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Funding Your Station

Funding is key to starting and running a radio station, even if you have an all volunteer staff.  Many people think that the time to start fundraising is after you receive your license. You will certainly need to fundraise once you have a construction permit in hand, but there are some upfront costs as well.  Community Radio takes community support. A good way to build momentum and judge the viability of that station is by fundraising NOW.

As you work towards building your station, you’ll want to develop a budget. You can build momentum for your station and raise much needed funds by asking everyone you know for help.

Fact or Fiction

“The best way to fund my LPFM station is to write grants to foundations and corporations.”  Fiction.

It may surprise you to know that most charitable giving is done by individuals making $40K per year or less. This is true for huge international groups as well as neighborhood non-profits.  Grants are great, but most foundations want to fund a sure thing so they know their resources are well utilized.  The more organized you are, and the more community support you can demonstrate, the more likely you are to attract other funding.

Building a Base of Initial Support

The tricks are the same regardless of the size of your budget – what changes is the scale.  A few things to know before you start.

  1. Give yourself.  Even if it is $5.  You cannot expect others to do what you have not.
  2. Believe that your cause is worthwhile.  If you are excited about your work others will be as well.
  3. Ask everyone. Some people will say yes and some will say no.  They won’t be offended that you asked.


Now for Some Actual Ways to Ask

Revenue Streams

There are several revenue streams you should consider for your radio station. For LPFM, the following are the most common:

  • Individual donors
  • Events and Merchandise
  • Grants
  • Underwriting

Before the Station is On the Air

  • Individual donors
    • The people in your community are the most important revenue stream for the station. When a community can participate in creating a radio station (and keeping it on the air!) they’re going to be much more invested in your success
    • Get the word out! Begin social media presence, website, press release to local media, existing nonprofits can use email or mail lists
    • Crowdfunding campaigns
  • Events, Merch, Etc
    • Local events raise awareness and can generate some funds
      • Fundraiser show with local musicians, low-cost venue
      • Fundraising party in the space where the station will be
      • Tabling at events, farmers markets, art and music events etc
      • Collect contact information from potential listeners and donors and volunteers
  • Grants
    • National funding, private or public, doesn’t exist
    • Local foundations
      • Construction and equipment costs
      • Educational and arts funding
    • Local government, public safety grants
      • Emergency communications, EAS

After the Station Goes is the Air

Congrats! You’ve hit the switch and you’re on the air! A lot of the fundraising you did before you started broadcasting will continue, but you’ll want them to grow and include some other ways to raise money.

  • Individual donors
    • Post to social media – share content, news about the station, volunteers/DJ’s, etc
    • Need a Donor Database / donation processing software- Little Green Light, CiviCRM, Kindful etc
    • On-air drive – The Pacifica Network was the first public radio network in the U.S. and the first to hold fund drive
      • Fund drives at big stations may look very different for LPFMs
      • Get DJ’s involved
      • Give away premiums – merch or gifts that you send donors as part of their donation. These are a great way to increase donations. Note: offering premiums could lead to special accounting practices due to dollar value or tax requirements in your state. It’s a good idea to check with a tax professional or accountant.
      • Broadcast short spots on-air sharing why the station wants support and what the station contributes to the community
      • Make it easy to donate! Online donation forms on your website, drop off boxes at the station, etc…
      • Use the internet to your advantage with digital campaigns – email, newsletter, socials, website
      • Share your progress throughout and after
      • Thank your donors – a thank you goes a long way in creating good will with your community
      • Monthly donors – Build your recurring donor program. Recurring donations make it easier to budget for the year because you have a good idea of what you’ll raise throughout the year
  • Grants
    • Get to know your local foundations. Grant funding is all about relationships. Get to know who’s giving grants in your community, learn about their mission and the types of things they actively fund in your community, and appeal to those when applying
    • Focus on local and regional foundations. Some initiatives local foundations might be interested in funding include programming ideas that center or amplify the voices of your community, educational programming, youth DJ training, specific series for your community, music or news projects, and tech/equipment upgrades
  • Underwriting
    • Underwriting is short on-air acknowledgements of support for the station from local businesses. Underwriters can be thank on-air,  on your website, in newsletters, and on your social media
    • Solicit local businesses for underwriting. Create a sales packet for potential underwriters
    • Assess the UW rates of the other stations in your market. Make sure your rates are similar – the FCC requires rates to meet local market standards
    • Underwriting is NOT the same thing as advertising. It is meant to offer a public thank you message for support from local businesses. Read more about the FCC guidelines for underwriting here
    • Data shows that community radio listeners prefer to support businesses that support local radio