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To Convince or Persuade: The Evolution of Language in Fundraising Drives

National Public Radio needs to innovate their fundraising approach. After narrowly avoiding a defunding measure put forward by House and Senate Republicans, at least one NPR station — KQED in NoCal, the largest public radio station by audience size — is looking at ways to improve its fundraising mechanism.

So, for $45 per season you can buy your way out of the that cacophony of telephone alarm bells and laying-on-the-guilt pleas for cash and relax into Terry Gross’ gentle swabbing of your inner ear and sense of self-satisfaction: “This is Terry Gross. Welcome to Fresh Air. Now plea-and guilt-free all because of you!”

But I wonder: If there truly is a market for this pledge drive side-stepping mechanism, what will happen to the form and content of the pledge drive as we currently know it? Will it become longer, more pleading, more heavy-handed with the guilt — all to compel us to pay our way back into the programming? How will their persuading and convincing strategies evolve, or will the pledge drive devolve into a repetitious Click and Clack schtick, just one simple command:

“Write your name on the back of a $45 bill to get back to NPR programming. Hah!”

“Write your name on the back of a $45 bill to get back to NPR programming. Hah!”

“Write your name on the back of a $45 bill to get back to NPR programming. Hah!”

“Write your name on the back of a $45 bill to get back to NPR programming. Hah!”

Fundraiser on the Bullhorn

I recently did a comparative rhetorical analysis of pledge drive discourse in 2006 and 2010. What I found is that:

  1. PLEDGE DRIVES ARE ORGANIZED around a Challenge Framework and there has been little change in the organization of this framework in the five-year period between 2006 and 2010.
  2. PLEDGE DRIVES RELY HEAVILY on promotional bursts which utilize a variety of rhetorical strategies common to fundraising discourse (Bhatia, 1998) in order to convince and persuade listeners to make a pledge.
  3. BETWEEN 2006 AND 2010, there is evidence that pledge drives are shifting more toward the use of rhetorical strategies which aim to persuade rather than rhetorical strategies which aim to convince.

See the full analysis here: Fundraising Discourse Analysis

What do you think?

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