Message, Method, and Accelerators
Jay Clayton shares his thoughts on how deadlines can play an important role in speeding your drives along the path to success
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? Name them, and you might be able to improve them, and find new ways for them to work together more efficiently.
It might be beneficial to think of drives as having three distinct parts.
Message, Method, and Accelerators.
“Message” consists of all the things your pitchers say during a drive. A lot of it recounts the same benefits of listening that the station already uses in renewal letters. On billboards and ads. In the mission statement and annual reports. These are the reasons for listening. Message also contains the reasons for giving -- why listener support is a necessary part of the equation. Message reminds listeners of their relationship with the station and how their contribution keeps that relationship strong.
“Method” is the magic that great hosts bring to their work every day. It’s the connection that happens when that host opens the mic and starts talking. The stories they tell. The connections they help listeners 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 efficiently and seamlessly.
“Accelerators” are all the things that fan the fires in pledge drives. Sweepstakes. Hourly Goals. Matching Grants. Premiums. Food shelf partnerships. Tree plantings. Accelerators catch the attention of your potential donors, and get them to give now, and possibly give more. Dangle a big matching grant that ends in just 5 minutes and it’s almost guaranteed the phones will ring.
Yet we all must agree that Message and Method are the two most important elements in drives. 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.
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 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.
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. Drives could be an endless parade of offers and deadlines and sweepstakes. So it's important to remember that like pungent spices in great food, deadlines must be used purposefully and in moderation.
The long-term prospect of implementing new and effective 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 Jay says that 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, 'We love the short fundraising as long as the station can do what it needs to do.' This tells us 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. Some public radio stations have found that the need for accelerators actually decreases when the drive’s messages and method are the strongest. Focused, purposeful messaging delivered by hosts 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.