Message, Method, and Accelerators

In this article, interviewer Roger Gomoll talks with Greater Public's Jay Clayton about creating deadlines.

Psychologists are fond of saying: “If you can name it, you can tame it.” It’s true of pledge drives as well. If you open the hood on a pledge drive, what are the moving parts? Once you identify them, you might be able to improve each of the parts, and find new ways for those parts to work together more efficiently.

I find it beneficial to think of drives as having three parts: Message, Method, and Accelerators.

“Message” consists of all the things your pitchers say during a drive. It’s the same stuff the station says in renewal letters. On billboards and ads. In your mission statement and annual reports. These are the reasons for listening. It's reminding listeners of their relationship with the station.

“Method” is the magic that great hosts bring to work every day. It’s the instant connection that happens when that host opens the mic and starts talking. The stories they tell. The connections they help you make to the music or the news. The way they figuratively hold a listener’s hand and walk them through a break to be planted happily in the next quarter hour. And they do it all seamlessly.

“Accelerators” are all the things that fuel the fires of pledge drives. Coffee mugs. Trips to Paris. A tote bag. Or a new iPad. Accelerators catch the attention of your potential donors, and get them to give now, and possibly give more. Dangle a matching grant that ends in just 5 minutes and it’s almost guaranteed that the phones will ring.

Message and Method are the two most important elements in drives. They provide focus in fundraising. Without a clear message and an engaging method your pledge drives are merely a week of whining, begging, and pleading, certain to drive your listeners away.

All year long your station hosts utilize Message and Method to engage your listeners. But can we rely solely on message and method to convince listeners to join? Yes, but it’s not easy. Unless you’re Ira Glass. His audio spots about walking past reason, and how Megan turned in her mom as a public radio freeloader, and the Starbucks guy offer no deadlines. No matching grants. No coffee mugs. And certainly no iPads. His audio spots instantly engage us. And they make the phones ring. But these are the holy grail of public radio fundraising. Not many of us are capable of producing one spot of Ira’s caliber, much less conducting a whole drive in that way.

So we add accelerators to engage our listeners, and encourage them to the phone during our membership drives. These days it seems that we only have to utter the words “iPad giveaway” and the phones ring off the hook.

Jay Clayton is a fellow who has thought a lot about accelerators. He uses them to great advantage in the major market stations where he leads pledge drives. He understands that accelerators are an integral part of public radio’s on-air fundraising strategy. For him, the question is not if they should be used, it’s how they should be used. But with that, Jay offers one caveat: “Always remember: programming drives giving. Accelerators become the catalyst for when and how much people give.”

What is it about a matching grant or an hourly goal or an iPad giveaway that grabs the attention of listeners and moves them to the phones? Jay sums it up in one word: “Deadlines. We must understand that accelerators create deadlines. And people respond to immediate deadlines.”

Think of the accelerators that are solely based on immediate and looming deadlines. John Sutton popularized the Power Hour and One Day Drives. There’s also the hourly goal setting, and premiums that are only available for a limited time. There’s the day you can plant a tree, or the trip to Chicago to see "Wait Wait" that is given away only during the show. There’s an endless parade of offers and deadlines and sweepstakes. Couple that with the fact that accelerators all have a limited life span, and it’s soon obvious that you’re always going to be looking for that new accelerator, that new offer for your next pledge drive.

The long-term prospect of finding new accelerators may be challenging, but Jay Clayton’s advice is simple: “Good stations build little deadlines all along the drive. Mix things up so that it’s not the same every day. Mix challenges with sweepstakes, with matching money, with thank-you gifts, and maybe other kinds of accelerators that aren’t as obvious.”

But there is one accelerator that will never get old. Listeners will most always respond to the deadline of the end of the drive.

“The most powerful accelerator is the return to programming. The collective response from listeners is that ‘We love the short fundraising as long as the station can do what it needs to do.’ This tells me that listeners get the idea of fundraising. And as fundraisers, we need to understand that when we ask those listeners to give.”

Here’s one bit of hope for you. The public radio stations that are the most effective in fundraising have found that the need for accelerators actually decreases when the drive’s messages and method are the strongest. Focused, purposeful messaging delivered by a host with strong broadcasting skills can consistently invite a steady stream of listeners to contribute to the station they love. You may have one or two of those great communicators at your station. If so, you’re fortunate.

New Topics:

Jay Clayton  Greater Public

Roger Gomoll OnAirFundraising LLC


 Pledge Lab is a collection of articles and essays dedicated to improving the practice and effectiveness of public radio pledge drives.


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