A Radiothon Success Story
A full-service fundraising program has in its arsenal strong elements of annual giving, major giving and planned giving. A sound fundraising program also uses, whenever possible, various media to promote the organization's history, philosophy, mission and services. One form of media that the Salvation Army Indiana Division has used successfully is a radiothon.
Wikipedia defines a radiothon as a radio broadcast that lasts many hours or days with a purpose of raising money for a charitable cause. Most radiothons feature heavy solicitations for pledges, which are promises to donate funds at a later time.
The Salvation Army, a part of the Universal Christian Church, was established in 1865. Nearly 30 million Americans receive assistance from the Salvation Army each year through an array of social services. These range from providing food for the hungry and clothing and shelter for the homeless to disaster relief, disabled assistance, elderly outreach and opportunities for needy children. Annually at least 83 cents of each dollar received is spent to support these services to 5,000 communities nationwide.
The Salvation Army in the United States is geographically represented by four territories, with 10 divisions in each territory. The Indiana division in the central territory, which represents most of the state of Indiana, has an excellent relationship with the media.
For the past 18 years, Emmis-owned radio station WIBC has sponsored a radiothon benefitting the citizens of central Indiana. In that time, more than $2 million has been generated. Countless hours of radio airtime have featured many stories of despair, hope and celebration of changed lives.
The 2012 WIBC/Salvation Army radiothon recently raised $195,136, compared to $141,000 in 2011 — a 38 percent increase! This revenue will enable the Salvation Army to provide a combination of 3,903 nights of free shelter and 39,027 free meals for those in desperate need.
The overall success of this endeavor depends on the ABCs of fundraising: "A" for ability to prepare in advance for the event; "B" for being flexible and focused for the three-day event; and "C" for completing the event and critiquing it in preparation for the 2013 radiothon.
A: Ability to prepare in advance
As soon as the 2011 radiothon ended, various elements were critiqued for improvement. The organization reviewed the stories and programs that were aired to solicit funds. It evaluated if the right number of volunteers were secured to answer phones. It began working toward obtaining new corporate sponsors and thinking strategically about a challenge-gift approach, as well as the optimum length of and sites for the next radiothon.
New promotion added for 2012 included paid radio and television advertising and the use of billboards.
B: Being flexible and focused
The 2012 radiothon began with two event co-chairs; 60 hours on-air; and three locations that included the radio station, a popular hardware store and a mall in downtown Indianapolis. The latter two sites exposed the radiothon to an audience beyond its normal listenership.
New volunteers were trained with staff that handled a variety of activities from 6 p.m. on a Friday in early December to 6 p.m. the following Sunday. The date was chosen to emphasize giving from Thanksgiving and encourage charity in the upcoming Christmas season.
In addition to on-air radio activities, other solicitation activities were in full force — bell-ringing kettles, gift-wrapping programs, direct mail and online giving. The radiothon helped the Salvation Army attain an annual Christmas goal of $3.3 million, about one-third of which is generated by kettle donations.
C: Completing the radiothon and critiquing for 2013
While the Salvation Army provides many services, the radiothon focused on food and shelter. Individuals were asked to join the Bread & Bed Club by giving at least $10 per month for 12 months. This proved very successful.
Local media and government officials participated on air to promote fundraising. Each location of the radiothon provided a unique touch to the event. Certain times of day and certain radio shows provided greater financial results. Greater numbers of sponsors were generated as the number of asks greatly increased.
Salvation Army leadership represented the organization on the radio and on television and helped keep the programming tied to the mission of the organization.
Following the event, several meetings were held to determine the format for 2013 and to explore ways to improve and obtain additional funds. The three-day format will be retained in early December, and various locations will again be used.
The keys to this successful event included sound radio programming, advanced advertising, solid volunteer leadership, and greater numbers of both corporate sponsors and sponsorship dollars.
In summary, if you want to utilize time, talent and treasure to strengthen your organization's brand, consider a radiothon to help build your annual-giving program. In addition to the funds raised on air, a direct mailing can be initiated to generate funds.
This type of event also allows you to engage sponsors, board members, community leaders and prospects in the life of the organization. You cannot place a price on this unpaid advertising. The ultimate key to success is to keep the organizational focus simple and easy to comprehend.
The Salvation Army is much more than bell-ringing at the kettles during the holidays. The WIBC/Salvation Army radiothon in Indianapolis has proven to be a winning partnership, and the community's poor greatly benefit from the event's success!
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.