When the folks at KPLU called and asked if our firm would help them raise $7 million in six months to save the station from being sold, my first question was: “Do you have a refund system in place?”
In hindsight, not the most encouraging response, given that they exceeded their goal in all of 4.5 months. To the best of anyone’s recollection, this was a history making event: no public media outlet has raised that much money in that short of time.
For those outside the Pacific Northwest, KPLU is one of two powerhouse public radio stations serving the region. Owned by and partially located on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, it was in the process of being sold to the other powerhouse public radio station in the area, KUOW (owned by the University of Washington) for $7 million in cash and $1 million in underwriting support.
Loyal listeners balked at this plan and formed a separate 501c(3) organization, Friends of 88.5 FM. They set their sights on raising the $7 million on their own to purchase the station from the university and make the station a community licensee, and the SAVE KPLU campaign was (quickly!) born.
There was no time for the kinds of things you would normally do when you launch a campaign: no lead gift phase, no steering committee (though we tried to form one), no landing that big major gift before appealing to the public.
And no time to accept pledges! Every dollar of the $7 million had to be in the bank by June 30.
Instead, it was everything at once—public phase, major gift phase, corporation and foundation phase—you name it, we were in it. They did it in record fashion—surpassing the goal a full month and four days before the deadline.
Some lessons learned:
- Urgency works. Successful campaigns have a mix of great volunteers, a compelling case, a pool of donors, and a sense of urgency. The last point can be the most difficult to demonstrate. For KPLU, the urgency was easy to understand: simply do or die.
- Community works. The don’t call it PUBLIC media for nothing. The largest gift in this campaign was $250,000. A few came in at the $100,000 level, but most of the 24,000-plus contributions were relatively modest. If not for the sheer volume of gifts, Friends of 88.5 would never have reached the $7 million goal.
- Challenges work. Challenges and public radio are like peas and carrots, to paraphrase Forest Gump. KPLU used them to full advantage, amassing a series of $500,000 challenges to pogo-stick their way to their final goal.
- Crowdfunding works. GiveBIG, Washington’s annual giving day sponsored by Seattle Foundation, is what tipped the scales in this campaign. They will have to rename it “Give Gi-normous” in 2017, given that KPLU smashed all previous records by raising close to $1.5 million on this single day.
- A simple but dogged plan works. The KPLU campaign overcame one obstacle after another. We stuck to a simple plan of using staff time to approach the top prospects, and keep contacting them until we got an answer. Most of the lead gifts were put into the challenge pool, which were then presented to the public, who gobbled them up like popcorn.
The coming months will be spent negotiating the sale agreement with PLU, seeking approval from the FCC, and forming a transition plan. From a development perspective, though, this is one for the record books, and something that other public media would do well to study for relevant takeaways.
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About the Author
James Plourde CFRE
James is always willing to ask the needed questions, helping his clients clarify their path and giving them the confidence to proceed.