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Todd Isberner “Can You Handle the Truth?”

The truth about how we are “mis-handling” how we ask for money.


 “I hate fundraising!”


So said a high-profile personality on a Christian Radio Network a couple of weeks before their Pledge Drive. 


We will get to the reason behind her statement in a moment but first let me ask if you’ve ever felt that way? Because as you head into your fall fundraisers, getting the kind of response you’re used to may be a real challenge. Times are tough right now and your listeners may feel more cautious about their spending.


So, I want to warn you in advance, don’t give in to the temptation to compromise on your fundraising “strategies.”  When the phones don’t ring and the online giving starts to shrivel up, it’s easy to hit the panic buttons and out of desperation, turn your appeals into “gimmicks.”


Trust me, I know a lot about this. During my 43 years of producing, hosting and coaching thousands of on-air fundraisers, I have seen it all, done it all and probably invented a lot of what you’re doing today.


And it’s not all good. So, I want to give you an insider view with honest confessions and lessons learned. I also want to give you some insights and some action steps on what you can do better.


Now back to the “I hate fundraising” statement. Why do you think she said that? Or if you have ever felt that way, what has been your reason?


Let me offer at least three possibilities:

  1. You feel guilty for not being completely honest when you’re on the air.
  2. You’re embarrassed to have to ask people to give money.
  3. You blame the listeners for being cheap and not caring!


The truth is, there is a ton of pressure to meet goals during pledge drives. When things fall behind, you just “do what you gotta do” to get people to give. And that’s where the rub comes in. You start to compromise and do things on the air that are “gimmicky” and “dishonest.”


Have you ever heard or said any of these on your fundraiser?


“Folks this is the largest match we’ve ever done and every dollar you give will be DOUBLED up to an UNLIMTED amount!”   (But in reality, you have no idea how big all the matches have been or who the donor is or if it truly is an unlimited amount.)


“We’re running out of time! Your opportunity to give is almost over. This thing ends in just hours!”  (But actually, it ends the next day!)


“Okay friends I can’t believe it but nobody’s on the line!”   (Yet the call monitor shows 7 calls but you’re deliberately not looking at the monitor or covered up the numbers.)


“This is the last song and your last chance to win the vacation for 2 to Tahiti. You could be the winner but there is only room for 10 more to get in on this and only if you call before this song ends!” (What’s all involved in this drawing takes far more explanation with far less exaggeration but you’ve led your listeners to believe things that aren’t completely true.)


I could go on with dozens more that are frequently used as “incentives” to create “urgency” with “limited opportunity.”  But the statements we’re making about these things are just not true. And anything that is not true, is a lie.


OUCH! I had to say it and I truly do feel the pain with you. I have done my share of minimizing and rationalizing why we have been okay with this.


  • We don’t want to really see it as a lie so we excuse it.
  • The means justify the ends. It works and listeners respond to the greater cause.
  • You are a performer and you don’t want to “fail” so you “perform.”
  • You give in to the pressure of the station’s needs and expectations.


If we are really honest, aren’t we just rationalizing away some of what in reality is just a form of manipulation?  What is “manipulation?”  It’s coercion and exaggeration. It is an attempt to sway someone’s emotions to get them to act or feel a certain way. 


From my experience, I can see four main areas used for manipulation.

  1. Listener Stories that are exaggerated, distorted and emotionally played out. 2. Match Challenges that are not true matches by specific donors with specific conditions placed on it.
  2. Prizes Drawings with exaggerated value and unclear qualifications and conditions.
  3. Reporting Progress Updates and lying about how much time is left or money to go or number of donors still needed.


So, can you have it both ways?  Manipulation or no-manipulation?


Because if you use any form of manipulation, you will likely get a higher response. But it will require you to compromise on your convictions and you may not have the best retention on those donors.


If you decide to end any form of manipulation, you will likely get a lower response. But you maintain your integrity. And if you are patient and increase your fundraising efforts through additional appeals, you will make up the difference and then some.


Where do we go from here? 

Let me offer three main areas to improve upon that could help increase response without having to compromise.


#1.  Know your listener/donor … why they give and why some P1’s don’t.

Pew Research Center did a breakdown of five different generation’s charitable giving throughout the U.S. Very likely you have at least three of these listening to your station.


  • Millennials (Age 26-41) have a $481 average annual gift. They are more interested in causes than institutions. They connect best by social media and are influenced by others in their network and texting.


  • Generation X (Age 42-57) with an average annual gift of $732. They expect transparency in communication, are missional and want volunteer opportunities.


  • Baby boomers(Age 58 – 76) with a $1,212 average gift. They are perceived as activists and need listener stories as proof of effectiveness. They interact best through email, on-line donations and want a show of appreciation.


The more you know about your listener, the better you will be able to talk their love language and appeal to them on their terms.


Just as important, if not more so, is to know why so many of your P1’a are not giving. To learn more about this, go on line and get the free Dunham & Co Research Report, “Christian Radio P1 Listeners Research Final”


There are four Primary Reasons and you will want to address each one with a pro-active strategy.

  1. Can’t afford it. (Create more value so they can justify being able afford it.)
  2. Never occurred to them. (Remind them often by making the case for support.)
  3. Supporting other causes has higher priority. (Re-position your ministry as a top priority. Give proof of the impact, share stories.)
  4. Didn’t know the station needed money. (Be more transparent about the

finances and share the need.)


#2.  Revamp your Pledge Drives and Sharathons.

  1. Consider more FREQUENT events with fewer days.
  2. LEARN your donor’s love language! Use their terminology. Stop talking AT them and start talking WITH them. Solicit LIVE on-air listener calls. 
  3. Use COMPELLING STORIES – if you can’t get these, then you need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of what you’re doing.
  4. Create EXCITEMENT AND ENERGY … using short term goals. (e.g. number of donors needed at x levels and/or dollar amounts in x time.)
  5. Use a true MATCH if the donor offers one but with their contingencies and preferences.
  6. If doing drawings and giveaways use MINISTRY RESOURCES. (e.g. Marriage retreats, Conferences, Concerts, etc.)
  7. Recruit INFLUENCERS during your pledge drive to appeal on your behalf. (Artists, community leaders, pastors, other local ministries endorsing you.)

#3.   On-Going Fundraising.

Don’t stop when your on-air appeal ends. Incorporate a 365-24/7 fundraising approach using other proven strategies that still work well all year long.

  1. Direct Mail. There is a science to this so get help from the experts.
  2. Email, Social Media & Texting. Give value and stay present, current and engaging.
  3. Major Donor campaigns should be a crucial part of your annual fundraising plan.
  4. Use Compelling Listener Stories in high rotation that give proof of the impact of your ministry with an appeal from the story-teller.
  5. Recruit “influencers” and teach them to ask on your behalf.


Before your next on-air fundraiser, let me encourage you to pull your entire staff together and do an honest evaluation of where things are at. If there are any areas of compromise, own it and take-action to eliminate any kind of manipulation and dishonesty. Set up specific safe-guards or “rules” that govern your fundraising appeals.


Remember your listeners trust you and they give because they need you and love the way you meet their needs and others. So, respect, honor and love each donor.


Fundraising can be hard work!  But it is also exceptionally rewarding and a high and privileged calling.  When done with honesty and integrity, God can use you to invite others into a partnership of reaching others for Christ and giving honor to God and to your donors.

Todd Isberner was founder and president of ShareMedia Services, a fundraising consulting company working with Christian radio as well as humanitarian, faith-based ministries.

 With over four decades of experience, Todd became the leading expert in Christian broadcast fundraising, both domestically and internationally. He and his teams have taken their positive fundraising approach to hundreds of radio stations, producing over 3,000 broadcast fundraisers and raising over $1.5 billion for media and non-profit ministries.

 In 2015, Todd merged his company, ShareMedia with Dunham+Company, a fundraising agency based in Dallas, TX.

Now retired from fundraising, Todd draws from his years of experience in training, consulting and coaching, and devotes his time to mentoring men along their journey of faith. He is author of the book, “What Every Man Needs to Know” – How to master Faith, Family, Fitness and Finances.” 

 Todd and wife, Wendie also co-host their podcast: Your Biggest Breakthrough. More at ToddIsberner.com  and https://yourbiggestbreakthrough.com/podcast/

Email: todd@toddisberner.com

One thought on “Todd Isberner “Can You Handle the Truth?”

  • Todd,

    Thank you for boldly sharing “The Truth” about pledge drives!

    Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can tell us even more “Truths,” and therefore increase pledge drive revenue!


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