Cordial Deconstruction

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How Not to Raise Money for Public Radio

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 17, 2010

Recently I received an E-Mail from Tim Eby, general manager of KWMU, the Public Radio station here in St. Louis, asking for an additional contribution.

The E-Mail stated that the state allocation for public broadcasting stations from the Missouri Cultural Trust Fund has been zeroed out effective immediately and that this means a direct cut of $41,000 this year and an $82,000 loss in expected revenue for the station in the next fiscal year.

This seems to me like a very legitimate reason to solicit additional contributions from members, especially in light of the fact that the station eliminated one entire on-air fund drive this year .

I’d just like to point out to Mr. Eby, though, that he might need seek some advice on how to better solicit those additional funds, because using the E-Mail subject,

Help KWMU end our fiscal year with a budget surplus

probably isn’t the most effective way to let your target audience know you’re suffering from a budget shortfall, especially at a time when many people are still feeling the pain of the recession.  You don’t raise money in fiscally tight times by using the word surplus.  I imagine a lot of recipients of that email deleted it without reading it, assuming KWMU was just looking for a little extra scratch money to do some interesting things with rather than trying to cover an unanticipated loss of state funding.  Personally, I only read it because I couldn’t believe they were soliciting more money so soon after I joined, and I wanted to see how they justified the solicitation.

It only took me a few minutes to come up with three E-Mail subjects that I think would have been better:

State eliminates KWMU funding, help make up the difference

Help KWMU cover unexpected loss of state funding

Public broadcasting allocation zeroed out, please help

All of these seem like better ideas than a subject line where KWMU asks people to help them end the year with extra money.  Imagine what the collective minds of the KWMU staff might have been able to come up with if they put their heads together and spent even a few minutes thinking about it.

Honestly, did he take any time to think what kind of impact that subject line would have?  In the world of E-Mail, the subject line is arguably the most important part of the message.  It usually determines whether the E-Mail gets read or discarded, when it gets read, and strongly influences the attitude of the reader towards the rest of the E-Mail message.  The subject line of every E-Mail, even personal E-Mail, is marketing competing for the attention of the recipient.  Many people get dozens or even hundreds of E-Mails every day, and many people do not read or open all the E-Mail they receive.  Spammers realize this and devote much effort into human engineering to come up with subjects likely to compel people to open and read E-Mail.

It sure seems to me that’s its a bad idea to try and raise money by essentially telling people in your E-Mail subject that you’d like to have more money than you actually need.

I now conclude this Cordial Deconstruction of Mr Eby’s E-Mail, thanks for reading.

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t sent the station any additional money, though I’d like to.  They caught me at a bad time.  I’ve spent a lot of money lately on things like an upcoming trip to Europe, a new camera system for that trip, and a trip to The Amazing Meeting 8 in Vegas right after the trip to Europe among other things, and though I could probably afford to send more money to the station, I really should curb my spending for a little while.


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