October 6, 2017
Discipline: Membership

Becky Chinn photo

For most news stations, and a solid percentage of music stations, significant gains in new donors were achieved in the wake of the 2016 election. An increase in new donors may occur again during future election cycles or as a result of political news. There’s no doubt that unbiased, public-centered, truthful news is an utter necessity today and will continue to be so in the years to come. Likewise, access to the respite and inspiration that music and culture bring to our lives feels particularly potent for our need to re-connect with our shared humanity.

Of course, an influx of new donors is never something to be taken for granted. Now is the time to get to work stewarding your newest members:

  • Welcome your new donors with warm and grateful acknowledgement letters, e-welcome series, and communications designed to ensure that donors feel like insiders and have the chance to get the most out of your services.
  • Engage donors and demonstrating the impact of their support through on-air spots, through highlights of station accomplishments in print and online, and even through opportunities to connect in-person.
  • Thank them more than once with a postcard, a surprise email, a thank-you phone call, or an opportunity to receive a discounted or free offer exclusive to supporters.
  • Convert them to monthly donors through the mail, on the air, and on the phone.

It’s also important to know that, for years, stats on new single-gift donor participation in a second year are not good.

If donors haven’t been converted to sustainers by their one-year anniversary, chances are that more than half of these donors will not return for a second year, leaving your station back at the expensive starting point of filling your membership ranks through more acquisition efforts.

Add to this the fact that the more urgent and crisis-oriented the initial fundraising is (and some public radio fundraising was VERY urgent post-election), the lower the retention tends to be.

That’s why a first year of strong cultivation matters so much.

However, whether your organization was a perfect steward of this initial generosity or not, the next four months are what matter now.

As you move forward to retain as many of these donors as possible, be sure to employ these do and don’t strategies for action to achieve the greatest possible success:

  • Don’t wait until the donor’s anniversary to ask them to renew. Ask for a renewed donation at least three months in advance. Ask in the mail at least once a month, all through and beyond their anniversary date. Ask in email far more often – up to three times a month, including a “your membership expires at midnight” appeal. If you donated to any political, social justice, or environmental cause post-election last year, they’ve likely been asking for your renewed support for several months already. You are in competition with them.

  • Don’t assume that your traditional renewal or anniversary fundraising packages and appeals will work for these donors. With the vast majority of your new donors, there was likely a lot of emotion involved in their first-time donation to your station. A traditional appeal designed to renew longtime, loyal donors will probably not get these new donors back in the frame of mind they were in. You want them to revisit those feelings and to realize that the work they supported last year is still just as necessary.
  • Do create special campaigns and appeal elements designed to remind these donors why they gave in the first place.

  • Do recognize them for the difference they have made over the past year.

  • Do increase the emotion/urgency factor in your appeals and use obvious deadlines.

  • Do remind donors, using powerful examples, that there is work yet to be done.

  • Do speak specifically to your new donors during your on-air campaigns. Most of them were inspired on the air in the first place, so be sure to address them here, and attempt to convert them to sustainers in their second year.

  • Do create deadlines and urgency, and seek opportunities to use special techniques like challenges to secure a second donation.

  • Do make sure your web form, phone volunteers, and answering service are all set up to promote and maximize sustainer participation.

  • Do prepare yourself to get on the phones with a reputable telefundraising firm to reach out directly to new donors who have not renewed either by their anniversary, or in the couple of months after that.

Rapid circumstantial gains in a program are exciting. They present new opportunity and can help an organization grow to new heights of impact. But only if the gains can be retained and built upon.

There is much work to do in the months ahead to help secure an even stronger future for public radio. Onward!

Becky Chinn photo