Do your station fundraising efforts have the Panera Problem?

by | Feb 28, 2020

Millions of Americans gather at Panera Bread each week to meet friends, conduct business and use the free WiFi. In fact, Panera was once the largest free WiFi provider in the U.S. In 2010, they took their benevolence to the next level when they introduced Panera Cares, a non-profit concept that allowed patrons to “pay what you want”. Unfortunately, the free lunches didn’t last. In 2019, when the company closed its final non-profit store, they conceded “despite our commitment to this mission, it’s become clear that continued operation of Panera Cares is no longer viable.”What does Panera have to do with your station’s fundraising efforts? A lot. Millions of people listen to Christian radio each week and enjoy the free messages of hope and encouragement. Unfortunately, a great mission and millions of consumers do not automatically equate to financial solvency. Even if your station has a strong team and has raised a lot of money in the past, that is no guarantee of future results. Competition for attention and dollars gets exponentially greater each year. If you want to raise more money, increase your value to your listeners. How much is your station worth to listeners? If you really want to know, ask them! Most stations do music testing to determine listeners’ passion level for each song. When is the last time you did a survey of your listeners or donors to find out how much they value just about everything else? Ignorance is not bliss, especially if you want to be worth more. As obvious as it sounds, do more of what listeners love and less of what they don’t. Then, when it comes to asking for money, it’s helpful to merely A.S.K. The A.S.K. (All Heart. Seek Clarity. Keep It Simple.) Process is one of the core concepts developed by Vidare Creative to highlight the fundamentals of any successful fundraising appeal.

All Heart
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou Simply put, to raise money, you have to appeal to people’s emotions. Information is meaningless. You bring the meaning with context. Instead of telling people you are listener-supported, tell them a story that makes them feel the impact of giving to your radio station. Start with heart in every appeal

Seek Clarity
Most listeners do not wake up and think about giving money to a radio station. In fact, it’s not even in the top 1,000 of priorities for her day. Think about all the distractions in the car (kids, phone, traffic, etc). The only way you’ll cut through the clutter is with a clear message. What is the one action you want her to take? Clarity creates simplicity.

Keep It Simple
Our listeners aren’t dumb. They are just busy. Respect their time, avoid too many numbers and options, and get to the point. Make giving to your radio station as easy as buying something on Amazon (i.e. “1-Click Ordering”). How many clicks does it take for someone to donate on your website? Go ahead and take a break to and go count them. If it’s more than 1, why?

Ironically, I stopped in a Panera to write this and noticed the sign promoting the new monthly subscription for unlimited coffee. Interested, I walked up to the counter to ask about joining the coffee club and the friendly cashier asked for my phone number to bring up a rewards account. It didn’t work. “No problem”. The cashier grabbed a new rewards card and walked me back over to the kiosk to register. After repeated attempts to sign-up, it just wouldn’t work. She then encouraged me to use my phone to scan the QR code to register on my phone. After logging onto Panera’s website on my phone, I discovered the issue. My email address was connected to an old phone number … 20 minutes. It took 20 minutes from the time I walked in until I was able to sign up for their advertised subscription offer despite the best efforts of their cashier. Don’t do this to your potential donors. Make it easy to give online and train everyone who answers the phone on how to treat the donor with care, take a donation, and problem solve. To ensure long-term fundraising success, and avoid the fate of Panera Cares, we must be intentional about clearly communicating our mission and inviting listeners to become active financial supporters in that mission year-round. You have not because you ask not, often enough, and with heart, clarity, and simplicity.

This post originally appeared as an article on


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