Jack Eason – Response To Todd Isberner Article
First of all, I want to say to my partner in ministry, Todd Isberner….”Amen!” on his recent article about fundraising. (Go HERE for article.)
It reminded me of the title of a soap opera my mom used to watch, “The Bold and The Beautiful.” It was both…bold and beautiful.
He was spot-on on what he shared with us.
I want to also suggest a few things that might help based on understanding the audience and understanding yourself (either as one serving stations or on staff at a listener supported station):
1- We can’t underestimate the importance of connecting with God before, during, and after the fundraising EVENT.
My grandfather used to say, “God can strike a straight lick with a crooked stick, but he would much rather strike a straight lick with a straight stick.” LOL.
What he meant was (I had to ask him, by the way!), if you are tuned in to God, he can use you much better than if you aren’t tuned in. How much time has your team spent in prayer with each other and with God before the fundraiser? During?
As one who serves stations, I am reminded of the responsibility of making sure I am connecting with God for myself and on behalf of the station before I arrive.
I have lost track of the times that God has given me an idea to execute on the air that didn’t fit “normal programming” even for fundraising, but it turned out to be the catalyst to unleash a flurry of phone calls. It was obvious to me, and to the station team, that God was at work, not one of my “cool techniques.”
I pray and hope that we don’t get more dependent on our techniques and fundraising formulas than we do leaning into and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us.
(Both are important.)
2-Fundraising is year round. Part of the reason some stations struggle during the on air event is because no ground has been prepared during the year for sowing, let alone reaping.
3-I mention the word fundraising EVENT, because that is what it should be.
The way people listen during a regular day of music/programming is NOT how they should be expected to listen during the event. I often compare the event to a worship service. If I am serving at a station fundraiser, my job is to be the “worship leader.” Listen to the audience, see what they are responding to, listen to what they say in response to the music. and the testimonies that they hear. There is an ebb and flow to what you are doing. There’s no scripts in the music. Normal clocks go out the window. (I know…cringe!🙂
If you are in the midst of momentum, phones are ringing, and there is excitement, then you keep the music rocking, do quick in and outs, and share the “why” people can give, and let God have His way. If things seem to slow down, maybe it’s time to share a more heart felt story that ends with a slower paced song. You as the leader have to be TUNED IN.
You can’t try to manufacture that by playing a fast paced song while doing a “phony matching ONE SONG Challenge” and fading the music down, restarting the song, and acting like your 15 minute song was only 3 and a half minutes. Listeners aren’t stupid. We need to quit acting like they are. We need to do better.
The event really is a Celebration of what God has done THROUGH the station over the last year (or 6 months). If you invite the listener to be a part of the celebration, they will WANT to participate. It’s not about the station, and actually, it’s not about the listener ALONE, it’s about God inviting the Listener to be a part of impacting the lives of people.
I’m glad Todd shared what he did and it is a challenge to all of us who serve Christian radio ministries, and for those people who serve in listener supported ministries. The reality is when I stumbled into the fundraising side of Christian radio 25 years or more ago, it was after producing a nationally syndicated show that ran primarily off of grants, major donors, and families who loved teenagers. Since then, the fundraising world has changed dramatically because our culture has changed dramatically. The reality is– fundraising is ALWAYS changing. As a pastor friend of mine says, “The Message never changes but the methods sometimes do.”
One of the reasons I started Heart Share 15 plus years ago was the same “frustrations” Todd has expressed when it comes to a lot of fundraising techniques. I wasn’t comfortable with what I was seeing then and I’m not comfortable with what I sometimes see now. More than that, the stations I wanted to serve were stations that I also wanted to see being successful even when I was not there to help them raise money. I came to the conclusion that I could use any kind of technique to get the phones to ring while I was there, but if someone wasn’t harnessing that connection, ministering to that donor, and loving on them year round, then we would be back to the same “smoke and mirrors” show the next time. I decided right then that I didn’t want to play that game. (And I also decided to have specific requirements for stations that want my help.)
Over the last 5 years, fundraising has gotten extremely difficult because the culture is extremely difficult. Most of those who fall within our listening demographic were NOT taught about giving and aren’t automatically triggered to give just because your station talks about or tells people about Jesus. (And sometimes our stations or on air teams only mention the word “Jesus” a few weeks before the fundraiser is to start.) Our listeners are more busy than any previous generation and we mistakenly assume because they are listeners (even P-1) that all they think about is our upcoming Pledge Drive. They don’t. Not even if they love you and your station. The same areas that many of us might fall into manipulating response (per Todd’s article, correctly identified IMHO) are the same areas that if done with excellence and integrity can prove to be a force of reckoning in breaking down barriers to fundraising. Let me address them here:
-Listener stories: The single most impactful way to raise money are listener stories.
The problem here is we haven’t done our homework. We don’t capture these stories year round. The “”RED” button should always be flashing (recording) listener calls, capturing social media comments, writing down comments after live events. This may be “new” homework to some of us, but it is now a “REQUIREMENT” for effective fundraising. The stories need not be exaggerated or distorted, if we have REAL stories from REAL listeners. Of course, audio directly from the listeners (or video) is even better.
-Match Challenges: Most match challenges would be true match challenges IF we did our homework year round and prior to the fundraisers and asked for them. I serve one station who calls their major donors to say “thank you” a few weeks prior to the fundraiser and asks them if they would consider a “significant gift” that they (the listener) could put qualifications on. Another station asks underwriters if are considering giving in the next calendar year (or fundraiser cycle) if they would wait to give their gift until someone has matched their gift. Again, putting the match in the hands of the partner to determine how they wish to use/leverage their gift. (FYI, this only works if you have been loving on these people year round.)
-Prizes/drawings: IMHO, for the most part, these don’t work OR if they do work, most of the people giving aren’t giving for the ministry. You are free to have a different opinion on this, but part of our responsibility as those who serve stations or as staff of listener supported stations is to steward the relationship of the listener. That includes teaching, leading, “pastoring,” if you will, the listener. I submit giving away “Tahiti” tickets is not a good way to do that. Does it work? Sure. But just because it might work, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
-Reporting Progress: This is where most of us need to be willing to spend money on a system or platform to be able to do accurate up to the minute reporting. In a day and age where “American Idol” winners can be chosen nationwide by voting live in a matter of moments, our listeners expect not only transparency in communications, but speed in our updates. And most of us know that speedily giving updates results in momentum which results in getting closer to the destination. Perhaps we have sacrificed accuracy for speed. We can’t do that.
The number one rule of communication is to “Know your audience.” I’m convinced many stations really DO NOT know their audience. They may know the demographic, but they don’t really KNOW what she and her family experience on a daily basis. We’ve got to learn to think like a listener.
Lastly, let me say this. Our goal, I believe, as well, is to encourage (exhort) and edify our listeners, especially in regards to giving. No longer can we assume that because they are listening to Christian radio they understand about biblical giving. Based on Barna’s recent research, they may not even be learning biblical giving at their church. So, that responsibility defaults to us. Why is that important? It’s especially important now because prices are high, inflation is high, and morale is low. But, guess what? To people who understand God’s economy, to people who have been encouraged and “taught” by their Christian station to walk by faith and not fear, inflation and economy and politics don’t affect their giving. I believe if your station does your homework and loves on people, and heeds Todd’s words, you will have the best fundraiser ever. I’m at a station this week where we are seeing God show up. It’s possible….if we can handle the truth.
Jack Eason is the President of The Heart Share Group, an organization dedicated to helping organizations reach their full potential through leadership development, brand development, and partnership development. Heart Share serves Christian radio through donor development strategies, fundraising initiatives (including on-air campaigns and major donor support), and creative partnerships. Contact Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org…