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Crowdfunding: WXEL Teaches Philanthropy & Harnesses the Power of Community


By José Fernández | Product Deployment Manager | PBS Digital

Using PiggyBackr, WXEL teamed up with students from Lynn University and raised nearly $18,000 in three months to support kids' programming, like Sesame Street, in their area. I talked to Debra Tornaben, Vice President of Development and host of Debra!! to learn more about their crowdfunding campaign. 

How did this idea to crowdfund come about?
As south Florida's philanthropic community ages, I was concerned with the future of fundraising and if young are people ready to take the baton. I talked to Lynn University and worked with Professor Carlin to create a "Course For The Cause". We developed the syllabus for this 3-month course and pitched it to the university and the station. Before we knew it, Professor Carlin and I were teaching the class. Many of the students were from abroad. They did not recognize PBS, but they recognize Big Bird, so they came up with the campaign name, "Save the Street". 



Can you elaborate on the strategy behind the campaign?
This was totally a student-run campaign. The students chose Piggybakr and ran with it. They were instructed to find a way to promote the message. They were were not allowed to get more than $100 from family. Therefore, they had to truly work to get the funds. They created videos for YouTube, created posts for their various social networks, and sent out press releases. And one of the students (featured below) won the "Wings of the Future Award" for her passionate YouTube Video. The award will be presented at our 11th Annual Women with Wings and Wisdom luncheon on March 11, 2014 at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach.

WXEL's "Save the Street" Campaign
Throughout our discussions, they felt that this campaign cannot solely rely on the web. They felt that real world interactions would bolster the campaign. They engaged lots of phone calls and one-on-one followups. They hosted parties, posted fliers, and pitched the campaign to local news outlets. Throughout the entire process, the students had to learn how to write press releases and make cold calls. The students worked closely with their local community. They contacted teachers and encouraged them to contact their colleagues and they spoke various Palm Beach community meetings. BB&T was so inspired that they made a major gift in support to the campaign.

Was there any promotion by WXEL?
On WXEL, there was a promo on the website. Later in the course, the students asked to make TV spots. However, by that time, it was too late. But I spoke to local radio stations and asked them to cross promote. 



How has this experience impacted WXEL?
The experience gave WXEL a way to connect to younger people. And it made us realize that we do not have to worry about the next generation. They have a passion for PBS and the mission. We also have a reinvigorated thinking that nothing is better than going out to the community to get your message across.

As I said earlier, many of the students were from abroad. PBS/Sesame Street is how many of them learned to speak/write English. This experience reinforced the belief that students that have English as a second language learn via PBS, and that public media is important to educating our youth. I'm now going to work with more energy because this station and public media matter so much to the students. 

What did you learn from this experience and what advice can you give other stations looking to do a similar campaign?
Look at your local programing and see if you have anything that speaks to the age group. Also, develop a course outline based on your local community. Then go to the universities in your area and pitch the course. Finally, look for a mentor at your station that has the patience and energy to work with students. They are very passionate and high energy. The individual selected to teach the course should come in ready to match that passion.

Will WXEL embark on future crowdfunding campaigns?
Yes. WXEL has been invited to go back and teach the course again. We want to do a large event, maybe have characters on the street. We also want to provide even more hands on work for the students. 







José is responsible for rolling out PBS Digital products across multiple technology platforms, including online, mobile, and OTT boxes. In addition, he designs and refines internal processes to respond to PBS Digital's growing product line and customer needs. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and adorable son.