By: Molly Motherwell
General Manager, WEMU
Broadcast media had to pivot quickly when the pandemic hit and everything shut down. In addition to trying to adjust to work from home, soothing an anxious staff and audience, and trying to handle the avalanche of news and information that came our way, WEMU and other public broadcasters had to completely redesign on-air fundraisers.
As our area’s community NPR station, WEMU was used to hosting hundreds of volunteers and dozens of community guests in-studio over seven to eight days. We were less than a week away from our spring fundraiser when the shutdown happened and had to cancel everything; not only due to the safety risks of having outsiders in the studio but also because news was coming so rapidly, as journalists we couldn’t deprive our community of any information concerning the pandemic.
So we adjusted, with recorded and drop in fundraising pitches. And it worked; listeners understood the importance of funding for public broadcasters and responded accordingly.
As the pandemic dragged on, we realized that we needed to continue to be creative in message and presentation for WEMU’s fundraising and came up with the idea of ‘pop-up’ fundraisers, one or two days centered around a special theme or events.
The first took place November 14-15, WEMU’s first-ever weekend-only fundraiser, showcasing its 7 live-hosted music programs. Thanks to a $30,000 challenge grant from the Erb Family Foundation, it raised more than $60,000.
On February 13-14, WEMU hosted a virtual ‘For the Love of WEMU’ Valentine’s Day fundraiser, which usually takes place at the Northside Grill in Ann Arbor with WEMU air personalities pouring coffee and collecting tips for the day. We couldn’t be on-site for the event so we sent a cardboard cutout of 89.1 Jazz host, Michael Jewett, to the restaurant and asked listeners to donate to our virtual tip jar on-air.
That was followed by a one-day Radio Mardi Gras fundraiser on Fat Tuesday, February 16. A hybrid of recorded pitches on news programs and live pitching amid lively Mardi Gras music between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the event raised $10,000 to add to the $12,000 raised the previous weekend.
Continuing the special day theme, the next pop-up took place on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 with ‘The Raising of the Green.’ WEMU eclipsed the $17,000 goal before noon, doubled it, and ended up with nearly $40,000 for the day again with a combination of live and recorded pitch breaks.
WEMU’s next pop up fundraiser takes place Friday, April 16, to celebrate Public Radio Music Day. While no official date has been set yet, WEMU has opted to use the 2020 date to celebrate the importance of music on the radio.
Refreshing our fundraising approach through these pop up events has proved rewarding to both the audience and #teamwemu. The pace is lively, the music is hot, and the fun is contagious. We look forward to many more.
Printed with permission.