October 11, 2023
Discipline: Membership

Jay Clayton

This piece was originally posted on March 6, 2020. It has been updated to reflect current events.

On-air fundraising interrupts your core programming, but sometimes your core programming has to interrupt your fundraising. 

The latest war between Israel and Hamas is a major news event that could cause your station to pause on-air drives to bring listeners breaking news and vital information. The need to provide critical information might reach a point where it causes your station to pause your drive indefinitely or postpone the start of your on-air campaign.  

Public media is a public service first, and our primary obligation is to deliver that public service to our audience. This is the key tenant to come back to in any discussion about pausing or moving a fund drive.

Your listeners trust and expect you to bring them breaking news and significant events such as press briefings as they happen. To continue fundraising in such moments sends the message that raising money takes precedence over your mission of public service when it should be the other way around.

Acknowledge the moment and its significance.

If the situation is such that it’s okay to continue fundraising on-air, it’s still important to acknowledge the moment and your coverage. Here’s how you can pitch around this reporting:

We understand and appreciate how difficult this news is to hear. It’s important for NPR and [your station] to bear witness to what’s happening and to be an independent voice to tell you what we’re seeing and learning. Our job is to get beyond what governments and politicians are saying and bring you the facts, voices, and perspectives of the people most directly involved and affected. Listener support keeps us steadfast in our role as journalists, and it’s why we’re asking for your financial support today. 

Pause your drive to make room for special coverage.

When it’s appropriate to pause your on-air fundraising, be transparent with your audience: Remind them that you’re raising the money that it takes to bring them reliable coverage of major news events, and that you’re pausing to deliver the service they expect from you.

When special coverage of a press conference or other event has concluded, resume your drive and reassure your audience that your service to them is the highest priority. They can rely on you to bring them all of the coverage they expect. Tell your listeners they will hear every bit of available information about the events that are unfolding, even during your fundraiser, but you need to pay for it.

If you need to extend your drive due to such interruptions, simply explain your decision to your audience and trust them to understand. 

Of course your message need not overstate your actions. The message isn’t “See how great we are for doing the right thing and bringing you the news.” Rather, it’s a simple “You trust this public service and we deliver what you expect.”

If special news coverage is extensive, you may be required to suspend your drive indefinitely. Trust in the primacy of your mission and that you’ll figure out how to meet your goal later. 

Use the lens of your mission to make judgment calls about what’s best for your community and your station. You would be well advised to postpone your drive altogether if any major crisis affects your community in ways that change people’s daily lives. If your drive is coming up in a month or so you might consider getting it done sooner if you can or delaying it a bit based on how news events are unfolding. This needs to be considered on a station-by-station basis, based on the best information available.

Your #1 responsibility is to your community. Donors will come through for you when you maintain your unwavering commitment to that end.

Jay Clayton