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What Gives? Or, Fundraising Made Simple

If you work for a non-profit, chances are you don’t have the luxury of a several thousand watt mouthpiece with which to disseminate your message.  Even when you do, as in the case of non-commercial radio stations like the one for which I work, raising the necessary funds to keep the organization running smoothly can often times be daunting, especially considering our country’s economic health over the last year or so.


At the height of the economic slump last October, our middle-Tennessee group of WAY-FM stations came through one of their worst Pledge Drives ever, reaching only around 80% of the overall goal.   However, since that time, we’ve seen them experience two of their most successful fundraisers in the stations’ history (116% and 113% for our spring Pledge Drive and summer fundraiser, respectively).  It is my humble belief that, at its very core, that success is due in large part to nothing more than the simplification of the message.

Gone are the days of wiping the slate clean at the beginning of each drive and choosing not to assume those who gave during the last one will do so again (hard to believe we did that up until a few years ago).    Gone are the days of communicating separate monthly and single (one-time) goals.  Gone are the days of communicating the financial goal on the air at all.  Gone are the days of sharing about all the different ways to give and the levels of giving and the names for each and on and on and on.

Put simply, the focus of the goal over our last two fundraisers has moved from the laundry list above to the number of people from whom we must hear.  In other words, the goal is not, say, $100,000 or whatever the amount, but instead is “Will you be one of X number of people to respond.”

How can I help you?

Last spring that number was 1,000.  Last week it was 500.  The only other message we communicate on the air is exactly what we want these 500 or 1,000 people to do.  That might be a $100 donation (as was the case with our short, 2-day Race to 500 fundraiser last week).  Or, for larger, more critical fundraisers (like our spring and fall Pledge Drives), that might be “$10 a month or more.”

From the moment we turn on our mics, to the moment we end our drives, we track the number of people who have called or gone online and pledged the suggested amount.  Sure, some folks will do more, and others will do less (those donations still count in the end, or course), but our focus on the air is on the number of listeners donating (at a modest, minimum amount).  We take it a step further and break it down in smaller, bite-sized chunks as we go.  “This hour, will you be one of 30 people with a $100 donation?”

This method won’t work for every non-profit, but even if you don’t have a megaphone with which to broadcast your message, you still communicate with your donors in other ways, right?  What about your e-blasts, your newsletters or other mailings?  Is the message too convoluted?  If so, I hope reading this has sparked some ideas for simplifying your messages.

Needless to say, if you’re part of a non-commercial radio station or a commercial station that involves itself in occasional fundraising efforts, I highly suggest you give this simplified method a try.  I believe you’ll find that it’s not only easier to communicate for your on-air talent, but that listeners will be more likely to respond because they know and understand exactly what it is you need them to do.


In my original draft, I gave credit to this idea within our company to Steve Young, General Manager at WAY-FM in Tallahassee.  That credit was inadvertently omitted in the final draft.