by Bill Sammons, 88.7 The Bridge
Once upon a time there was a farmer who slept through the entire Spring and Summer seasons but woke up in the middle of Autumn and proceeded to harvest his crops.
Ok, not really.
I mean, what farmer in his right mind would think he could get a bountiful harvest without spending time and energy beforehand preparing the fields and caring for his crops?
So, why would we in Christian radio presume the same?
Donor development staff rarely step inside the studio at most stations, but that is precisely where the first seeds of their eventual harvest are planted. If you work in donor relations, I am not suggesting you study programming or tell your program director how to do her job! But I do believe there is a big correlation between quality programming and successful fundraising.
Donor Development at 88.7 The Bridge
Our mission at 88.7 The Bridge is to connect people to Jesus and to each other, and to strengthen their lives.
If we are doing that every day on the radio, then we are going to impact our community. And if we are impacting our community, donors are going to want to partner with us to fund even more ministry!
That's why we go the extra mile to have local announcers on the air from 6am until 9pm every weekday. That's also why we are live and local for many dayparts on the weekend. That's why we sponsor events, not just concerts, almost continuously. That's why we share stories from listeners about how God is impacting their lives. And that's why we constantly run spots that teach people how to manage their finances, and to be good stewards of their time, talent and treasure, all year long.
Planting, Watering, Weeding Donors All Year
If your station just does those things a week or two before your fundraisers, and not every day of the year, you're basically like the imaginary farmer who thinks he can harvest a crop without planting and watering and weeding.
For us, quality programming is more than just playing the hits with great sounding jingles and sweepers. It's about loving and serving our community. It's being there with consistency as the meeting place for people wanting a respite from the negativity and turmoil available from most other media. And it's putting ministry above everything.
I spent a couple of decades in mainstream and commercial radio and TV before helping launch The Bridge 7 years ago as a non-profit, non-commercial ministry. It scared me, to be honest. I was used to grabbing a rate card during slow months and joining the sales team on the streets to raise money when needed. I couldn't fathom not having a safety net and relying on donors solely.
But now I can't imagine going back to commercial radio.
For most commercial broadcasters, their product is listeners. And their customer is the advertiser. Generally speaking, the advertiser is the priority.
In non-commercial Christian radio, our product is hope. Our customer is the listener. And we can make our listener the priority.
What a paradigm shift! And what an honor.
What happens when we put serving people first? Ministry! And the money follows.
Ministry First, Money Follows
My dad is a retired pastor. About 15 years ago he was in the middle of a capital campaign trying to raise $3,000,000 to build some classrooms and a gymnasium.
One day a man he had been witnessing to, hunting with, and praying for, stopped by his office. He handed my dad a check for $1,000,000 and said, "I believe in what you are doing. Put this towards the gym."
Dad handed the check back to the man and said, "I appreciate that so much but do you know what is more important to me than your money? Your soul." He did this impulsively and realized how crazy it was as soon as he let go of the check. It caught his friend off-guard too, but started a deep conversation that led to this man accepting Christ in Dad's office. After they prayed, he handed the check back to my Dad.
The next day, a business partner of this man stopped by the church to tell my Dad he had heard what happened and he was so excited about his partner's conversion that he wanted to match the $1,000,000 gift with $1,000,000 of his own. $2,000,000 raised in two days, without a direct ask!
While I don't suggest you hand back large gifts, I do think we can all learn from this story that when we put ministry and relationships first, God will provide the money.
But it takes planting and watering and weeding, and praying, and time.
As Christian radio stations, that means loving on our communities. Serving them. Providing quality broadcasts and being more than a jukebox. You have to sound great. You have to build an audience, and then you have to make them your priority.
Nobody is going to get excited about donating to a radio station that is just playing the hits. But there will always be donors excited to plant into good soil, and help you fund even more ministry.
Bill Sammons is the President of 88.7 The Bridge in Milford, DE. Bill is a native of Milton, DE and has spent his whole life in Delaware. He studied Journalism at Del Tech, and has worked in mainstream radio and TV stations in Salisbury, MD and Wilmington, DE.
In 1990, he built Delaware’s first Christian radio station, and he had the rare opportunity to do it all again with 88.7 The Bridge in 2010. Bill also owns a video production company, and he enjoys playing golf, reading and traveling.