We sat down with Leah Davis, associate director of new media & membership at WBUR, Boston’s NPR® News Station, to talk about how the station cut its annual spring pledge drive down to a single day—and kept momentum going weeks later.
Public radio has a problem. How can stations raise the money they need without hijacking broadcasts for lengthy (though still effective) pledge drives? Before 2010, WBUR regularly ran 44 days of on-air pledge drives each year, replacing regular programming with fundraising. But the station’s leadership knew the model wasn’t ideal for listeners, so they started looking for creative ways to shorten the campaigns. (Last year, the station was down to 22 days of fundraising).
This year, WBUR took it one step further: Could they replace an entire week of fundraising with a single day? On April 7, they did just that. In just 26.2 hours, WBUR raised more than $1 million from 9,000 donors.
Here are some of the tactics WBUR used to make their one-day campaign (the WBUR Marathon) a success.
One Team, One Goal
“Our first step was getting everyone on the same page,” Davis said. “There was a massive level of internal organization involved; the whole station had to be on board.”
That kind of unity doesn’t happen overnight. Davis’s team, which focuses on member services and recurring gifts, spent time reaching out to other offices (including development—which at WBUR manages major gifts, operations, marketing, digital, production, and on-air staff) to make sure everyone knew the goals and how each team could contribute.
“There was no way the membership team could do this on our own. We had to rely on other departments for their expertise,” she said. “We were clear about what we needed from them, but also explicit in the fact that we would back off and let them take it and run.”
Make Donors Feel Like They’re Part of Something Big
“It was exciting how engaged our community became when we changed the ask from ‘give us money’ to ‘be part of the team,” Davis said.
WBUR did this by launching a #teamWBUR hashtag in the weeks leading up to the event, giving listeners the chance to join in early.
“The #teamWBUR movement grew organically,” she said. “And while the hashtag let us start a conversation with our listeners about fundraising, its real value was in the creation of a visible community by and for WBUR listeners.”
WBUR helped build excitement around the hashtag by reaching out directly to listeners who were already engaged. Davis ran a search through the EverTrue platform to find donors who had given in the last three years and had also engaged with more than five WBUR Facebook posts.
EverTrue Search: “Gift Date” in the last 3 years and “Total Facebook Likes” > 5
She then contacted the donors, inviting them to join #teamWBUR and offering to send them a T-shirt. Every single donor who responded to Davis’s outreach not only posted on social media the day of the event, but also made a gift.
But just because the day ended, it doesn’t mean the conversation around the hashtag has stopped. Check in on the hashtag today and you’ll find listeners talking about National Bike Month and Best Buddies, or posting pictures of wherever they’re tuning into the station.
Amplify the Message
Davis believes that the success of the #teamWBUR challenge has huge implications for on-air fundraising and that a digital-first approach can do big things for public radio. But she was also quick to point out that digital-first doesn’t mean digital-only. Before and during the big day, WBUR reached out to its audience via direct mail, email, and on-air mentions.
“Radio is good at being a giant megaphone, which is why pledge drives work so well,” Davis said. “We can be digital all we want, but the reality is that our donor base still connects with us on-air.”
— Charlie Kravetz (@CharlieKravetz) April 8, 2016
So throughout the day, the fundraising team made sure the on-air hosts gave regular updates on the challenge; made those updates as entertaining and engaging as possible; joined in with #teamWBUR on social media; and let listeners know how to show their support. The team also created two hours of marathon-themed programming for the 8-10 p.m. time slot to crank up the awareness factor.
Demonstrate the Impact to Donors
In talking about the campaign, Davis said, “It was transparent. It was passionate. It was authentic… and not just a marketing scheme”—which is why the day was so successful. It wasn’t just about supporting this one event; it was about listeners feeling part of a larger movement.
“We’ve entered the age of donor empowerment,” Davis said. “Donors are more involved, educated, and sophisticated than ever before.”
At a time when people have more options than ever for their giving, the organizations that put donors first by valuing transparency and respect for the community over internal objectives are the ones that will succeed. In many ways, this requires trust — trust that when you tell your story well, your audience will listen, step up, and provide the support you need to keep going.
And this is what made WBUR’s giving day so successful. They designed a campaign around their audience, gave their donors a voice and multiple ways to participate, and began a conversation that continues to unfold.