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Making Pledge Drives Not Just Bearable, But Memorable Too

Ok, ok, we know the fall comes as a mixed blessing for many public radio listeners. You love the crisp air and brightly colored leaves, pumpkins and warm drinks. But, even though you know the importance of donating to your local public radio station, you don't really love pledge drive week. And who can blame you?

But here at NPR and at our Member Stations all across the country, we are always looking for better ways to inspire and encourage you to do what you already want to do: to support your local public radio station.

To give you a glimpse into one way this happens, we caught up with NPR Associate Producer Victor Holliday, who is a writer and producer of fundraising promotional spots. If you hear Renee Montagne or Nina Totenberg on your station during pledge drive week talking about why it's important to support public radio, chances are, Holliday put that audio clip together.

A very charismatic and passionate spirit, Holliday is friendly and optimistic. His charming personality knows no enemies and is reflective in each promotional spot he creates.

We caught up with Holliday just after he worked on promos for stations to use during their fall pledge drive period to ask him how he makes this work fun – for him and for you, the listener.

This is NPR: Tell us what you do at NPR?

Victor Holliday: I am writer/producer for fundraising here at NPR in the Programming department... We create the fundraising spots to help stations raise money around the programming that we provide.

As a fundraising producer, I really create content for use by all stations which makes the job very challenging in a way, because our stations are different in different markets and so I'm always aware that what I'm creating must be as effective in Mississippi as it would be in San Francisco. So I have to think in a very inclusive and broad way, very often to create something that would be of use to the greatest number of stations.

How do you support Member Stations during their pledge drives?

VH: First, I write scripts, record talent, and mix and create wonderful pieces that will stimulate giving during fundraising campaigns.

The other huge part of it is that I traffic fundraising versions of all of NPR's acquired programs. During National Coordinated Week [one week in the spring and the fall where many Member Stations hold their pledge drives], we ask our flagship shows: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and all other acquired programs to slightly alter their clocks to give stations the opportunity to come in the programs and do fundraising without disturbing the integrity of the actual show.

Coming up with new ideas for promotional spots requires creativity, what inspires you?

VH: Well I think in a very broad context, it comes from our mission statement, and that's a thing I live with foremost in my mind each day. Respect for the individual, a sense of spirit, a sense of storytelling that actually sort of weaves and brings about a sense of community.

I know at the close of the day what we do is meant to heal the world. The information we provide, the stimulating news coverage that we do, and the very in-depth human stories that can help somebody in one part of the world understand somebody else in another part of the world who they may not know or might not ever reach but whose story may resonate with them. So when I'm creating [promos], I am thinking about what would resonate with the greatest number of people.

Do you create a theme for each pledge drive season?

When I'm creating [promos], I am thinking about what would resonate with the greatest number of people.

VH: Yes we do. We are aware of certain key things that happen during the year, so we use those to point us in a certain direction so we are right on target message wise to help support stations where they are and have a sense of universal flow for what's on people mind at a particular time.

Who is your favorite talent to work with?

VH: I think my favorite talent to work with has been our [international] reporters. First of all, the work that they do for us can be such a lonely road for them and a very dangerous one.

The [international] reporters are so incredibly passionate about the work they do. These people are extremely good at what they do but really totally driven in a very passionate and spiritual way about this work, and it's something that comes through in an actual reporting.

To have people who are compassionate journalists and savvy at what they do, and to really be the best at what they do in getting these stories is really just a jewel that we can really never appreciate enough; because these are trustworthy voices in foreign place.

What has been your most memorable fund drive promotion?

VH: My most memorable [fund drive] happens to be my latest. I was challenged to really think a little outside the box more, which is what I try to do, and tell the story of who we are and why it is important and make it fun for the listener.

I actually wrote a fundraising poem to tell the listeners... how special they actually are and how they inspire us to continue to do the work that we do. NPR's Carl Kasell and David Greene each took a turn to voice this promo poem:

The second one is a 'pitch from the backseat,' of sorts. People love the voice of children on the radio because their experience comes through so clearly. We just love children. It's something about the voice of a child that gets your attention. We want to know what they have to say. So I did a piece inspired by Art Linkletter's show Kids Say the Darndest Things, which was later also done by Bill Cosby.

So I got two small boys, who I think six and 11 are their ages. They are the sons of our Correspondent Michele Kelemen. I asked her... if they could spend some time with me, and I could get some thoughts on what they actually hear as backseat listeners.

And I called this spot a "Pitch from the Backseat." We [talked] about what interest them, what they actually hear in the car when the radio is on and the spot ended up being hilarious. I pulled some clips from two of our fun shows, which both the boys mentioned that were just bright moments for them... Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!... and also Car Talk.

You really want to bring something that's going to stimulate people and maybe even surprise them and remind them of memorable moments that happened.

Kendra Gaskin is a fall 2013 intern with NPR Marketing, Branding and Communications.

Emily Hellewell contributed to this post.

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Kendra Gaskin