Last year I was offered an exciting new role at KSBJ. This wasn’t the first time the Lord had invited me into new territory in my radio ministry, but it had been a while. If we live with the understanding that the Lord directs our paths and wisely brings us to these forks in the road, then change – whether in our jobs or in some other important area of our lives – can bring fresh perspective and a fresh opportunity to grow. That really isexciting, and I appreciate CMB giving me the opportunity to write about it.
My 40+ years in Christian music radio had been spent mostly on the programming and coaching side of things. Early in my career, I realized I enjoyed on-air fundraising. Talking with listeners about how God was using their favorite radio station for His purposes energizes me. Because of that, understanding how to ask for gifts authentically and successfully has become a lifelong study. So, the challenge to take what I knew about fundraising from the on-air side and meld it with the art, science, and data that exists in the world of donor care and development offered me a perspective I’d never had before. While I thought I understood what was taking place behind the scenes concerning donor engagement and care, being put in charge of those departments quickly showed me how little I actually knew.
So, I hope you’ll allow me to offer five perspectives I now have that may help you see your own fundraising opportunities more clearly.
- Saying “thank you” is key. Along with the one or two times each year when most listener-supported Christian stations thank their listeners during an on-air fundraising appeal, saying “thank you” more frequently is critical to both a donor’s level of engagement and his or her length of retention. It’s key to look for ways to thank every donor who contacts your station for any reason: to ask about their giving, to question something they heard on the air, or simply to look for information about a tax receipt. Expressing gratitude is key in making a donor feel appreciated and fostering their continued involvement. I saw a statistic the other day indicating that 13% of our donors will stop giving if they feel like they were never properly thanked. There was a time when I assumed it was enough to thank listeners sincerely during our on-air fundraisers. I no longer assume that.
- While on-air giving appeals are important, they’re usually only part of the giving equation.Those of us who ask people for financial gifts on the air can get the mistaken (and prideful) impression that it’s ourpersuasiveness that moved a listener to give. While a carefully constructed ‘ask’ is always part of the equation, it’s generally not the only (or even the most important) factor to consider. The seeds of giving are often planted, watered, and weeded in places other than on the air. If you were able to investigate forensically, you might be surprised to find out that a gift to your radio station has many sets of fingerprints on it other than those of the announcer. A donor’s gift is usually a response to multiple touches by your radio station. Whether it’s through written communication, phone calls, or even a kind word from a staff person wearing your station’s logo in a grocery checkout line, it often takes a village to raise a radio station’s budget.
- Every day, something must be done to touch a donor. I’ve always been taught that fundraising is a 365-day-a-year affair; that your station should be doing something every day to advance the cause of giving. But I confess I never realized how much actually takes place off the air to facilitate that. I knew there were mailings and phone calls, but I never realized how often those were taking place at my own radio station. For instance, in the past 30 days at KSBJ there have been multiple meetings with key staff to coordinate newsletter content; design and copy meetings for written and electronic communications; creation of videos, conversations with printers and mailing houses; and meetings to track the effectiveness of all the above. That’s a far cry from the three or four pieces of copy I had to write or approve every month when I was a programmer. That’s not a complaint, but a realization that supporting what’s heard on the air with well-designed and executed collateral seems to be a never-ending and ever-changing process. While the actual number of communications you design may be different from ours, I would think that the ratio could still lean more toward the off-air work rather than the on-air messaging. That’s a new perspective for me.
- The work of acquisition and retention is a true partnership.As with what constitutes a donor touch, my perspective on retention is changing dramatically. As a programmer and coach, I’ve long been a champion for the importance of research in knowing how to grow and keep radio listenership. But I hadn’t really thought much about how those same research principles apply to donors. Seeking to understand how donors feel about our stations, along with how they experience our fundraising, are significant steps toward improving donor retention. In programming we measure Time Spent Listening (TSL) and Average Quarter Hour (AQH.) In fundraising, we’re looking at donor acquisition and retention. In his book Retention Fundraising, Roger M. Craver points out that “the commercial world enjoys customer retention rates approaching 90 percent. The national average of nonprofit retention rates is only 41 percent.” Christian organizations fare better, but only slightly so. It appears that the commercial world has become expert at something we ought to get a new perspective on: keeping those customers we’ve worked so hard to cultivate. That will only be done successfully when our stations operate in true partnership between the donor message that’s communicated on-air, and the one that’s happening off-air.
- It’s difficult, but necessary, to cut through the noise.If you think it’s hard for an audio message to cut through the clutter our listeners are bombarded with, try finding ways to be seen and heard through print, electronic communication, and phone calls. It’s a tough task, but one that is crucial to a 21stcentury communication process. At a recent Dunham & Company Ministry Summit, Trent Dunham said this: “2020 is going to be abnormally loud, so our message has to be more on-point than ever.” His comment prompted me to jot down this note: “…then we’re going to have to fight harder than ever to cut through the noise.” I believe that’s where many of us find ourselves as we’re laboring to accelerate the propagation of the Gospel. Gone are the days when we could simply write a letter or send a postcard to donors to keep them engaged. If other donors are like me, they may never see that written communication since there is a pile of mail on their counter waiting to be opened from their last two or three visits to the mailbox. Sadly, our electronic inboxes aren’t much different. And phone calls? Be honest, what percentage of phone calls (from someone other than a family member) do you answer vs. sending them to voicemail?
If clutter is the norm, how will we be heard? How will we justify a return on the investment of resources being poured into our engagement and retention pathways? What are we doing to make the messages we’re putting in front of listeners, donors, and volunteers important enough to justify the time and energy it will take for them to read and respond? These are the sorts of questions that fundraisers from nonprofits around the world should be asking, and ones Christian music broadcasters ought to be humbly asking God to show us the answers to.
Here’s why: How we communicate to listeners and donors shouldn’t simply be an exercise in sharpening our marketing edge. It ought to be a holy process that we who follow Christ see as a sacred trust. The people who support the ministries you and I work for shouldn’t ever be viewed as ATM’s we can put a code into and receive cash from. Rather, they should be seen for who they are: people with minds, hearts, and souls whom God has entrusted to us. We will give an accounting to Him of the way we’ve stewarded that trust.
Sr. Director of Donor Engagement, KSBJ & NGEN Radio
Having been in Christian music radio since 1974, Jon Hull is a frequent seminar speaker having served on the board of directors for the Gospel Music Association and Christian Music Broadcasters. Jon is currently on the board of the National Religious Broadcasters and serves as the Senior Director of Donor Engagement for KSBJ and NGEN Radio. He and his wife Karen, have two daughters and four grandchildren. Jon is an Ordained Deacon at Founders Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.