By Jay Clayton, On-air Fundraising Coordinator, DEI
Public Radio Completes System-wide Initiative a Year Ahead of Schedule
Public Radio cultivated the support of 3.6 million givers in 2011, exceeding a five-year initiative to reach 3 million givers by 20 percent and a year ahead of schedule. The projected results are based on the number of givers to 103 public radio stations that are participants in DEI’s 2011 Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising (INSERT LINK http://www.deiworksite.org/services/benchmarks-public-radio-fundraising).
3MG is the brainchild of Barbara Appleby, Membership Manager at Minnesota Public Radio, who introduced the initiative when she was the Director of New Revenue Strategies at NPR. “When 3MG began,” she says, “it was clear that the path to increased revenue was increasing the number of members.”
Appleby introduced 3MG in 2007 in an effort to help public radio avoid a trend she observed in public TV in which revenue started to flat-line and donors declined. At that time, the number of annual givers to public radio had been flat at about 2.5 million for three years, according to CPB. Public radio was getting more revenue from the same number of donors, a trend that would ultimately lead to less revenue from fewer donors.
Public radio’s efforts to reach and ultimately exceed the 3MG goal were helped by an increase in listening over the span of the project. When 3MG began public radio reached 28 million weekly listeners nationally, according to Arbitron. Today the weekly audience exceeds 30.5 million people. More listeners equal more potential givers.
But as any seasoned public radio fundraiser knows, the amount of listening is only half of stations’ fundraising success. The other half is efficiently and effectively converting listening to net revenue. And givers.
How the goal was met:
When 3MG began DEI crafted and delivered to stations a set of core principles that are based on the fundamental understanding that an increase in givers and revenue stems from increases in fundraising efficiency, increases in listening, or both. The most sustainable way stations can increase givers and revenue is to make significant changes in how fundraising is conducted. In other words, stations’ fundraising results are in large part a function of their approach to getting givers and revenue. Stations must alter their approach to change their results. The Core Principles are at deiworksite.org.
In 2008 NPR and DEI collaborated with stations to test direct mail copy to bolster their add gift and renewal efforts. The project’s initial success prompted an expansion into acquisition mail. Today more than 50 stations participate in the project annually. One station had a 51% increase in acquisition mail results. Another had a 91% increase in add gift mailing results over the course of a year. Overall results at one station increased 38%.
Many stations embraced the importance of getting and retaining more givers in their own fundraising efforts. Colorado Public Radio set and met specific giver goals. New Hampshire Public Radio opened its doors to invite listeners to become first-time contributors at any level. Vermont Public Radio formed a partnership during one of its fundraisers to match contributions to the stations with meals for a local food bank.
The result was a sharp increase in givers and revenue. The station worked to retain its new givers by being more proactive and explicit about thanking them for their support, a key to building a lasting relationship with any donor.
These are just a few examples of the focused, giver-driven efforts that made 3MG a success for public radio and the community it serves.
Public radio’s fundraising potential is inextricably linked to the size of its audience. A goal of 3 million annual givers made sense in 2008 when public radio reached 28 million weekly listeners. Now that more than 30.5 million people hear public radio each week its fundraising potential has increased. Continuing to increase public radio’s membership base remains an important goal for all stations and especially for those with the potential for significantly more givers than they reach annually now. DEI’s Benchmarks show that some stations have up to 10 times more givers than others relative to audience.
Stations that are at or close to their potential for givers have a different challenge: improving retention. The most effective tool to retain givers is recurring monthly gifts. “The next goal should be 50% sustainers,” Appleby says. “Every station should have at least 50% of its members giving recurring contributions to increase retention rates, lower costs, provide a dependable year-round revenue stream, and take the pressure off on-air fundraising.”
Pressure? What pressure? Game on!