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Firehouse News Spec. Ed. 1: It Takes a Community

by Michael Glab

WFHB’s semi-annual fund drives require more than just a pitcher and a catcher. Sure, they’re fitting terms as our spring call-out for donations begins the same week that baseball opens its 2014 season. In the community radio game, the pitcher is the on-air voice who issues the call for financial gifts from our listeners; the catcher is the volunteer who answers the phone when folks phone in to give.

The Spring Fund Drive this year runs from Friday, April 4 through Sunday, April 13. Throughout that busy, exciting ten days, nearly all of our more than 200 volunteers will pitch in to make the drive a success.

This will be Cleveland Dietz’ second fund drive as General Manager of WFHB. He also was involved in two others as an intern serving as assistant to the GM. Each of his four drives brought in a significant percentage of the station’s yearly operating budget.

We’ve had the same goal for four drives now, $46,000,” Dietz says. “Each year, between both fund drives, we’ve made roughly $92,000. Annually, we make another $68-70,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That’s $160,000 of our $250,000 annual budget. The rest comes from corporate underwriting, random contributions throughout the year, two web drives, some grant money, some event money, and our CATS Week partnership with the Monroe County Public Library.”

The year’s two fund drives, in other words, will pay some 37 percent of the station’s bills.

WFHB follows many of the industry guidelines in raising money from its listeners. Station management also has come up with a few innovations of its own in an effort to get listener support.

Every on-air personality receives a pitch packet containing tips, prompts, and even a regulation or two. They also are encouraged to attend “pitcher training” sessions.

We talk about good practices,” Dietz explains. “For example, it is not good practice to say things like WFHB can’t operate without this money. You don’t want to present the picture that WFHB is flailing about and will sink if this doesn’t work out. People don’t want to support a sinking ship.

You want to stay positive. One way is to talk about what WFHB means to you personally. I feel it’s very, very powerful to talk about what brought you to the station, what keeps you here, why do you feel like it’s an important part of your life. It’s one of the very few times of the year when listeners can get a sense of the person behind the microphone. We also talk about not trashing other radio stations. Really, we’re all serving different niches.

We go over ‘Tell-Ten.’ That’s when we ask our volunteers to ask ten of their friends or family members to support them during their show. We find that people don’t typically donate to organizations so much as they donate to their friends or family. So folks who do employ the Tell-Ten are consistently among the most successful fund-raisers in terms of dollars brought in during their shows.

We go over using social media, but not to the degree that it becomes repelling. Then our pitch packets offer a wide variety of prompts that people can use to talk about some aspect of the station that they’re not exactly familiar with but are good selling points generally.”

WFHB DJs and program hosts don’t read off a script when making pitches. Dietz explains: “We’re against the idea of scripting pitches. It can be very easy to sound like you’re reciting something. It comes off as inauthentic and not genuine and frankly, you sound bored. That’s not the way to inspire people to open up their wallets for WFHB.

Of course, on-air volunteers aren’t alone during fund drives. Veterans of the fund drive game like Music Director Jim Manion and News Director Alycin Bektesh are always around to help. Manion has been involved with WFHB’s fund drives since the station went on the air 21 years ago.

And, as always, members of the Bloomington Independent Restaurant Association will provide food all day for volunteers throughout the fund drive.

Listener-supported radio experts have determined that the typical donor has heard seven pitches before picking up the phone and making a pledge.

Every one of our shows has a dollar goal,” Dietz says. “But even if you’re on the air and you’re pitching like crazy and you’re just speaking beautifully about community radio and what WFHB means to South Central Indiana but no one’s picking up the phone, you’re still putting in good work toward that seventh pitch.”

Let’s hope that seventh pitch is a strike.

2014 Fund Drive Special Events

Friday, April 4, 8pm: Busman’s Holiday CD release party/fundraiser for WFHB, at the Waldron Arts Center auditorium, tickets: $8

Tuesday, April 8, all day: Brown County local acts & entertainment, at Muddy Boots Cafe and the Pine Room Tavern, tickets: free (donations will be solicited)

Thursday, April 10, 7pm, Alternative Radio founder David Barsamian, at the Bloomington-Monroe County Convention Center, tickets: for the talk only, $5; for the talk plus meet-and-greet, $35

Friday, April 11, Firehouse Lounge, WFHB DJs at the Back Door, tickets: free

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