Back in 2007, I was hired at the Dallas NPR affiliate to improve their on-air fundraising drives. If you've listened to public radio or watched public television, you've probably experienced program interruptions that ask for donations. It has never been the audience's favorite part of a show.
At KERA 90.1, drives were dragging, and they weren't achieving their goals. Listeners were also expressing frustrations by calling the station. Meanwhile, this was my first job in radio and non-profit fundraising, but it was my responsibility to develop new messaging, strategy and content to address these problems.
When it came to developing a strategy to inspire listeners to give, I came across a set of challenging roadblocks:
Addressing the first two required a variety of strategies using messaging, urgency and content.
The third? That was a challenge since most of the drive is filled with the station's staff asking for listener support.
Then I realized we had contact information from people who were sustaining members (monthly drafts from bank accounts) and people who donated throughout the year. I decided to reach out to them and ask for their help.
Some of them came to the station to record an interview with me. I would take the best parts of that interview, piece together a narrative and put a music bed under it.
Some of our pledge breaks could last between 6-10 minutes. These stories broke up the long stretches of staff talking to listeners about donating. More importantly, now listeners were making the pitch. The "they're paid to say that" reaction was no longer valid.
These audio testimonials not only improved the fundraising drives, the station received positive feedback about the stories they heard each day. It was true, despite each donor telling listeners why they give and why they think others should give, they all had a special way of expressing themselves. Laura's testimonial is a prime example when she calls the programming a mind vitamin.
Another example came from a contributor named Sheela. As she expressed her reasons for giving, she described the station's on-air voices as the "companions in her car" who joined her during daily commutes. I took her comments, turned them into a script and produced a different kind of testimonial story. This one was complete with voices, music and sound effects.
Testimonials were game-changers. Simple interviews with a donating member of the station solved several issues with the drives:
1. They made interruptions sound more like programming
2. They infused the drives with more storytelling
3. They allowed listeners to hear pitches from "one of them" instead of station staff
4. They broke up long breaks
After this content strategy made everyone happy, testimonials became part of every radio drive.