What is underwriting for a nonprofit radio station?

Underwriting can help a nonprofit station raise awareness of their donors as well as corporate donations.
Date Published
01/28/2016

As a nonprofit station, underwriting is an essential element of radio programs. According to NPR guidelines, underwriting is defined as third-party pieces read aloud by the station personnel that are technical and informative, allowing listeners to form their own opinion about the product or service. This practice is similar to advertising. However, unlike advertising, underwritten spots cannot include calls to action and cannot persuade an audience to buy, purchase or donate to a cause.

Underwriting includes many technical guidelines such as length of recording, word count and what can and cannot be said in a spot. Writing spots for public broadcasts systems takes finesse and donors may be hesitant to write a spot if they are uncertain of what to include. Writing spots for public broadcasts systems takes art and finesse. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the term to use while increasing donations through creative promotional efforts.

What can a spot include?
According to WCBE Radio, public radio stations fall under a strict set of guidelines regarding what is appropriate to advertise or not. Spots must be no longer than 60 seconds and no shorter than 15. Typically, spots last 15, 30 and 45 and 60 seconds. A 15-second message is typically 40 to 45 words, with a 60-second spot being some 160 words. A spot can include the name of organization, brand or product names that don’t include promotional or quantitative terminology and location with phone number for company contact. They can also include unbiased descriptions of what the products or services do or company slogans and taglines that do not promote sales.

On the other side, there are also guidelines to what a brand or corporate donor cannot say. Brands using underwriting cannot include calls to action such as “buy today”, music or sound clips, qualitative or comparative terms such as “We’re the best in town!” or speech that is directed at the listener. It also cannot include subjective terminology such as “simple and easy to use” or promotional discount offers.

Underwritten messages cannot be promotional or persuasive.Underwritten messages played aloud cannot be promotional or persuasive.

Many shows require donors and the station to be recognized at the beginning of a program. For example, a local electrical company has decided to donate to the station. An example of a hypothetical 15-second spot could be:

“This broadcast is brought to you by WCBE Radio and the Electric Slide Electrical Company located at 325 N. State Street in Columbus, Ohio. Electric Slide offers diagnostic services, maintenance and repair as well as wiring and other services. More information is available at www.electricslide.co.”

If your station is interested in having corporate or business donors submit underwritten messages, create a template for each donor to follow by length of spot and industry.

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