Public radio and television stations across the country have focused more than ever on mission-related services during this unprecedented pandemic, creating call-in programs, web pages, virtual town meetings, and more. Stations with news components deliver exhaustive fact-based information and news coverage while music stations provide an oasis away from the harrowing news of the day, and support local arts organizations in countless ways. Be sure to tell your listeners what you’re doing during the crisis – whether it is news, call-ins, informational web pages or extra support for artists and arts organizations that have cancelled concerts, performances, and events. What you’re doing FOR your community is important to not only DO, but to let listeners and viewers KNOW what you’re doing and why.

Amid the tumult and economic chaos, many stations have cancelled or delayed pledge drives and fundraising activities. Others are wondering if they should do so.
The collective best fundraising minds in the country – Greater Public, CDP, and others – caution that while each community is different, and the economic impact could be severe, in most cases, donors don’t quit giving – they just give to fewer organizations. That is why it’s important that public media to remain top of mind as “worthy” among donors.

The best way to remain worthy is to remind people about the role of public media in community life – pledge drives do much more than raise dollars – they tell the story. And today’s story is a very compelling one. But, we have to change the tone. Drop the ticket give-aways and transaction, premium-based appeals. Focus on and talk about mission – and illustrate how your station is fulfilling that mission in a very real way. Even if you decide not to fund raise, it is critical that donors know what you’re doing, and are asked to support your efforts.

If you don’t have the staff to do a drive, deliver mission-based fundraising messages as PSAs and live script reads. Tell people that you’re cancelling your drive in order to focus on services, but remind them that their community support is still vital to your success. Encourage donors to contribute by mail, email and online – if there were ever a time for urgency, it is now.

Continue renewal, lapsed, and add-gift mail efforts but be sure to adjust your letter copy to acknowledge the current situation and relate what you are doing to support your community. If you can’t manage to update letters, enclose a buck slip to keep your message current.

Keep in touch with major donors and sustainers by mail, email and phone. Let them know you are thinking of them, and remind them of all the ways you are responding during this crisis. Before you start getting calls from sustainers wishing to end their monthly payments, consider offering a 90 day hiatus on payments to any sustainer who requests one . In that way, you can help them now, but retain their gift-giving long-term.

Greater Public, doing its part to support the public media community during the pandemic, has made its new COVID-19 fundraising letters, messaging, pledge scripts, drive postponement and live-reads, and other materials, including webinars discussing fundraising during the COVID-19 pandemic and underwriting, scripts, spots and tips, available to ALL stations, not just Greater Public member stations. Visit Greater Public to view, adapt and use.

With the practical approaches and tools and material offered here, we also share the thoughts of Bill Davis, President Emeritus of Southern California Public Radio. Bill was in Ireland when Covid-19 first struck and during the 7 hour flight delay, ruminated on public broadcasting. You’ll find a link to the full essay (thank you Station Resource Group), below. But the essence of his message is worth stating here, “We in public media have a compelling story that we need to share with our audiences, our members, our boards, our civic leaders, our funders and potential funders, and—perhaps most of all—ourselves. Against a backdrop of steep declines in local news coverage from traditional newspapers and other commercial media and during a time of extraordinary crisis in our country, public radio stations (and their digital news sites) are providing tremendously important services to their communities. In addition to high quality, in-depth, and fact-based journalism, we have provided a much-needed space for people to come together in spirit, even as they maintain their physical distance. At the same time, we have developed highly innovative and creative ways of engaging with larger and more diverse populations in our service areas. in short, we are being there for our communities when they need us the most.”

“This is a significant accomplishment but, of course, we cannot pat ourselves on the back. The Coronavirus crisis is far from over, and our communities are expecting even more from us in the coming weeks and months. In order to provide the highest levels of service to our communities, we must be diligent in making our constituents aware of the critical services we are providing—and that funding to continue providing these services is essential. Such funding can come from membership; major gifts; philanthropic foundations; public-spirited companies; and local, state, and federal governments. If we fail to make the case for significantly increased funding to realize the full potential of our public service now, we may not have another similar opportunity for decades to come.”

Read Covid-19: Public Radio’s Remarkable Real-Time Response to This Crisis by Bill Davis courtesy of the Station Resource Group.