Charity: Are You Doing It Wrong?

 In Blog

The upcoming holiday season brings many opportunities for your show to give back to the community through coat drives, toy drives, donation drives and radio-thons.

But PPM data proves that the airtime dedicated to your show’s good deeds can sometimes repel listeners from your station. Ask any non-commercial station what happens to their ratings during pledge drives, or just look at what happened in PPM on the days of your last radio-thon. Ouch.

It’s no wonder. Consider any situation where entertainment is replaced by what is essentially a transaction request. Imagine you were at the movie theater watching “The Girl on the Train,” and the middle of the film was interrupted with an earnest plea for you to donate money to fight breast cancer. Would you pull out your checkbook or be annoyed?

Here’s how you can plan your station’s on-air charity events so that you keep the entertainment value in the foreground, and so you can win in both the ratings and in charity success.

  1. Talk about helping one person. Not thousands. Research proves that if a listener hears the story of one starving child, they will feel a strong desire to help.

Check out this story from NPR about the human brain’s tendency to jump at the chance to help one person, while fleeing from the prospect of too many people in

  1. Entertain first, educate second. Tell stories. Minimize information and data about the cause. Tell stories about individuals involved. If people are emotionally moved, they will respond and donate.
  2. Require all charity representatives to bring a story. The president of your charity will be full of detailed statistics about her cause and will expound on every boring bit of it until you lose your audience. Prep the president or spokesperson to bring personal stories, or even better, bring a person who is effected by your cause to share her story. When you can, record these interviews. Edit to produce the most engaging segments.
  3. Go big or go home. You can support every good cause in town and help some of them a little. Or, choose one charity and put everything you have into helping it a lot. We vote for the second option. Your passion for one meaningful cause can be powerful. And, it will become a part of your show’s brand.
  4. Beware of donation-with-purchase. Have you ever had a business offer to donate 10% of their revenue to a good cause if you will publicize it? That’s not a donation, that’s a sale. Businesses do it all the time, and it’s not worthy of your airtime. It’s called cause marketing. Be wary of phrases like “a portion of proceeds,” “100% of profits” and “part of your purchase price.” Avoid interrupting your show content for cause marketing. Plug those messages into commercial stopsets as PSAs.


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