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Unify Your Membership Messaging

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

"Pledge Drives are Different." Ask nearly any successful public radio direct mail manager, telemarketer, or major giving officer for their advice on improving on-air pledge drives. More often than not they’ll say: “I know fundraising, but I don’t know about pledge drives. Pledge drives are different.” That is a common assumption. And it is not true. Look closely and you’ll soon realize that effective pledge drives share many of the same characteristics of all your other fundraising methods. Debbie Merlino is president of Agency Services at Allegiance Fundraising. You’ve heard her at the PMDMC and other conferences. She’s been working in fundraising for over 30 years, both inside and outside of public media. She knows that on-air pledge drives have to be viewed through the same lens as the rest of your station’s fundraising efforts. Debbie recommends a common starting point for all forms of fundraising, including on-air drives. “Start with your case for giving in general. It’s important no matter the channel. Your case for giving always has to answer three questions:

  • Why give?

  • Why give now?

  • What are the consequences of not giving?

These are the issues that public radio pledge does not always address. The language does not need to be strident. The station will not go dark. But there still needs to be a consequence to the donor.” In short, the case for giving must be simple, positive, and concise. The money raised supports a valuable source of music, news, and culture. If fewer listeners give, there will be fewer choices in programming. At the end of the day, most people want to know “What’s in it for me? What value do I get from listening to the station, and why is it better if I give?” But as Debbie points out, your station is most likely using these messages already in mail, telemarketing, and face-to-face donor asks. Including these same messages in pledge has a positive effect. “If all your marketing messages work together, they’ll all do better. It’s as simple as that.” All of your best prospects and current members listen to your station- and to your pledge drives. Emphasizing the same fundraising messages in all fundraising channels - including pledge - makes sense and is an achievable goal. The key to achieving this goal is simple. You must plan your messages and give guidance to your hosts. No direct mail piece leaves your station without editing. Telemarketers use scripts to guide their conversations. Major giving officers rehearse talking points that they know will resonate with givers.

But why should pledge drives be different? Why should messaging be left to the whims of on-air staff, and delivered at a frequency determined by chance? The answer is that they shouldn’t be. So grab your station's acquisition, renewal, and upgrade mail and other documents and start writing. We've attached examples of how this can be done. Here's an acquisition letter from a classical music station. And here are three on-air fundraising scripts that were pulled from it. Delivering selected messages on a planned, rotating basis can only be accomplished by scripting drives. Whether hosts are given fully fleshed out scripts, or just talking points that must be covered during the break, the key to conveying your case for giving must include a plan to deliver the message. Some stations plan each break on a single page of paper or ask hosts to deliver message points from recipe cards that can be mixed and matched. Others use a web-based planning software such as PledgeDriver® that functions like a traffic system for pledge messaging. Choose a method that makes sense for your station, and a method that your hosts will find easy use. Scripting takes planning, coaching, and the buy-in of your broadcast team. But in the grand scheme of things, the result will be a pledge drive that takes its proper place in your station’s total fundraising, promotion, and marketing plan. Contact Debbie Merlino at: Find out more about the Allegiance Group at


Roger Gomoll

OnAirFundraising LLC, creator of PledgeDriver 651.797.2161


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