The Internet is Weird: Online Donation Videos

by Kelsey Savage, PBS Interactive 

I recently discovered two noteworthy online pledge tactics from the public radio world that I think could be easily replicated by #localPBS stations.  First, on YouTube, WBEZ Chicago wooed the internet by replacing the formal set of “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” with glittery microphones and cute anthropomorphic cats. WITF, out of Central Pennsylvania, takes a smoother approach and breaks down why listeners should give with a hilarious slow-jam

Here’s what I think we can learn from these videos: 

1.       Cater to your audience- WBEZ got 10,000 viewers to voluntarily watch a clip about donating money to their station. That’s amazing. Joe Ulrich, the creator behind WITF's slow jam and auto tune the pledge, reported that "numerous people commented on the song when they called in to make a pledge" and that he is "fairly confident" that the page got more shares and likes than a typical fundraising page. Both stations capitalized on content that has been surprisingly prominent in popular culture, cats & slow jams, by re-purposing it for a campaign around public radio donations. Additionally, both videos seem to tactfully "poke a little fun at traditional pledge verbiage", as Ulrich put it. They were able to identify what types of content a younger, online, meme-loving audience would respond to without watering down their message. 

2.       Provide a call to action- Both of the stations made their campaigns simple to share and donate. WBEZ’s video has a direct link to a donation page in the video description, as well as multiple pop-up boxes throughout the video with instructions on how to donate. Because WBEZ selected YouTube as their platform, people were able to embed it on other sites. I think I saw this video in my Tumblr feed at least four times. WITF, on the other hand, has a “give now” button directly beneath their audio player. Additionally, WITF embedded social media links on their page to allow visitors to easily pass along the content to other public media fans. In total, their “Slow Jam” page had 152 Facebook shares and 41 Tweets, and those are just direct-from-site shares!

3.       Just go for it!- While I don’t know the exact cost of product for WBEZ's cat video, I am guessing it was minimal. Ulrich notes that it took him about 3-4 hours to come up with a script and music and within a day, he was able to begin recording his co-workers. (WITF's Chief Development Officer, Mark Duncan, is the "Barry White-esque" voice around the 30 second mark). Because the WITF staff was able to pitch in their time and Ulrich had the sound mixing skills, the audio file was made with no costs to the station. In fact, I believe that low production costs are exactly why these donation tactics are so charming. Their homemade-ness seems to add a sense of genuine love. Given the low barrier to entry, it seems worthwhile to try to solicit online donations in this humorous way.

Has your station tried any creative pledge tactics? We'd love to hear about them! Please post comments and questions below.


  1. This is a really great example of how more local stations and other organizations can creatively use the internet to gain donations!

  2. These may be cute (though that's in the eye of the beholder) but what actual results did they produce? What was the click through rate to the contribution form? Did they see a spike in contributions when the videos dropped? Did they actually get younger donors to contribute?

    We all need great new ideas to try but we need to make sure they actually produce results.

  3. The Internets just got even weirder, check out what's happening in San Diego @KPBS!

    Zombie Pledge Drive Part 1

    Zombie Pledge Drive Part 2