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Don Hughes
CEO Great Plains Christian Radio

Finding The Hidden Donor



Do you recall the scene in the Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” when George Bailey played by Jimmy Stewart was in the dubious position of handling a 1929 “run on the bank?”  George became very creative in presenting a vision to the depositors as to where their money is invested.  He asked them what they really need and gave to each of them accordingly. He appealed for them to be reasonable and understand their money is safe and there is no reason to panic.  The people left reassured and at the end of the day the community oriented Savings and Loan in Bedford Falls survived as George and the bank staff celebrated with two dollars remaining in cash assets. Personally I watch our budget numbers down to the wire each month and feel like George Bailey as we make through.  However, understand that if George had not exercised diplomacy and creativity with the bank customers the Savings and Loan would have ended up in the hands of the grouchy old Mr. Potter.  

I want to provide some encouragement that facing the challenges of this economy will strengthen your organization in the coming years, but only if you face it and not retreat. You cannot sit back and feel that the situation is out of your hands.  Your greatest asset is the fact that you are made in the image of God,  Genesis 1:26, Let us made Man in our image, in our likeness.  Wow! Dwell on this truth for awhile, in fact, say it out loud, “I am made in the image of God.”  Since God is infinite and we are finite we don’t fully understand what this means.  However, we can be certain there is something in our thought processes, personality, creativity, consciousness, existence, will, compassion, mercy and grace that is there because God made us in some way like Him.  There is something in us that is not in any other creature.  Amazing!

The element of creativity that is apparent in God is available for our use as we are made in His image.  It takes creativity to paint a beautiful picture and compose a piece of musicCreativity is exercised in problem solving in every walk of life.  Just as the artist or musician develop their skills over many years to be able to come to a point of marketability so you must reach for the next level in presenting the ministry vision to develop the needed funding. I really feel that perhaps the greatest Godly asset you have to get you through this economy is your being creative in handling the difficulties.  Ask yourself what you can do that you have not done before?  How can you refine the donor develop that you have done in the past?  In a healthy economy your old ways of doing things have served you well, but if you refine the process it will serve you well now and even better when we come out of this economy.

The first thing you need to do is not focus on the negative news.  Giving USA issued the latest figures revealing giving was down two percent as compared to the previous year.  That means ninety-eight percent is still available. Please consider this number carefully.  There was over three hundred billion dollars donated in the United States last year to not-for-profit organizations.  When placed in numerical form it looks like this, $300,000,000,000. The amount of those funds directed to the organization you oversee is somewhat dependent on your creativity. Unemployment is approaching ten percent, but that means ninety percent are still working.  Basically speaking if you crank up your creativity in presenting your vision and needs to your listeners by two percent or perhaps as much a ten percent you can develop the needed funding.

You need to refine your message and expand the number of people who receive information concerning your vision for ministry.  You have heard the seminar messages that you need to have one brand and one message in presenting your vision, however, you need to present that vision and message in different ways to trigger the response mechanism in various personality types.  I view the ministry here like an eight cylinder engine.  It has one goal in moving the vehicle forward, but having one cylinder that does not function properly slows down the whole machine.  Use your creative forces to enhance the performance of all elements of the ministry.

Very often in the morning when the secretary gets the mail I separate the gifts in various stacks.  One stack will be what we call “Associates.”  These are donors that have made a commitment to regular monthly giving.  Other stacks include the business supporters, churches, occasional donors and those that send  support in a hand addressed envelop.  It is likely this later group is sending a first time gift.  We will of course include them with our regular contacts to provide a response envelop in the future.  Separating these various groups helps to develop the concept that each of these groups needs to be further developed.  People have different giving styles and abilities just as there are different personalities.  It is very possible those hidden devoted listeners are not giving because you have not presented the message with an adequate appeal to their giving and personality style.

I wonder if there was something you noticed in the previous paragraph.  I open the donations.  This process started when we were a much smaller organization.  I could transfer the duty to someone else, but since the basic responsibility to see that we have adequate funding starts on my desk I want to know what is taking place.  There is something about opening those individual hand written checks that tell you something about the donors.  There are always little hand written notes and prayer requests that arrive in the envelops.  There are computer processed checks in a business style window envelop.  There are things that tell you something about your donors.  Clues are present as to why they responded to your last mailing or on-air appeal. It is information that puts you in touch with your supporters.  There are details that do not appear in a financial report filled with only numbers.  If a problem is developing in adequate funding the person who opens the envelops knows it long before it shows up on a graph.   

You need to know the people in order to increase and enhance new donors and increase contacts to broaden the base of support to provide adequate funding in tough economic times.  Can you imagine how well these strategies will function when the economy has recovered?  The struggle will take you to new levels which you have not known.  This exercise will bring new people into the ministry.  The ministry relationship with many new people will enhance ministry performance and you will be touching more lives than ever before.

Enhance your communication skills and vehicles of communication to touch people’s lives and the needed support will follow.

My emphasis in mailings to donors is to send ministry items, articles and books that will meet a need in their life.  Items included in mailings vary as different things appeal to different people.  Mailings provide a way to touch lives in print as well as on the air.  The announcers on the air provide teasers to promote the ministry items being sent in the mail so that listeners are eager to open the envelop and read more.  It is another avenue of ministry as well as increasing response to provide for organizational needs.  If your mailings are just a routine financial appeal then many will also routinely respond by dropping it in the trash can.  People need to see an envelop from you as a mystery.  The recipient needs to see your envelop and have a positive response as to what may be inside.  Touch the person’s heart one time and every time your letter arrives they will be looking for reassurance in their faith and life through your mailings.

You are implementing your communication skills in searching for hidden donors.  They are willing to support the station, but have not received the right motivation.  Your hidden donors are people who have perhaps listened for years, but never let you know.  They are very much aligned with the ministry and have a heart for what you are doing, but they remained hidden for all practical purposes.  You need to impress upon them the benefits of the correspondence they could be receiving from the radio station.  Your listeners need to be not only listeners, but also partners and they need to take ownership of the ministry.   Convey to the listeners they are not donating to you, but providing the expense needs of their radio station.  Your ministry needs to be part of the family.  It is not the listener who joins with you to be part of your family, but the ministry who joins to be part of the listener’s family. 

There should be an on going program to make the phone ring and/or increase e-mail response.  When the announcer is doing a teaser about the article, item, contest, survey, etc in the latest mailing it serves to not only interest existing listeners on your mailing list, but also serves to gain more people to receive the mailing as they ask to be included.  There could be other initiatives which would be a little larger in offering an attractive title of a free book.  You could take five hundred to a thousand calls in a single day.  Giving away a Christian book is a huge ministry to the people that receive the message of the book.  It is a good image builder for the station, develops relationships with the listeners and increases the prospective donor pool.  Someone who has gotten a gift from you will be more likely to become a donor.

You have been in radio for so long it is likely you have forgotten what it is like to be a listener.  There are bold people who can take a huge step and their first call to the station is to make a commitment to support the ministry.  However, there are a lot of people, in fact I would say most, need to take small steps to build a relationship before making a commitment to become a monthly donor.  Someone who has phoned, e-mailed or contacted the station for some reason other than to make a pledge of support is more likely to respond when the purpose is financial.  You need to build the relationship so that picking up the phone to join in monthly support is not a large leap.  There are people that would join as a supporter if they received material in the mail that will not respond by phone.  Once you have attracted them to the mailing list it could take several years before they become comfortable enough or have a greater commitment to share a donation.  If they never give you would at least have their name and address for advertising purposes.  There is a wonderful benefit in identifying your listening audience by name and address.

The hardest thing to do may be the least expensive.  Prayer!  Prayer that is more than, “Lord, bless our listeners.”  Develop a sincere desire to be a friend to your listeners as individuals and not just as “Total audience cume.”  Seek prayer requests and have the staff join together and take each request individually before the throne of grace and then send them a card to let them know that you prayed.  We have been trying to phone our listeners to solicit prayer requests.  About one in ten of our completed calls end up with the listener in tears, because of a need they have in their life and they are so thankful for your call.

When you are riding down the highway look at all the other vehicles and understand there are thousands of secret listeners that have not revealed their identities.  If you find them and develop the relationship they will become donors.  When you walk through the mall they may even see you and recognize you, however they are still a mysterious individual hidden from involvement in your station.  How can you identify who they are and capture their involvement?  Imagine you are sponsoring a free will offering concert.  Your ushers have refined their plans in receiving the offering, however sometimes rows of people are missed.  The person sat there with cash in their hand, but the offering bucket never came their way and so they slipped the donation in their shirt pocket and did not know what to do, so they never participated.  Like most people they don’t stand up and say, “Wait, you missed this row.” Your hidden donors are operating in much the same way.  Be creative in figuring out a way to involve them.  Adequate funding is available for your ministry.  No one ever said this job would be easy.  There are people willing and able to provide the needed support.  All you have to do is search, find, embrace and involve the hidden donor.


Don is observing forty years in broadcasting in 2009.  Great Plains Christian Radio consists of seven full power stations and thirty-six translators. The flagship station, KJIL, has been named Station of the Year most recently by NRB and in the past they have received that honor from GMA, NAB (Marconi), Focus on The Family and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.  Don Hughes and his wife Polly have been married for thirty-one years and they have six children. 

Don Hughes can be reached at






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