As more and more cable subscribers cut the cord, new revenue streams are an essential part of survival for community media organizations. Athol Orange Community TV (AOTV), a nonprofit cablecasting corporation serving the towns or Athol and Orange in Massachusetts, has understood the importance of raising money since it debuted in 1995.
The very next year, AOTV had a one-day auction that raised $7,200. In 1997, the auction was expanded to a two-day event that brought in about $13,000. For years, it became a dependable source for revenue for the station, slowly building from $15,000 to $30,000. Two years ago, with an influx of matching donations, the results jumped even higher.
These days, Carol Courville, executive director of AOTV and community radio station WVAO, maintains a goal of $40,000 gross profit. To hit that number, she keeps costs low, limiting expenses to around $3,500 and keeping overtime under control.
Of all the fundraising ideas out there, why an auction? “It made perfect sense,” Courville explained. “We’re a TV station – why not use our own channel to raise funds?”
The auction represents about 13% of AOTV’s annual operating budget, which pays for salaries and other expenses. “However, if there is a surplus,” she added, “then we use it for equipment expenses, so we don’t have to ‘dip’ into our capital/reserve money. The money is definitely a mixed use.”
AOTV produced almost 300 original programs in 2022, including dozens of committee meetings for local schools and governments. But the station also contributed to its community with a 12-hour food-a-thon, which raised almost $40,000 in May. “People see we’re part of the community,” Courville said. “They know we do a lot of good work, and when people see that, they donate to us.”
Almost all donations come from local businesses. The auction features a variety of gift certificates, theaters tickets, household items, and outdoor experiences. Some companies with nothing to sell with provide sponsorships, which help add to the success of the auction without adding items to sell. “Sponsors help a lot to boost the final income,” said Courville.
The annual auction is an eight-month commitment and major undertaking for AOTV. The process begins in early summer by creating a master list of local businesses that have previously donated. A kickoff party in August provides an opportunity to assign tasks to employees and volunteers, and letters are sent to businesses in September. Let’s just say there’s a significant to-do list, from collecting hundreds of items for auction to scheduling hosts from state and local governments.
Promotion is also a significant effort every year. AOTV produces promos for its TV and radio station, plus it adds notices to its Cablecast CG bulletin board and its website. Other efforts include a large lighted sign on its facility, as well as emails and letters to previous bidders and local businesses.
Want to create your own fundraising auction? “First, get your board of directors on board,” Courville advised. “They are the fundraising committee – they have the fiduciary responsibility. That, to me, is the biggest piece. We’ve always had a working board. They’re the ones who said we’re a nonprofit and we need to make money back in 1995!”
Next, be smart with your assignments. Courville suggested you find out what your volunteers will enjoy doing. Some are great with video promos, while others enjoy making calls to follow up on donations or manning the phone bank during the auction. “Utilize their strengths. They’ll do what you need if they’re happy doing it,” she explained.
Finally, you can make your auction as simple or as complicated as you want. At AOTV, it’s still an old-fashioned affair, according to Courville, with viewers calling in and placing their bids. They tried an online bidding process, but it didn’t work as well, so they went back to the phones. “Our audience knows the auction as well as we do,” she said.
AOTV’s 2023 auction launches on November 30. Watch it live at www.aotv13.org.
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