A little debrief

A year ago on this spring Saturday morning I would have been at my desk at NCPR during the crazy rush of the closing hours of our on-air fundraiser. But instead I am enjoying a day off at home. Thank you for that, as well as for the thousands of generous gifts that will ensure another year of doing what we do at NCPR, to the best of our abilities.

As you probably know by now, we reached and passed our goal Wednesday morning at about 8 am after only two days and two hours of “classic” public radio fundraising. Taken with last fall’s even more successful effort (only two hours of “old-school”), that completes a full year in which NCPR has shifted its fundraising strategy away from week-long intense stretches of interrupting programs to raise funds, to a “quieter” method more respectful of the integrity of the public radio journalism and entertainment we are asking you to support. So this is good time to take stock of how that is working, both for NCPR and for our listeners.

Post-mission debriefing. Photo: A. Goodchild, UK Royal Air Force photographer

Post-mission debriefing. Photo: A. Goodchild, UK Royal Air Force photographer

We had an all-staff meeting yesterday to look at how it went from our point of view. From the financial point of view, complete success–two goals, two scores. Looking at the business model transformation, incomplete success. Our aspiration was no program interruptions. But David Sommerstein summed it up best: In one year we went from 12 days of on-air fundraising down to two days and four hours. That is, as the car dealer ads say, “He-YOU-juh!”

But we also feel that there can be some tweaking. Three weeks of “quiet” fundraising with brief messages, lots of email and social media–could that be shorter? The fact that in both drives we had to go on-air old-school to close the deal–does that mean we should just build some of that, maybe in brief bursts, into the strategy? Some program interruption, but planned and produced to be better radio? A lot of possibilities were brainstormed around the table.

You folks have all been at the receiving end of this effort. So how does it feel from your perspective? What worked and didn’t work for you? Is there some other approach to raising the funds we need that we just haven’t tried? What was it that made you give, when you did? Just as we have crowd-funded the station for another year, maybe we can crowd-think better ways to do the necessary business of public media. Let us know in a comment below.


26 Comments on “A little debrief”

  1. John Rosenthal says:

    The idea of built in bursts sounds like a good one though I would hate to give up on zero program interruptions as a goal. Tell us about the “all staff meeting” photo.

  2. Sue Abbott-Jones says:

    I love the no interruption of programs. However, the “old school” method brings us in personal contact with our NCPR neighbors as we hear their names mentioned on the radio. I like the competition between towns and people as to who gave. When there was a challenge or matching I felt my donation went further.
    As for the “new school” I liked the raffles to keep us going. I actually gave twice this year to hopefully win the travel voucher. By the way, I never found out who won it. Can you put the winners of the raffles with their pictures on your website? It really works for those magazine contests. The listed gifts were all I needed as incentives. I scanned it and then decided not to have NCPR not pay shipping so I didn’t get anything.

    I would say use both methods at the same time. During the most popular listening times “old school”. As I said those of us who like the participation piece will have some fun but we will also give to get our uninterrupted shows back. 🙂 Use “new school” to keep us going during the less popular listening times. Always have those raffle prizes!

  3. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi John. The photo is from the British archives. The term debriefing came into common use during WW2. This particular photo is of Royal Air Force flyers being debriefed by an intelligence officer after a mission in November 1943. While the NCPR staff is a little older and a lot more female than those pictured, the photo captures the intense focus we like to bring to these sessions. We hope our recently-completed mission was less aggressive than that which preceded the photo, but we may have left a few craters in your email inbox.

    Dale Hobson, NCPR

  4. tom and amy fuller says:

    I like a few days of the old-fashioned fund-raiser!! Reminding people what ncpr is all about and the need to support it!! I also miss the chance to get gift certificates from local businesses!!

    keep up the good work-tom and amy fuller-chestertown!!

  5. Melinda Little says:

    I was one of the folks who responded within the three weeks leading up to your on air finish. I was motivated by two things: my love and respect for NCPR and the idea of being “the little station that could” paving the way for other stations around the country.

    All that said, I think there’s still a need to build in the “live” connection during the fundraiser as it provides a stronger, more immediate feeling of community. I also miss the mini-challenges that were part of the old approach – ie. the ones where you call in with your pet’s names, or name of a charity you support.

    Anyway, I hope this is helpful. Keep up the great work.

  6. David Duff says:

    So Dale, I’m. Bit confused by your last sentence “we’re funded for another year.” No fall fund raiser? My wife and I have traditionally funded you in the fall, but this year heard your plea and decided to split our annual pledge in half, so we could respond guilt free in the fall and go about our business with a holier than thou countenance. If there is to be no fund raiser in the fall since you now appear to be flush for the coming year, can I spend my unspent NCPR portion on a man toy or am I indebted once again to your unspoken plea (we would all surely like some more, please.)
    As far as to why give? It’s like feeding the birds, once you start they are dependent and to cut them off in mid February because you’re going south just is unconscionable. Same with NCPR.

    So, as with the feeder, when we hear you are raising money again to stay on the air we anty up before anything really begins, because we believe your plea and don’t want you hungry, either.
    But after we’ve paid our pledge we rapidly grow weary of your incessant pleading with the free loaders that don’t. That’s why we like the silent fund raiser. We get more of what you promise and what we pay for. Sometimes your pleading drives us to WRVO, and god forbid they have a fund raiser at the same time. If so, we turn off the radio and go for a walk. Keep up the great work, and suggest you let the air out of free loaders tires as a subtle hint that to get down the road to enlightenment they need NCPR and an inflated tire. Make the connection. We know where you park.

  7. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi David–

    Sorry, there will be a fall fundraiser as usual. When I say funded for another year, I was talking in the context of our now full-year experience at “quiet fundraising,” not just the recent spring drive. But do feel free to get yourself a man-toy, too. You’ve earned it. Thanks for all the sunflower seeds.


  8. Elaine says:

    I like Melinda’s comment. I live in an area which has “Public” radio but not “Community” radio. As a result, my public radio station is little more than a mechanism to provide NPR, PRI, and the BBC. (In order to get the real prize, *community* radio, I listen to NCPR via live-streaming on my computer.)

    On-air pitches are, for you, an exhausting way to raise money; however, for us, the pitches are a twice-annual reminder of what unique and personal Community Radio is all about.

  9. Betsey says:

    Why don’t you ask the people who waited until the last minute to give to the station when you were on-air asking for their gifts?

  10. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Betsey–

    Thanks, that’s a good idea. I’m sure that some of them are also receiving this in the Listening Post email, but a separate survey just to those who gave during the on-air portion could provide some useful information.


  11. Caroline Larson says:

    I gave early because I wanted to duplicate the previous success of finishing up with only a few hours on air. This last campaign was a disappointment in that way. Throughout the off-air period the burden seemed huge and unsurmountable. I felt the weight of it on the announcers trying to drum up donations. I don’t know if you do this, but I am sure they do down here in Boston. They have some huge chunks of $ and they don’t put them in right away, but dribble them in along the way during the on-air phase to keep things moving, expecially when they seem stuck. “Oh and here we have $5000 from our local car dealership…”.
    All told you are still way ahead of the dreaded full week of fundraising and I am a proud listener.

  12. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Caroline–

    We do not hold back a pool of earlier donations to smooth over the slow spots in our drive. We used to do that a number of years back, put it felt a little disingenuous and it affected the sound of the drive. It’s hard to convey sincere urgency when you know there’s a pool of “magic money” that can be used to create the appearance of momentum. All your donations go into the total as soon as we record them.

    Dale Hobson

  13. Pat Nelson says:

    You started out SO quietly that I didn’t realize you were into fundraising until the second week. I was having remodeling done on my kitchen, so the radio was on but I wasn’t actually listening as much as usual. I may not have been the only one who missed it. Maybe you could start out with more fireworks before getting quiet.

    During the quieter period and the beginning of the traditional part, only a few people (Todd, Ellen & Barb stand out in my mind) said thank you to those who had already given. I understand the impetus to spark more contributions, but “thank you” is just as much a magic word as “please”, or so our mothers said.

    I’m a numbers person, so I would like to see a breakdown by day of telephone vs online contributions. It would make an interesting multi-colored graph and might trigger some more new ideas.

    Now I’ve said my “pleases”, but my main magic words are a giant “THANK YOU” to you all for your hard work all year long and your innovative risk-taking with your peaceful fund raiser.

  14. Mitch Edelstein says:

    OK, the question I have, is why didn’t we hear any of the National please give promos. I’ll never forget the Ira Glass phone call to a long term listener, never a supporter guy. Or the Alec Baldwin cool voice explaining why you should give. Does NCPR have to pay for those promos?

    Otherwise it was a great fundraiser. Thanks NCPR, thanks NCPR supporters!

  15. Claudai says:

    Many mixed emotions on this one, Dale. I always loved the sense of community NCPR’s annual (bi) appeal brought. Change is often a mixture of efficiency and nostalgia, though. I remember my sister (who lived here for many years before I moved to the area) talking about offerings of sheep and other unusual (unorthodox) donates/rewards. She misses those times.
    I think of the Biblical quote as sung by Peter, Paul & Mary: To every thing (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time for every purpose unto heaven.
    As I grow into old fartdom, I try to remember this in all things affecting me and my life.
    Go well, do good works, and keep in touch (paraphrased from G.K.)

  16. Mary Brandt says:

    I upped my donation to you in response to another station’s tiresome fundraising effort. Besides I like you more. Don’t know if it is possible but I would be happy not to receive e-mail reminders to give after the gift has been received. Thanks for your great programming and personnel. Truly you are the best. Mary

  17. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Mitch–

    We don’t have to pay for the “national voice” fundraising spots, but many of them are too long to fit into spaces that don’t interrupt programs, so we only used them during the on-air portion of the drive. There were only a few this year that we felt really matched our tone and style, so they were each used several times, but no more. Hearing too many repetitions of the same message is irritating, we think.


  18. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Pat–

    I don’t have the exact breakdown at hand, but as I recall from the debrief yesterday, we received a little over 200 gifts through phone calls, about 10% of total receipts. I don’t recall the breakdown between online gifts and and those in response to conventional mail, but the two together included the vast majority of giving. We also had a few people walk their gifts in the front door. Always a nice surprise.


  19. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Mary–

    Up until now, we haven’t had any mechanism that would stop emailing folks who have already donated, because our mailing list for fundraiser messages is the same list we use for the station newsletter and daily news email. Stopping one would mean stopping all messages, including the ones people have subscribed to. For the fall fundraiser, I will create a separate solicitation list for those messages, so we can be responsive to cease and desist requests without shutting people off completely. Though it may be technically difficult to keep track in a way that we get people back on the solicitation list for the next year. But I’m sure we can figure that out.


  20. In response to Dale Hobson’s blog entry regarding fundraising approaches, I have a strong distaste for the on-air approach and would turn off my radio except for hourly national news broadcasts during fundraising week, having given early. I believe the answer to the question Dale poses is to contact those who gave during the on-air portions of the fundraisers and very respectfully inquire as why they waited to give until then. Were they not aware of the silent efforts or do they really enjoy the program interruptions? If they truly enjoy the program interruptions, find out what their favorite programs are (or determine during which programs the most funds were raised) and only interrupt those programs.

  21. Parmelee tolkan says:

    I thought the short reminders that didn’t interrupt programming were fine. Then once you got to the “traditional” fundraising it was way too much. I used to listen happily through the pitches when you were fundraising the “old fashioned ” way, but I found myself reaching for the off button this time. We’re they longer than before?, less inventive?, too desperate? Possibly because the short pitches had covered some of that ground it seemed endless. Maybe short pitches should be fifty per cent less so we weren’t tired of them by the time you have to go on air.

    I also thought you should have kept the last biggest prize for after the last dollar was in the bank even though that allowed even the procrastinators to participate.

  22. Kent Gregson says:

    Keep innovating. The new form of fund drive is good. True, we miss the manure and boat rides, but there must be a way to integrate the new form with the old community spirit. The local items that promote local artisans and companies are a good way to highlight your presence in the communities where those items come from. Might not that also be a way to get more underwriters? I’ve already got lots of stuff with your logos on it and I appreciate the umbrella, but local stuff gives me more of a sense of friendship and connection. When something is announced and soon won by a donor or when there’s “only 2 left so call soon” it makes the drive take on a more immediate quality and makes it present in my day even when its not something I would donate for. Those are the type of fund drives I would listen to even after I donate. They’re interesting.

  23. Jim Britell says:

    One day I left the town of Peru and was driving home and realized I needed gas and the last station before the freeway was a Mobil, so I turned around and drove two miles back to Peru and bought gas at Stewarts for the same price as at the Mobil. This was because my local neighborhood Stewart’s manager managed to inculcate in all her customers the feeling that we are a part of her team to make our local Stewarts better than all the other Stewarts, and the Stewarts company better than other companies.

    The key is to make NCPR members feel they are making history and changing public radio everywhere with our fundraising and they are a part of something larger. Put your new approaches to fundraising in larger context and tell us in detail what other stations say or the feedback you have received. Little details like what some other station manager said in an email about our approach are what we need to know.

    The only thing NCPR needs to do to get better is raise your internet transmission rate to 256 KPS so your music comes across with better fidelity. Now you broadcast at the poor rate of 64kbps so the sound quality is mediocre. Your wonderful and original daily music programming needs a signal commensurate with the content. At 128 you might reach a national audience, at 256 certainly, at 320 you will be noticed all over the world.

    Also I would use less American national programming and more of the great Canadian CBS programming (except for that smarmy, oleaginous Vinyl cafe). CBC’s target audience is assumed to be mature, broadminded and college educated demographic who might reads the NY review of books while NPR seems to assume its audience is a collection of easily offended morons who read People magazine.

    Compare Quarks and Quarks attitude and tone towards their audience with Science Friday who seems always afraid their audience will change the station at any moment. Or listen to any CBC book review program. No NPR program, ever, is as substantive as any CBC book review program.

    America culturally is now a second world country but your station uniquely is on the border of two first world “countries”, Quebec and Vermont, so NCPR needs to program “as if” it is a first world station. NPR, having to program to middle and lower class America is inadequate and inappropriate to your peculiar listening area – (at least the parts of it that are first world, which would be the places where you can receive CBC over the air.)

    NCPR is unique and perhaps the best public radio system in the US. The afternoon programming is so unique and has such individual and original character that often I can tell what day it is immediately by the first few seconds that come over the radio when I turn it on in the afternoon.

    For a benchmark or goal for attitude, nerve, intelligence, freedom from censorship and maturity level of your target audience use Ellen’s afternoon music program. Then make your programming even bolder to the point where you are getting a steady and small stream of cancellations for being too controversial. If you are not getting people quitting in protest regularly you are aiming too low.

    If CBC is College and NPR is High school, NCPR is junior college, lets see if we can raise it up to the CBC level – or higher.

    You have a wonderful team and are much appreciated.

  24. Judith Glasser says:

    I actually miss the on-air fundraiser. It is a chance to get to know the new people on staff at the station in a way that hearing them simply announce the next program, or give the weather and the station breaks does not. But I would not like to go back to a week (let along the old two week) on air pitches.

    I would try another year of this way, to make sure that the support will continue to come in — that it was not just the novelty of the situation. But if a few hours of on-air is needed at the end to top up the total, so be it. As long as you keep the on air part cheerful and up-beat, I think people don’t mind it.

    In Salt Lake City, one year when we were there, they seemed to be on-air fundraising every day, and ran what I can best describe as infomercials for their underwriters, which sometimes ran a half hour of so, replacing the program one had tuned in to hear. That was awful. WBEZ in Chicago also seems to always be fundraising. So WSLU is very laid back and respectful already.

    Keep up the good work, and hello to all the staff.

    Judith Glasser

  25. Dennis says:

    First off, CONGRATULATIONS! Once Again.

    Personally, I absolutely hate the on-air fundraisers! So much so that I often switch stations.

    Have you tracked data on %/$ for repeat donors vs. new donors. My guess is that the number of new donors is quite small. If this is actually the case why waste time and effort trying to convince people to give when most will do so anyway? Perhaps just a simple email to all your contacts specifying a time period in which to give would suffice. Of course, every few years you would need to attract new donors to replace those who have left, so greater effort would be necessary.

    I give annually in the fall and will continue to do so as long as I am able regardless of the manner in which you solicit. In other words, I am there no matter how much or how little incentive or urging you provide. I cannot be the only one who shares this position. Again, do you have any data? Maybe a survey to the world to find answers to some of these questions.

    Keep up the excellent work!!!


  26. George Nagle says:

    Thank you for the invitation to comment.

    I have the (perhaps mistaken) impression that the requests to donate early to eliminate the program interruptions this year were not as urgent or impassioned as before. I don’t know if they were as numerous.

    If my impression is correct it may account for the need to use several days of program interruptions.

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