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Business Rx: Radio show for moms and dads needs an allowance

The entrepreneurs

Sandra Burt and Linda Perlis knew all the right people to get their radio show, “Parents’ Perspective,” up and running. Fourteen years later, the show has attracted more than a million listeners and Web visitors annually.

“We happened to know someone who had some radio stations in Oregon,” Burt said. “We were speaking and writing on child-raising and family issues, and she said, ‘Have you ever thought about going into radio?’ We looked at her wide-eyed, and that’s how we started.”

In this tough economy, they reached out to experts at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business for advice on nonprofit fundraising to help their show stay afloat.

The pitch

Perlis

“Parents’ Perspective Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that funds our radio program, also called ‘Parents’ Perspective.’ It airs on stations across the United States, around the world on American Forces Radio, and as podcasts on the Web. Each week, we interview an expert on a different child- or family-focused issue. Listeners, from physicians to firefighters and coaches to caregivers, count on the resources that we provide on our show. Shows are targeted to all listeners with concerns regarding children and families, from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds and geographic locations.”

Burt

“We are not after fame and fortune, we just want to get the information that people have come to depend on out to them. Our show really does help parents — it’s a hard time to raise kids right now and we are really just looking to leave our listeners with something to hold onto.”

Perlis

“Our challenge has always been and will continue to be financial. Right from the beginning we established ourselves as a nonprofit. We didn’t want to be at the beck and call of advertisers — we didn’t want that tied to the messages. So we’ve gone the route of grant-writing and getting awards and getting individual donations and fundraising. A lot of places we’ve been applying for grants are no longer giving grants. So our real challenge is finding ongoing sources of financial support.”

The advice

Melissa Carrier, executive director, Center for Social Value Creation

“Many nonprofits are facing similar challenges with funding. The lack of available grants is very typical during a rough economy. What I recommend you do is take a step back and think about the ‘why’ of ‘Parents’ Perspective.’ What is your social mission? Think about the social change you want to see and then think about the trade-offs you need to make to achieve that social change. At first you weren’t willing to pursue the path of advertising, but now that grants are harder to attain, maybe it is a path to pursue. Additionally, several new hybrid structures of nonprofit and for-profit models have been successful in recent years. Is there an earned-income strategy that works for radio through corporate sponsorships or advertising?”

Burt

“We have found that corporations would rather use more-well-known media like NPR or large radio stations for publicizing their organizations. It’s tough connecting with the right people at corporate foundations, unless somebody has a personal contact.”

Carrier

“Rather than working through corporate foundations, you should try reaching out to individuals in the business units. If there is a compelling opportunity for them to work with you in a way that directly benefits the business, they can fund you through their operating or marketing budgets. To be successful at this, you will have to network and make as many connections as you can. Use tools such as LinkedIn to build out your personal networks. Connect with everyone you know — alumni, past co-workers and program guests, community members, etc. Eventually, LinkedIn will help you build up your network and suggest more and more people for you to connect with. Then you can use those connections to get to the right people within corporations. Having a personal introduction/referral is the best way to get a meeting, so leverage your contacts as best you can.

“Another option is to charge for your content. If 500,000 people visit your Web site to download your free podcast, begin to charge a small fee. If what you are producing is valuable to your listeners, they will likely pay to keep receiving the information. You could also switch mediums to deliver your message. Switch to YouTube videos and audio podcasts instead of paying to use a studio. The equipment you’d need to record on your own would be a one-time fee.

“At the end of the day, you need to think like an entrepreneur. Get your Web site hits up from half a million to 5 million. Start measuring the impact you are having on your listeners, and use that data to persuade advertisers, investors, donators, etc. that your nonprofit is effecting a profound social change.”

The reaction

Burt

“We’ve been accepting LinkedIn requests for some time now without really knowing how to use the site to our benefit. That will be very helpful for us in the future, now that we have a better understanding of how to use it. We’ll look into expanding our network and reaching out to corporate contacts in specific business units.”

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