November 8, 2019

Our listeners are about to endure the spectacle of a presidential impeachment. Hearings are just beginning, which means a national trauma will be playing out during the holidays and during our traditional year-end fundraising. It’s a fair bet that our audiences will increase across broadcast and digital channels, affecting national programming and schedules. It’s also likely that the purveyors of fake or distorted news will unwittingly remind our listeners of the priceless value of public media.

What does this mean for the language we choose for fundraising as well as how we craft messaging across other channels like e-news services, podcasts, station apps or NPR One? When we give our audience a way to channel their dissatisfaction with the media circus, we allow them to reinforce their own values as well as those they share with public media.

First: Use language that stresses our values, not just the value of our service.

Fundraisers always raise more when they focus on donors’ values, not our service. Instead of just touting in-depth, non-commercial, balanced news (things we deliver), use language about fairness, honesty, toughness, etc., (the value of strong journalism we represent to listeners). Don’t be afraid to call out fake news for what it is: fake. Here are a few call-to-action examples, with varying degrees of edginess:

“Listening to news with facts? Must be public radio. Help us keep it coming.”

“Public radio news can’t be bullied or scared off – thanks to you! Help us keep it up.”

“Want to take a stand against fake news? Give to public radio news right now.”

“Things you’ll never hear on public radio: rumors, innuendo, fake news. Contribute to the things you DO hear on [STATION]: fearless reporting, actual facts.”

“Tired of rants and shouting matches? Help public radio show the fake news people how real news is done. Give a few bucks.”

You get the idea. And remember, giving during turbulent times is very emotional for the donor. A little attitude doesn’t diminish a serious message. It just moves you closer to expressing the donors’ strongest feelings, which is exactly where you want to be.

Manage digital buyers and agencies

Second:  Follow through.

Avoid a big fundraising buzzkill: getting people fired up to support a cause they love, and then dumping them on a bland, corporate-sounding transaction form. When they land on your giving form, you have not closed the deal yet. Repeat and reinforce the language that got them to click. If your web page, social media ad, e-appeal, or stream intro asks people to “fight fake news,” your donation form should thank them for “helping to fight fake news.” Maybe add a kudo for the action, not just the money: 

Public radio has something fake news does not: You! Reporters from [STATION] to NPR thank you for your vote of confidence.

Which brings me to something even smart fundraisers sometimes neglect…

Third: After donors have just given, they’re glowing. Put them to work. 

Show people how to share your website content on their social media, forward content by email, or share a link to your app or NPR One. Letting people be “volunteers” for public radio can bond them to your station at a time when commercial and cable news organizations will be driving them up the wall:

  • Rewrite your confirmation screens, thank-you emails, welcome emails, and your stream open or close.
  • Dust off those dated direct mail thank-you letters and pack some punch into the language.

Want more great language? Read the NPR Ethics Handbook. It’s chock-full of reasons to support public radio. (Maybe put a link in a thank-you email. The short sections on “Honesty” and “Fairness” brings tears to the eye.) 

Then what?

Mercifully, the impeachment will end, probably in early winter. Our audiences will have had their holidays, and our coverage will return to the dull roar of another election.

Meanwhile, stations can speak to audience values while the headline-chasers and fact-fakers increase the nation’s thirst for the kind of coverage we provide every day.

Manage digital buyers and agencies