Guest Bloggers

Turning Up the Volume

I commute about an hour and a half each day to and from our offices in suburban Chicago. I’m fortunate to live near an “El” subway station and have the choice between driving and taking the red line. Though they both take about the same amount of time, the experience is vastly different. Each has its advantages — easier to carry my coffee mug in the car, but the train means that I don’t have to sit in traffic, which is a huge bonus. Spending the last four months in frozen Chiberia has only sharpened that choice each morning.

Several times each year, NPR’s membership pledge drives put a serious speedbump in my daily routine. I turn on the radio to get the latest news, not be cajoled into donating in exchange for a new water bottle or the ever-present tote bag. I was excited several years ago when WBEZ, our local NPR station, introduced the High Fidelity giving program. This allowed you to make an annual pledge that would be deducted automatically from your credit card AND would auto-renew. The combination of this lower barrier for annual giving and the fact that renewing members would not have to call in allowed for a dramatic reduction in the days that normal programming was interrupted. So, when last week, I turned on Morning Edition only to find the local announcers asking for my donation, I felt a sense of righteous indigence.

As both a non-profit professional and lay leader, countering this feeling of “I’ve given already” is a real challenge. How do we cultivate new donors when the ticket to admission to our summer programs is a significant financial commitment? And once families identify as donors, they are rewarded by a stream of phone calls, thank you notes, and pledge cards.

For us urban 20 and 30-somethings, our inboxes are filled with opportunities to come to an event and support a worthy cause. Sure, we’re happy to support <insert mission here>, but sometimes all we may really want in that moment is to go to a cocktail hour, hear a speaker, or listen to a band. Named societies and elite events incent us to give more. Giving is both the barrier for entry and also the wristband you wear once you are inside. Don’t get me wrong, this strategy works, but I think we can do a better job at making it less painful.

This year, for the first time, WBEZ offered a pledge-free stream, available to those donors who had given above a certain threshold OR were new donors of a certain level. This was an opportunity to listen to the broadcast without a pitch. It was, in a word, fantastic. Their team found a way to both engage new listeners while rewarding loyal returners.

Our challenge in the non-profit field is delivering quality programming consistently and at a reasonable cost, while connecting potential donors to our mission in a way that is meaningful to them. Let’s all make a pledge this year to work to reward loyal giving with creative and engaging new ideas.