February 8, 2018
Discipline: Membership

Edited by Melanie Coulson

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has caused speculation and anxiety for fundraisers in public media. We want to know what it will all mean for charitable contributions from our donors, especially major donors.

Changes to the standard deduction will mean fewer individuals will itemize charitable contributions. The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has estimated charitable gifts could be reduced overall by $13.1 billion dollars. We also know the doubling of the estate tax exemption could impact giving, estimated at as much as $4 billion dollars per year.

These estimates are sobering. But they are estimates. We simply don’t know how much changes in the tax law will affect public media giving overall.

Here’s what we do know.

Public media provides a service that our donors value and are passionate about. It’s a service that they use, and place high value of personal importance on. Our news and music programming is integral to their lives. We’re more than a tax opportunity. We are vital to them.

So let’s make sure there’s no doubt in their minds! If you haven’t already, now is the time to remind donors that they make a difference. This should be done early and often.

It’s time for some serious stewardship, y’all.

A donor gives to public media because she loves your programming and wants to make a difference. On the day she makes her first gift, she feels great! She’s a part of something bigger; the burden of listening without being a donor is lifted. Those people during the membership drive were right: you DO listen differently as a member.

But then a month goes by, then a few more. The connected feeling ebbs and goes away.

Enter the donor retention plan. If you don’t have one in operation, start one now. Email your (appropriately segmented) donors once a month, or at least bimonthly or quarterly. Give them the information and connection they crave. (We have sample copy and instructions to help.)

Make sure you have a special, detailed stewardship plan for major donors, and get your workflow in place so everyone at your station knows what do do once a major gift or pledge is secured. (These specifics might help).

Your goal is to make every donor feel cared for, valued, and connected. When you do this, donors will have less reason to discontinue their support in 2018.

Tell your story with confidence.

We get to remind people what a difference donors make in creating great public media that makes a difference in our world. The reasons to support what we do are stronger than ever. Tell your audience the story of the value they’re helping to bring to their own lives and to those of other members of your community. Their role of audience support is essential. Don’t doom-and-gloom. Don’t ask donors to replace funding you haven’t lost. Stick with the facts; connect the dots for each supporter between their support and what they hear. (Consider this copy for on-air and in the mail.)

Move your sustainer program to the next level.

You built, it and they came. So what’s next? It’s time to reinvigorate the growth of your sustaining member program. Craft email and letter copy just for them. Tighten up your recapture systems. Implement a strategy to increase sustainers’ monthly gift. Most stations’ sustainer programs have significant room for growth. Take advantage of it! (These detailed recommendations can help you know where to start with your program).

Stay the course. We’re headed somewhere!

Challenges of all kinds will continue to come our way as nonprofit and media organizations; they do seem to be coming at a steadier clip than ever before. What remains steadfast is public media’s commitment to high-quality, informative, and meaningful programs for the American people. Our job as fundraisers is to continue to make the case for audience support and to keep our donors at the center of everything we do. When these strategies succeed, we can weather all kinds of challenges.

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