • Attempts that were too broad
  • Lacking a personal relationship with the audience
  • Social media outreach that’s simply not fun

In contrast, three keys to success are to:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Be authentic.
  3. Be relevant.

The station has used local content, hosts or shows playing against “type,” and focused on content that doesn’t feel overly-produced. They mixed interviews, hang-outs, and behind-the-scenes content to keep the day feeling interesting and engaging.

A WGBH digital pledge producer spent about three hours a week to create the event. As is true with traditional on-air drives, it is important to start planning a digital drive early; four months out is a good benchmark. Remember to think of this as a complementary element, not a replacement for on-air drive fundraising.


Manage digital buyers and agencies