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Rich Anderson “Successful Pledge-Drives Amid Inflation and War”

When Russia invaded Ukraine my first text was to Ed Czelada, President at Smile FM.  “Impossible to know how Russia invading Ukraine is going to play out by next Wed.  Gas could be over $4 a gallon by then.  We should likely talk about whether it might be wise to postpone our pledge-drive. Big unknowns though. Will it be even worse in a month or two?”  Ed’s wise response, “We are going forward.”


So, now I had to figure out how to run a pledge drive (March 2-4) with full-scale war in Ukraine when I already knew we would have headwinds prior to Russia’s invasion. And they were big headwinds: 7.5% inflation, high gas prices, a volatile stock market, and the lowest consumer sentiment index in more than a decade.  My first thought was to somehow tie our event into relief for Ukraine as that would showcase that we are sensitive towards other needs in the world – besides our own need for funding.


In very short order we ended up partnering with Orphan Outreach, as they care for orphans in Ukraine and I had a longtime relationship with some in leadership there.  Our messaging on-air was simple; “When you make your best donation during FunDrive, some generous friends have agreed to add an extra 10% to your gift for Ukraine emergency relief.  Your entire gift stays with Smile FM but an extra 10% goes to help orphans in Ukraine through our partnership with Orphan Outreach.”  This caught the attention of our listeners with many commenting on it when giving.  One $180 web gift included, “My kids wanted to donate their birthday money so they could help the orphans, so my daughter donated all of hers, my son donated part of his, and I added to the sum as well.”  It helped that Orphan Outreach did a great job during our event providing us compelling stories and even pictures for our FB page.  And did I mention that Orphan Outreach agreed to find some donors to cover this 10% add-on because they saw value in getting significant promotion on Smile FM’s network of 33 radio stations?


We ended up raising more than we did in our fall pledge-drive and I have a few take-a-ways from Smile FM’s successful event:


#1 Be relevant about what’s going on in the world both in your programming and fundraising.  Listeners look to us for peace, comfort, and purpose during trying times.  That’s easy to offer in our programming but how do we offer that in our fundraising?  For Smile FM, the partnership with Orphan Outreach helped our event to be relevant.


#2 Be honest with your listeners and ask some to consider bridging the gap for others who won’t be able to give at this time.  I figured out pretty quickly that giving was softer than it was in the fall.  When I was calling on donors asking for matching gifts, more than a dozen of our regular larger givers had to significantly cut their donation due to current economic conditions. The reality is, your listeners have seen their net worth take a big hit this year and some are struggling right now to fill their gas tank and put food on their table.  Many won’t feel they are able to commit to a gift during your Spring pledge-drive – even some of your regulars.  We messaged about this by saying, “Inflation and signal expansion have increased Smile FM’s budget, while at the same time inflation is also making it hard for some supporters to continue. Thanks if you can bridge the gap with your donation right now.”


#3 Be understanding that during this season of unknowns, some may be reluctant to give monthly. Several radio stations who ran their event last week have reported that monthly giving was down.  For Smile FM, monthly giving was down but fortunately single gifts (aka one-time gifts) were up.  It was a significant change for us with single gifts swelling by 32% over what is typical for us.  And that happened even after we stressed monthly giving during our event. As I’ve had time to reflect on this, I think the single gifts were a blessing.  Most of those were credit card gifts that were processed immediately. Remember the proverb about the bird in the hand being more valuable than two in the bush?  I’d rather take a $200 single gift than a $40 a month gift that only gets fulfilled for a few months.  I have to believe that as gas and food prices continue to rise we’ll experience a larger cancellation rate from monthly donors than is typical. For this reason, I would encourage you to message the importance of single gifts and celebrate those gifts as they come in.  (I like using the term single gifts rather than one-time because I want the donor to give more than one-time.)


#4 Be willing to ask for larger gifts even though it’s a small percentage of listeners who can do this.  We had a much greater number of Legacy Givers (those who give $1,000 or more) during last week’s event than is normal. This happened because we messaged that the only way we were going to make goal was if some generous friends, who had the ability to give significantly, would help.  Plus, it was fun to say, “If you become a Legacy Giver, your $1,000 for Smile FM will generate an additional $100 for orphans in Ukraine.” And this was repeated back to us by donors. One generous listener said, “I want to give $2,000 to help you guys and also so an extra $200 goes to help Ukraine.” 


I was told by a friend that his local Christian radio station also had their pledge-drive last week and they only reached 54% of their goal.  This stood out to him because he said they always hit their goal.  I asked if their pledge-drive did anything special regarding Ukraine or if it sounded normal.  He said, as far as he could tell, it sounded normal.  I think that’s the difference.  These aren’t normal times and I believe our fundraising needs to adapt to be relevant and successful.


Rich Anderson is an industry and fundraising veteran who consults Smile FM in Michigan and Rise FM in Ohio. He has capacity to help a few more stations.  Call 269-548-7700 or e-mail MissionRich@live.com.  For information on radio partnerships with Orphan Outreach, contact Amy Norton, VP of Strategic Partnerships (469-363-6493, anorton@orphanoutreach.org).

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