Embrace Sustainers During the COVID-19 Crisis

Membership, COVID-19

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Sustainers are the engine of membership, and now is the time to demonstrate for your sustainers what it really means that you consider them “partners in membership.” During this time of crisis, it’s essential that you bring your sustainers in close so they know how essential they are to all you’re doing to help your community in this moment.


Transparency is at the core of public media values because it builds trust. Carry that value into everything you do during a crisis, especially with sustainers. Consider treating sustainers almost like board members. Reach out regularly to let them know what’s happening at the station. Direct specific asks toward them. Highlight special upcoming programs they’ll want to tune in for from home. Share insights about recent stories, including photos and first-hand accounts from reporters and hosts about what it’s like to operate virtually right now. 

Most importantly, let them know that their support is what makes everything you’re doing right now possible.

Review all existing communication pieces, including acknowledgement letters, declined-card letters, etc. to make sure your tone is appropriate for this moment of crisis. 

Make sure you have a staffing plan for your member services phone and email channels. Don’t let queries pile up if staff aren’t in the building to respond as they usually do.

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The COVID-19 Crisis Is a Time to Pull Major Donors Close

Membership, Major Giving, COVID-19

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I know you keep hearing you should connect to donors now, but during the COVID-19 crisis, public media is needed more now than ever. We are seeing public media audience skyrocket during this crisis. Why? Because people want trusted advice and information.

If there was ever a time for you to personally connect with your major donors, this is it. While some nonprofit leaders have said we should leave donors alone because they are too affected by this crisis, I can tell you first-hand this is not what fundraisers around the country are experiencing. 

What we are hearing from fundraisers is that major donors are grateful that nonprofits are reaching out to them to see how they are doing. Donors are responding to fundraisers via phone, email, text, and video conferencing in numbers never seen before. Why? Because they are now home and have time to actually connect. And, guess what: Donors are giving! Some donors are giving larger gifts, and others are giving more gifts because they want to make a difference. 

As a public media fundraiser, you have a unique opportunity to communicate to donors about what your particular station is doing in this crisis. Part of your station’s mission is about bringing your community together. Now, more than ever, your donors want to know you are putting their gifts to work. 

Here are some suggestions for you to start conversations with them during this crisis.

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The Current Impact of COVID-19 on Underwriting

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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Published March 27, 2020

We’ve been talking to station cohorts to understand the impact of COVID-19 on station underwriting thus far, and to surface the strategies and opportunities that are helping stations stay focused as we all learn how to navigate the new normal. In the spirit of sharing and offering support to all stations, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

State of the State

  • Revenue: Markets where the virus hit early and hard are down as much as 60-65% for March and April. In other markets, where the virus has not yet emerged to the same degree, March is down between 20-30% and April down over 30%. In some cases, end-of-year won’t be as bad, as stations had a strong start to the year. That said, May/June impact are unknown and so end-of-year and FY21 forecasting is a work in progress for most. 

  • Categories: Not surprisingly, underwriting from performing arts and other event- and travel-oriented businesses represent the biggest loss, as well as banks and financial services in some markets. Those markets with a lot of event revenue or retail/restaurant revenue have been hit the hardest, while those markets with more B2B business are faring better. Interestingly, some markets are keeping their nonprofit sponsors and some are losing them rapidly. Those going off the air tend to be nonprofits that were marketing their events; nonprofits messaging their mission have stayed on-air. Other clients staying on-air tend to be law firms, healthcare, and other non-event-related businesses.

  • Digital: Traffic to station websites and digital content is surging.

  • Listenership: Audience numbers are also up on-air, although there is concern about how work-from-home and shelter-in-place orders will affect drive-time listening.
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Serving Your Audience on Social Media in the Time of COVID-19

Membership, Social/Mobile, social media, COVID-19

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COVID-19 has driven record numbers of people out of public spaces and into their homes to work alone on laptops, try home-schooling their kids, or just make it through the day without feeling isolated.

This protective “social distancing” also means many are turning to social media in search of information, inspiration, and connection. And your organization’s outreach on these platforms presents an essential opportunity to serve your audience in new ways. 

Consider these helpful ideas for your social media activity, and share your own ideas back with us in the comments below!

  1. Many news outlets have a live blog with real-time updates about COVID-19 in their coverage area. Consider pinning to your page a tweet and Facebook post pointing to the live blog for users who are seeking you out in this time of need. That way, your latest information on the Coronavirus pandemic will always be on the top of your social pages. If your station uses Instagram, point your link in profile to your live blog.
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Reassuring Your Underwriting Clients During COVID-19

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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As COVID-19 cases continue to spread, this is the time to check in with your underwriters and strengthen your relationships.

Keep in mind that your underwriting contacts may be extremely busy preparing for the full impact of COVID-19 in your area.

Here are some suggestions when you contact them.

Express your concern about how they are doing. 

Ask how the virus is affecting their business or how they might feel if COVID-19 becomes more prevalent in your area. 

Find out what they are doing to reinforce their relationships with their customers. 

Are they having to cancel performances or events, or is it business as usual for now? 

If they are shortening their hours, or if they have products or services that are critical for their customers to have during this time, ask how they are reaching their customers and prospects with that information. Their responses will give you some idea of how to help them.

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Pivot Underwriting Categories as a Result of COVID-19

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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Events and performances are being cancelled across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, it’s time to gather your corporate support team to make a plan to pivot away from performing arts and event sponsorship.

Credit copy that inspires the audience to visit public spaces at this moment sounds wrong at best, and may also be impossible as venues close temporarily or limit operations.

Instead, businesses in the following categories are in an excellent position to strengthen their brands, especially with messages that show corporate social responsibility.

  • Healthcare of any kind
  • Colleges and universities (Consider any that are within 4-6 hours of your station) 
  • K-12 private schools
  •  Nonprofits (Promote their missions and community support)
  • Financial services, credit unions, community banks, financial management
  • Business services, employment services, back-office support, IT support, etc.
  • Luxury retail and jewelry (For example, engagement rings, Mother's Day, graduation gifts and Father's Day)
  •  Automotive (Good fits are usually Subaru, Lexus, Volvo, Mercedes Benz, Lincoln, BMW, and Land Rover)
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Major Giving Strategies During COVID-19

Major Giving, Gift Clubs, COVID-19

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The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 an official pandemic and the ways in which we go about work, life, and interacting with our donors will change in the coming weeks. Now is the time to create and/or assess plans for your major giving program so that your donors feel like partners and you're positioning yourself to maintain major giving revenue. 

Here are four ways that we at Greater Public recommend you move forward.

1. Communicate Now

This time period is absolutely critical. The sooner you communicate your station plans to your donors, the more they will feel like a trusted member of your team. If your portfolio is small enough to send a personal email to each of your donors, choose that option. If you have hundreds or thousands of members in your $1,200 gift club, a group message will suffice.

What should you say? 

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Four Ways You Can Reduce Sponsorship Attrition

Corporate Support

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When was the last time you told your corporate support sponsors how much you appreciate their support? If they only hear from you when you change their credit copy or you want to renew or up-sell them, a new approach will strengthen your relationship and keep them coming back.

Keeping attrition numbers as low as possible is one of the easiest ways to help reach annual corporate support goals. The less revenue you have to replace, the stronger your starting position will be.    

Sponsors want to feel appreciated and as much a part of your station’s community as do other supporters. Account executives are also buoyed by these connections. Expressing gratitude builds morale and reminds us how important everyone is to the success of our stations.

Here are four fun and meaningful ways to say thank you to corporate sponsors:

1. Acknowledge Corporate Sponsors on Pi Day (March 14) 

Milwaukee, Nashville and other markets offer a fun and nerdy shout-out to sponsors on March 14 in honor of Pi Day.

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When to Stop an On-Air Drive Due to Major News

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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On-air fundraising interrupts your core programming, but sometimes your core programming has to interrupt your fundraising. 

The COVID-19 virus spreading across the country is a major news event that can cause stations to pause their on-air drives to bring listeners breaking news and vital information. The need to provide critical information might prompt some stations to move their drives.

Public media is a public service first, and our primary obligation is to deliver that public service to our audience. This is the key tenant to come back to in any discussion about pausing or moving a fund drive.

Your listeners expect you to bring them breaking news and significant events such as press briefings as they happen. To continue fundraising in such moments sends the message that raising money takes precedence over your mission of public service.

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Upselling and Cross-Selling Your Underwriters

underwriting, sales strategy, Corporate Support

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How many of your underwriters also buy sponsorships of your other offerings and opportunities? I’m referring to items such as web ads on your station’s website or e-newsletters, program guides, and/or mobile apps? How many of your current underwriters sponsor your station’s special programming features or events?

If your answer is “not enough of them,” then you’re missing opportunities to generate incremental revenue for your station through upselling or cross-selling.

Upselling means showing the value and encouraging the purchase of a related type of on-air media in addition to your underwriter’s current schedule. For example, an underwriter who is buying a “Run of Schedule” could also be a sponsor of one or more specific on-air programs (i.e. music, news, or public affairs).

Cross-selling is recommending that, in addition to their on-air schedule, your underwriter purchases complementary sponsorships like station events, online marketing opportunities, or other promotions. Taking a multi-media approach that includes various marketing opportunities will bolster your underwriter’s name recognition and top-of-mind awareness as they build upon the recognition they receive from their current buy.

Upselling and cross-selling is necessary to leverage more sales with your existing underwriters. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, both offer distinct benefits and can be effective when used in tandem.

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