June 23, 2020
Discipline: Membership

Jay Clayton

In April, Walrus Research published sobering data that revealed significant decreases in listening to NPR news and classical stations during the pandemic. Many times, news listening increases in times of crisis, and you should read both reports for a more complete picture of what’s happening. I will say that the news isn’t all bad. So stay with me here. 

Station listening went down by a lot due to less away-from-home listening. In response, Walrus Research advises stations to “super-serve the core. Ask them to upgrade now.” This recommendation is based on evidence that “dedicated core listeners increased their loyalty” to NPR news stations and “the lost cume consisted primarily of fringe listeners who listen less often.”

Yes. You should ask your core listeners who are already active givers to upgrade. 

Do this with additional one-time gifts or by adding a dollar or two to their monthly contributions. Asking for a modest increase of a dollar or two often gets more response than asking for bigger monthly increases. 

But, upgrading your existing givers should be a key part of a bigger fundraising strategy that: 

  1. Explains why your station is worthy of your listeners’ support right now.
  2. Identifies whom exactly you’re talking to when you ask for support.
  3. Identifies specifically what you are asking them to do.

Why “right now” is critical.

Generic fundraising appeals won’t get you optimal results anytime, and especially won’t during a crisis. While many fringe listeners have gone away, core listeners are listening even more than they were before the outbreak of COVID-19. They’re leaning into the service you’re providing right now, and that’s the most compelling reason for them to support your station right now.

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How should your fundraising super-serve your core? 

Start with some reality checks: 

All of your givers are core listeners, but not all of your core listeners are givers. Yes, you should upgrade your current givers, but you also need to convince more of your core listeners to give when your service is even more important to them than it was before the pandemic. 

Every station can get more givers. Some can get significantly more givers. Greater Public’s Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising includes a metric called “Listener Hours to Get a Giver.” It measures how efficiently stations convert their listening to givers. We compare stations based on a single hour of listening to level the playing field for stations of all different sizes. 

How efficiently could your station convert listening to givers?

PPM 1,505 2,880 8,717 The top station converts listening to givers 1.9 times more efficiently than the median and 5.8 times more efficiently than the bottom station.
DIARY 2,166 5,389 12,729 The top station converts listening to givers 2.5 times more efficiently than the median and 5.9 times more efficiently than the bottom station.

Source: Greater Public 2019 Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising

What does it mean?

PPM stations aren’t necessarily more efficient than diary stations at converting listening to givers. The different efficiencies can be explained by the different ways listening is measured with PPMs and diaries. But the fact that some stations are almost six times more efficient than their peers at converting listening to givers says that many stations could have many more givers. Knowing how efficiently your station converts listening to givers is the first step you need to take to develop the right strategy. We can help figure it for you (contact us).

What to do next?

Develop a message plan for all of your core listeners.

Ask your current givers to upgrade with a dollar or two more each month or an additional single gift. Their increased loyalty tells us this is the time to ask them to give a little more.

Ask your past givers to come back. Specifically, ask them for ongoing monthly contributions of $10 or $15. Why focus on past givers? The odds are in your favor getting another gift from a past contributor over getting support from a new giver. 

Focus on getting more of your core listeners to start making ongoing monthly contributions, as opposed to single gifts, and retain your current monthly contributors. Automatic monthly contributions give your station reliable revenue over time. This is vital any time and especially during the coronavirus pandemic when support from businesses is down significantly at many stations.

Ask core listeners who have never given to consider starting today with ongoing contributions of $10 or $15 a month. It was difficult to get new givers before the pandemic and it might become even harder now that unemployment has reached a level our country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression. This can’t stop us from working hard – maybe harder than ever – to get new givers. Pausing our efforts to acquire donors will only hurt our public service, now and for many years to come. Listener support can be resilient, but it’s impossible to know what our fundraising landscape will look like in six months or a year. You might get fewer new givers now than you did a year ago, but get as many as you can get while you can get them. The long-term health of our fundraising programs will always depend on getting and keeping more givers.

Manage digital buyers and agencies
Jay Clayton