In this essay, radio personality and coach John Munson draws from his experience as a talk show host to better understand and deliver effective pledge breaks.
As we might know from experience, a totally improvised pledge break can be a chaotic waste of time. But as fundraising professionals, we also know that successful fundraising in any form requires purposeful messaging and structure.
So we choose to script drives. But hosts resist the scripts and tell us that scripted messages kill the effectiveness of pledge breaks. The result is that scripts lay ignored and unused and merely serve as backup if hosts can’t think of anything else to say.
None of our other fundraising activities are free-form. And neither is our radio station. Stations have formats and program directors manage the sound and content of nearly every minute.
But great program directors can’t and don’t script every word. They DO provide a list of things to talk about. Station ID. Time. Weather. Underwriting messages. Forward promotions. Some – like underwriting messages – are tightly scripted. Some – like weather reports – must be edited lest they be just a stack of numbers and cities. PD’s provide a mix of scripts and specific suggestions. Successful fundraising must operate with the same premise. Improvisation and structure are both required for effective pledge breaks.
Pledge breaks need to mention our mission, outline our connection to the community, and how the station serves to inform and connect listeners to each other and to the world around them. Those messages are in the brief 30-or-so second scripts we provide. The improvisation is how effectively each host communicates those messages,
If you are on the fence about this, here is a metaphor from the world of music. Listen to any form of music that has improvisational elements as part of its identity. Jazz or rock, or country, we’re rarely surprised to hear a few bars from a soloist. There is a great deal that we can take from this that applies directly to a good pledge break.
Music has melody, harmony, and rhythm that repeats in a specific pattern throughout the song. But at some point, someone might improvise. These solos can be soaring and seemingly free form but are inspired by the original melody. But the element that these solos all share is that they rest on a solid chord sequence and rhythm. If the soloist improvises outside of the chord structure the result is cacophony and musical chaos.
Scripts also deliver prompts to make sure that our hosts in pledge sound like our hosts during the rest of the year. One of my biggest challenges when I first started as a live talk show host on Wisconsin Public Radio was getting everything in. I had no trouble with the questions and having a conversation with the guest and callers. I struggled getting into scheduled news and underwriter breaks. I finally started scripting my transitions to make sure that all of the elements required in the transition were covered, including the recap, a re-introduction of topic and guest, and forward promotion of what happens after the break. Only then did I consistently do everything that my program director required to keep my listeners informed and engaged and listening into the next quarter hour. They remind listeners that this is still public radio, and that there’s more news or music coming up shortly.
Here is a summary of what great broadcasters and great jazz players know:
Effective pledge breaks include BOTH improvisation and structure. In fact, the structure is a necessary feature upon which the improvisation is based. Without planned and pre-selected messages the improvisation becomes mere noise.
A good pledge script is like a good music chart. It contains the chords, rhythm, and melody and leaves room for the players to communicate in the same way they do it the rest of the year. When we ask people to simply read a script asking for money and insist that they not deviate from it, we kill the spontaneity that endears hosts to our listeners.
The magic of a great pledge script is that it is written concisely and briefly enough to be read repeatedly during a drive, but also provides a springboard for a creative host’s own embellishments.
Success happens with good planning and rehearsal. Ask any musician and they will tell you it takes a lot of work and practice to solo. The irony is that only with practice can they sound spontaneous and keep the attention of their audience.
One of the most important things we need to do when we ask people for money is to be real about it. Our messages must be powerful and consistent and be delivered in ways that are guided by our station’s programming and philosophy.
Improvisation and structure are complementary when we make them priorities. They are the keys to being a great broadcaster, and an effective on-air fundraiser.
What's next? Find out how to implement Scripts Hosts Won't Hate
OnAirFundraising LLC, creator of PledgeDriver email@example.com 651.797.2161
Radio coach. On-air host. Pledge Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org