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Cities across the United States are declaring a health emergency as COVID-19 cases grow. How should your community radio station respond to coronavirus in the midst of pledge drive season?

No matter what your pledge drive plan is, it is critical that you take on safety first. As NFCB notes in our guidance to stations, it is important for you to be involved with your local first responders. They may help you understand the scope and impact in your area. This understanding will help you develop approaches to keeping staff and volunteers safe.

For community stations, your big concerns will be the following:

  • Messaging: Why should people support your station in this crucial moment? You want to craft fundraising messages that remind listeners that, in uncertain times, they support the news and talk that informs them, and music that is a shelter from stress. If you can present ways your station is contributing to local COVID-19 response efforts, you can help audiences see how important your station is to the community.
  • On-air: Who is available to be on the air to make a pitch? Could you pre-record on-air asks now? Can you receive pre-recorded packages remotely if volunteers cannot come in? Your community radio station can make intake as simple as a Google Drive folder or Dropbox. Make sure to develop instructions for volunteers to upload. We recommend other protocols in our coronavirus guidance to stations.
  • Pledge intake: Do not assume volunteers can or will show up to answer telephone pledges at your station. You may also not want to invite the risk of many people in your facility. How can you ensure phone volunteer safety? Is it feasible for your station to solely do online donations or direct mail? Are you open to hiring an answering service (which generally charges a free per call) if volunteer help is not an option?

The last consideration may be a popular pledge drive perk in community radio: food. The potential for spreading disease may mean it’s best to skip food for groups of people.

Most community radio stations rely on on-air fundraising. And margins are so thin that pushing back fundraising may be impossible. While more people may now listen to the radio, looking for news on coronavirus, you will be pressed to provide relevant coverage while making the case for supporting it.