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Openings Make A Difference Part 1

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

There’s a fundamental truth about public radio pledge drives that we often overlook: Listeners want to give us their money.

But, wait, if that’s true, why isn’t every station in the country swimming in cash? If that’s true, why can’t we just have one pledge drive a year? If that’s true--well, you get the picture. So it can’t be true.

But it IS true. Listeners want to give.

Here’s why. The number of people listening to public radio at any one moment is a small subset of people using radio (PUR in ratings-speak). The number of people listening to public radio during pledge drives is an even smaller subset of people using public radio. And the number of people listening to public radio while you are asking them for a gift is a smaller subset of people using public radio during a pledge drive.

If they’re still listening at this point, they have to want to give us money. Keep in mind, they’re not chained to the radio or to their streaming device. With the push of a button or a simple voice command, these hardcore listeners can switch to something else.

But they’re still listening. Imagine if they all made that $10-a-month gift that you’re hammering so forcefully during every pitch break? More staff! More equipment! Better <fill in the blank>! Financial independence! The promised land!

Okay, so what’s stopping them from making that gift? What’s keeping them off the top tread of the Stairway to Given? That’s a question which has kept public radio membership directors awake at night for decades. If I had the answer, I’d be living on a yacht somewhere that it never snows.

But that’s a trick question because there isn’t just one reason why those insanely committed listeners keep listening--you know, the ones who sit there while you explain to them why their contribution is vitally important, that they make up <fill in the blank> percent of your annual budget, that they’re “the public in public radio,” etc.

Here’s what they’re waiting for.

They’re waiting for us to convince them that we really understand why they’re still there, still listening during a pledge drive, and still listening to us talk about the importance of their “gift right now in any amount”.

The more we listen to pledge drives, the more things become apparent.

Most annoying? Disposable opens. Thirty seconds of, at best, faux enthusiasm and, at worst, total boredom, while we get to the good stuff, which turns out to be either, 1) a recapitulation of what happened during the previous pledge break; or 2) an update on how many gifts we’ve gotten so far this hour with the kicker of how many that is short of this extremely important hourly goal.

We need to stop wasting the first 45 to 60 seconds of every pledge break on mechanics and ask ourselves these important questions: Where’s the story? What’s the point of all this play-by-play? Does anyone really still think that knowing we need 24 more gifts this hour is going to motivate anyone to climb that last step from listener to contributor? Really?

It’s at this point that we invariably hear the protest, “But that’s how we’ve always done it!” To which we respond, “Pffffft.”

Let’s go back to the biggest issue: Listeners want to know that we get it. We get why they’re listening. We get why they give us money. We understand their passion. And most important of all, we share it. That’s the key. Our listeners--the ones still glued to their radios or devices while we’re asking them for money are crazy about us. Not stalker-crazy, but pretty crazy. They love us. They love what we’re doing. They love our mission, our vision, the whole enchilada.

And all they’re waiting for us to do is validate them. That’s it. Our most loyal, core listeners are waiting for their love to be justified, to know it’s not unrequited, and that we share it.

By this point we hope at least some of you are asking: How do we do this? Find out more in part 2...


John Munson

Radio coach. On-air host. Pledge Consulitant


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