What exactly is a Radiothon?

Radiothons are a traditional community broadcasting events aimed at generating funds and new listeners. Funds are generated directly through donations, subscriptions or advertising generated through the Radiothon or indirectly through increased listeners (since the latter brings with it more opportunities for fundraising)

The radiothon is essentially normal programming with the added emphasis on fundraising.

Are there any other benefits derived from organising a Radiothon?

Radiothons help in developing greater community involvement in your station. This increased interest will make your “project” more sustainable. A Radiothon is also a good PR exercise. The organisation of a Radiothon, in itself, helps stregthen the team that runs the station; giving staff the opportunity (or focus) to engage listeners and strategise on how to develope the station further.

How to prepare a successful Radiothon

It might sound a bit cliche but the most important step in organising a Radiothon is “knowing your audience”. The following data was collected in the United states and give a good idea about why audiences support community radio.


Motivation for pledging:

Programming 75%

Worthwhileness of station 48%

Sense of personal obligation 26%

Desire to keep station on the air 25%

Lack of commercials 9%


Very important factors for pledging:

Desire to support programming 88%

Desire to support station in general 78%

Actual radio appeal for pledges 37%

Program just heard 35%


Reasons why people who listen do not support community radio:
They think someone else will give 66%
They give to other organisations or the station is not a priority 44%
They believe the station is already paid for by tax dollars, educational institutions, or businesses 37% They do not have the money 33%
They already give to community television 28%
They are annoyed at not hearing regular programs 24%
They didn’t know the station was asking for money 22%
They are annoyed the station is asking for money 22%
They don’t believe the station really needs the money 20%
They do not think the station is worth it 12%
They do not like the incentives, prizes or premiums 10%

Looking at this data certain trends can be highlighted:

Firstly, there exists a clear and strong relationship between programming and the fundraising success of your radiothon. This is key. As we will see, no other measure is as important as making sure that programming is at its best during a radiothon. It is also important that the funding element of a radiothon (ie the request for pledges; incentives etc) compliment the programming in such a way that everything seems seamless.

Secondly, on should note that the “worthwhileness” of a station also scored high, meaning that it is important to remind pople about why the station is there in the first place. Listeners might take it for granted, though revisting the objective of the station during programming will help because it will gt new listeners into perspective and remind loyal listeners where it all started from.

Thirdly, lack of information (and misinformation in some cases) seems to be a predominant reason why people do not support community radio. Addressing such issues before and during the radiothon is thus important. We will be going into more detail with regards to the marketing of a Radiothon and therefore this is an issue that has to be addressed particulary at that stage.

Marketing aside, its also a good idea to engage listeners before in order to get a more accurate idea why listeners would support financially your station’s endeavours and also why not. This information will be vital when planning your Radiothon.


Planning a Radiothon

The first step in planning a Radiothon is setting up a team of people whose main first main aim will be to handle all preparations. As such, the developers and presenters of programmes do not need to be part of the coordinating team, though if this is the case, then they are to be in constant communication with the the coordinating team. This is important because once the Radiothon starts it will be the developers and presenters who will be in charge of running the show. Thus they need to be in the kep in the loop.

Preparation should start a minimum of six months prior to the Radiothon. Here follows a checklist of tasks which are crucial for a successful Radiothon.


(a) Identify the major objective of your Radiothon.

It is true that the objective of a Radiothon is to collect funds but it is important to identify why those funds are needed. The cause for the request will give focus to your call for funding. Are the funds needed to buy better equipment? Does the station need the funding to keep running? Are you organising the Radiothon for a charity in need?

The “Why?” is important because people will ask and people generally like to know what they are contributing too. Someone who likes your programming, for example, is more likely to donate if you pledge to give him similar style yet improved programming. This is why it is important to also factor in the motivation of listeners when preparing for a Radiothon because ultimately commitment to the cause (by all those involved) will elicit the financial support needed.


(b) Determine the amount of money you wish to raise.

Having a target figure gives the team and listeners the focus needed to run a successful Radiothon. The target should be achievable and thus should be thought out properly. A target set too low may give the listeners a sense that their contribution might not be needed and a target set too high may discourage listeners in a sense that they might deem their contribution as irrelevant.

(c) Set the time and duration of the Radiothon.

A target should also be set for how long the Radiothon should go on for. Once again a balance has to be sought. A Radiothon that is too short will make it difficult to achieve the funding target required but a long Radiothon can also run out of steam. The period of the Radiothon also depends on the resources available. It is easier to maintain longer Radiothons if the station in question has the human resources and the necessary listeners. You need your Radiothon to maintain constant and professional therefore you need to be aware of the capabilities of your station and staff.

Duration also gives focus and offers a challenge. Raising “X” amount within say 24 hours for “Z” is a simple way of summing up a Radiothon for listeners.  That “24 hour” challenge, if marketed properly, promotes expediency and urgency.


(d) Plan the promotion and advertising required.


The first and most important element of planning promotion and advertising is the setting up of a marketing budget. We have heard it before – “you need money to make money”. This might not always be entirely true though it is important to realise that you have to invest some capital in promoting your Radiothon because it is important that listeners know that it is happening, why it is happening and when it is happening. Promotion and advertising is particularly important to reach out to new listeners.

Promotion of the Radiothon should foster a sense of inclusion. Listeners should be engaged: tell them how they can help; how they can be part of the endeavour; tell them how they can spread the word. Word of mouth is a free, yet powerful, means of promotion. The same should be done with any businesses that have sponsored a radio program or have advertised on the station. Organisation, celebrities, VIPs….anyone to be frank, who have been given time on your station can be asked to contribute in some way. You have shown them support in the past, it is only fair to ask for their support in spreading the word about your Radiothon.

Advertising, if done well, can bring in new listeners. Since funds are probably limited, the advertising plan should centre on tapping into cost effective advertising that will allow you to tap into new circles of influence. Ideally these circles of influence would have been properly researched so that you would be able to predict if they would be attracted to your Radiothon or not. Its useless spending money to tap into circles of influence that might not find appeal in your station or its programs. This is why Social Medial and internet related advertising (like Google Ads) should be looked at since they allow you to tap into circles of influence which correspond the to the target audiences you are looking for.


(e) Motivating the Listeners


It has already been explained that it is imperative to know what motivates your listeners. Once this is known, one will have to how to channel such motivation into financial support. In order to attract a donor it is important to emphasize that the station exists to satisfy their needs, aspirations and expectations. Every pitch for a donation must recognise the need of the potential donor and how the station can meet that need if the listener contributes financially for the services provided. The focus is always on the donors’ needs and not on the station’s needs. For example, it is preferable not to say “we need a new transmitter” but rather that the potential donor “needs a strong signal that doesn’t fade” or “a strong signal that will allow them to keep listening if they travel a few miles from home”. Since every listener probably has different reasons for deciding to donate to the Radiothon no one single pitch will suffice. ‘The pitches must be constantly modified depending on who is listening. No attempt should be made to reach everyone at once. Identify common needs of each discrete audience and target the pitches from this angle.


(f) Maintaining the motivation and level of involvement of the coordinating team and your staff.

The coordinating team has to feel ownership of the event and they should plan on how to transmit this feeling of ownership to the staff, in particular the developers and presenters. If people feel involved and have been able to contribute to the organisation of the Radiothon then they will find it easier to “sell”

Ultimately, every organisation is as strong as its human resources so having highly motivated personnel is imperative.


(g) Strategize on any incentives you can offer during the radiothon

With regards to incentives or prizes offered during the radiothon, these need to be thought out and therefor, once again, contact with the listeners prior to the telethon is vital. It is important to note that such incentives or prizes need to offer value to listeners or else it might make the radiothon look like some cheap raffle. Keeping in mind that ultimately the quality of programming (as seen by statistics) elicits donations it makes more sense to have less prizes of higher quality. This will offer less disruptions to programming and will keep people engaged longer since the prizes are of higher value.

To conclude this section on Radiothon planning it is also important to keep the following in mind:

(i)                Have a contigency plan for any issues that may rise before and during the Radiothon. Being prepared for possible surprises will mitigate their impact.

(ii)              Prepare all neccessary administration processes needed for during the Radiothon. You will be collecting money so its important that procedures are clear on how these will be recorded and reported.

(iii)             Prepare your evaluation criteria. Even though the postmortem will happen after the Radiothon it is good to prepare the criteria before so that people are aware of them as the Radiothon is held.


During the Radiothon

The coordinating team and staff will of course have to make sure that the Telethon goes according to plan. Here follow some additional areas that need to be covered:

(a)    Tracking pledges

Staff need to be allocated to keep track of the pledges received. This information needs to be communicated to Producers and Presenters so that they can, in turn, inform the public. Keeping track of pledges is also important to see how much each radio program has raised and how much more needs to be collected in order for the target to be achieved.

(b)    The Presenters

The Presenters will ultimately be responsible for asking for donations in the most entertaining and painless way possible. They should be kept up to date with the progress of the Radiothon and should always remain positive. As has already explained, they need to act natural, in a sense that the Radiothon must not disrupt the programe.

The pacing of the program is also a vital ingredient of the radiothon and even though this is planned together with the Producer, it is the Presenter that needs to execute the plan and keep things moving. Listeners who are entertained will contribute and therefore the aim is to keep things moving and fresh so that listeners (and their donations) will not be lost.


(c)    The Producer

The producer is responsible for the pacing of the program since he fashions the direction the show will take. Of course the Presenter plays an important role in executing the program plan and therefore both should collaborate so that the pitches the producer and the presenter have produced will meld effectively with the program. If the producer treats the pitches seriously, it will be possible to produce an integrated program where the music and talk innocuously happen to ask for donations to support the Radiothon. The Producer, whilst not directly responsible for eliciting donations, is responsible for keeping track of the amount pledged and should be on the ball in order to alter the subgoals set before the show, if required.


(d)    Pitches

If we look as some other statistics taken from the same researches as presented above we can learn a bit more about what works and what doesn’t when one is pitching for contributions.


What People Like About Pitches

Presentation 5%

Explanation of the need/sense of obligation 17%

Honesty/sincerity 17%

People involved 14%

Good programs during break 7%

Low pressure “sell” 7%


What People Dislike About Pitches

Boredom/Repetitiveness 14%

Interruption of programs or schedule 10%

Tone/presentation/personalities 9%

Frequency 7%

High pressure insistence 6%

Length 4%


What stands out from the statistics is the importance of the Presenter. Listeners look for variety, clarity and sincerity – all being traits required from a good Radiothon presenter.


Once the Radiothon has started it is essential to keep your audience listening for as long as possible. The longer they are exposed to the pitches the more likely it is that they will financially contribute to the Radiothon. The primary reason for the Radiothon needs to be continually repeated, several times an hour if necessary. The audience has to know why the Radiothon is being run and how their contribution can help. The pitches that your planning committee has determined should be simple, direct and built upon throughout the duration of the event. As you can see from the research below, the largest number of respondents claimed that they donated after the fifth or more requests. So perseverience prevails – though do keep in mind that even though repeated, content should be fresh or else it will bore listeners and they will switch channels.


Exposure To Pitches And Response Rate

Responded to first request ever heard 18%

Responded to first request in that radiothon but had heard other requests in previous radiothons 3%

Responded to second to fourth request before acting 12%

Responded to fifth or more requests before acting 56%

Responded to an unspecified number before acting 11%


(e)    Pledges

As has been explained above, requests for pledges should be reasonable. Generally it is easier to get multiple small pledges rather than big pledges. Here are some interesting ways you can increase money pledged:

(i)                Sponsors can be roped in to offer to match (fully or in part) money donated during the Radiothon. Such a scheme also incentives listeners since this effectively raises the value of their pledge. You can also limit this “offer” to certain hours – thus allowing for a more focused promotion of the sponsor.


(ii)              Similarly, donors can be asked to find a friend who would match their donation.  should be asked to find a friend who would be willing to donate as much as they did. Incentivising such action in a certain way will also help – perhaps even by mentioning the donors on the program (with their permission of course).


After the Radiothon

As already explained, a process needs to be established for evaluation of the event. This post-mortem by everyone involved in the Radiothon is essential in assessing how successful the Radiothon has been, highlighting any problem areas which can then be improved for the next Radiothon.