Last week, PRX wrapped up its second major fundraiser for Radiotopia, our podcast network, and the results were astonishing. While last year’s Kickstarter brought in an impressive lump sum of money, the goal for this campaign was to obtain sustained monthly support in order to propel the network throughout the year.
Radiotopia often functions like a lab—we mix content, personalities and styles to see what we can produce together. This campaign demonstrated, as experiments do, that even when you assemble the perfect components and prove your hypothesis, there are many lessons learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Stories and symbols are tied together.
Roman Mars is our guide to the beauty and intentionality of the world around us. He pulled back the curtain on the intricacies of flag design, and later on the meaning of coins. Military challenge coins serve as literal tokens of gratitude. They can symbolize everything from a nod of appreciation, to a deep personal connection, which we thought would make the perfect premium for our fans. Donors went crazy for the coins—word traveled fast across social media, and they quickly became our most sought-after reward. By the end of 30 days, we had nearly 10,500 people contribute to the challenge coin prize.
Excitement for the challenge coin reaches beyond 99% Invisible—the coin has become a badge of gratitude from all of our shows.
Lesson #2: We are defined by the company we keep.
First, we had the necessary support and infrastructure to run this campaign due to Radiotopia’s generous grant from the Knight Foundation. Secondly, Slack, the business messaging service that allows efficient collaboration, was our most valuable internal tool. It has fundamentally changed the way we work at PRX and Radiotopia. Throughout the campaign, we used Slack to communicate challenges, react quickly, answer questions, and share links and files. As a loyal Radiotopia partner, Slack helped kick off the campaign momentum by offering a $25,000 donation if we could secure 5,000 donors in the first week. We hit that goal with time to spare. The Slack team was so impressed they upped the ante… they offered an additional $50k if we could hit 10,000 more donations. After we blew through that goal, an anonymous superfan stepped in and offered an additional $10,000 if we could snag another 1,000 donors in the final 24 hours. We managed to pull that one off too, three hours ahead of schedule. These generous supporters gave us momentum and encouragement- they are an important part of our success.
Lesson #3: Keep calm and shoot for the moon.
Every successful fundraising campaign feels like a high wire act. There are more questions than answers: Do we need a goal? What if we don’t make it? What if the goal is too ambitious? Will the technology work? Is the message clear? Is the campaign too long?
For this campaign, we designed everything—the purpose, messaging, donor levels, incentives, promotion plan, the payment process, the video, and the rewards. We made many plans that were often be tossed aside at a moment’s notice. The effort was part science, part art.
The results speak for themselves:
We secured over 19,500 donors total, from over 60 countries, shattering our stretch goals. The outpour of recurring support was staggering: a whopping 82% of our donations. This means we will have continued support for our producers throughout the upcoming year. It gives us an opportunity to consistently connect with donors and fans, further cultivating and strengthening our community. It also means we will never start at zero again.
One especially moving result of the campaign was the number of people, nearly 100, who donated at pilot fund level. Contributors to this premium will play an active role on our internal committee that will evaluate show pilot ideas, ensuring fan participation in planning the next generation of Radiotopia content.
Lesson #4: Differentiation matters.
There are over 300,000 podcasts in the iTunes store now, so quality and strength of narrative is how we improve our signal-to-noise ratio. In the spirit of Radiotopia’s diverse mix of style, topic, voice and sensibility, we offered unique donor incentives along the way: a handmade quilt from The Allusionist. Exclusive content from Love+Radio and Song Exploder. Private storytelling workshops from Strangers. Free live show tickets from Criminal. Our rewards reflected our collective creativity, and that resonated loudly with donors.
Lesson #5: Make bold statements (e.g. We have the best fans in the world).
Overall, this campaign taught us a great deal about our audience and ourselves. We were delighted to receive heartfelt love letters from fans all over the world, professing their devotion to our shows. Campaigns like this raise money of course, but most importantly they allow us to connect more closely with our listeners. The last 30 days helped set the tone for the future of Radiotopia; we are excited to plot what will come and grateful that our fans will be our partners along the way.