NHPR Earns Top Honor for Reaching Major Growth in Benchmarks

sustainers, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, Benchmarks

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Winning the 2020 Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising Award is no easy feat, yet NHPR did just that with a little grit and plenty of perseverance. The big takeaway? Pay close attention to Benchmarks and you, too, could win the coveted honor next year.

Benchmarks are an annual data collection methodology that Greater Public compiles, measuring each participating stations’ fundraising performance and potential, both overall and in each individual fundraising area. According to Greater Public, this is the most purposeful way to measure stations’ fundraising effectiveness and efficiency.

In 2017, NHPR brought in Deb Turner as its development director, with proven experience in building both major gifts and membership programs--and a strong believer in Benchmarks. 

Turner immediately went to work tracking Benchmarks. It helped her determine where the gaps were, including areas in which NHPR hadn’t been performing well, particularly in the areas of major gifts and sustainers. 

“We knew we were underperforming,” observes Turner. “Using the Benchmark tool, we were able to identify what to prioritize and invest in.”

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Five Ways to Increase Sponsorship Call-ins and Leads

Corporate Support, digital sponsorship, sales process, sales prospecting, value proposition

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There is nothing like having the phone ring or receiving an email from a prospect who wants information about how they can become a station sponsor. Call-ins and leads represent companies or organizations that are already interested in buying sponsorship. These leads are “sweet” for sponsorship representatives because they know they have a much greater chance of closing.

Before I give you the list, I want to give a “shout out” to the Middle Market Underwriting Group that I have the pleasure of working with, who shared some of the ways that they are increasing sponsorship call-ins and leads. It’s important to remember how many touches it takes (more than eight) to educate and start building a relationship with a potential sponsor. 

Marketing to prospective sponsors is important and supports the work of your sponsorship representatives. It reinforces your brand and value. You can harness the power and reach of your broadcast and email lists to educate listeners on your unique value proposition and how easy it is to become a sponsor.

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Authentic Representation Through On-Air Fundraising

Membership, email, on-air drives, engagement

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“If you can see it, you can be it.” 
– Elizabeth Marvel

I met Jamie Green, Multi-Platform Senior Producer at Public Broadcasting Atlanta, at an on-air fundraising conference in 2018. While we connected on strategy and being from similar markets, it was also noticeable that there weren’t many people in attendance who were African American or Latinx. Jamie and I shared our dreams for a future in public media where diversity, equity, and inclusion would be embedded in all fundraising efforts for the entire system. In the time since, we’ve both worked to make that vision a reality at our respective stations. We now find ourselves with an opportunity to share our stations’ DEI fundraising efforts, and, more importantly, with a public media system that is receptive to learning and committed to growing.  

Authentic representation and building diverse community connections is important for all stations, regardless of the market. It is even more essential in the Greater Houston area, where I serve as Director of Membership and Donor Services at Houston Public Media. Houston has been named the most diverse city in America, and based on demographic studies, we can see that our youth is predominantly BIPOC.

It’s not uncommon to hear public media professionals expressing concerns about alienating their current audience with DEI-heavy fundraising. The key takeaway for all stations is if your content and messaging is not reflecting the diverse voices in your community, you’re not going to be prepared for the future.

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The Time to Prioritize Digital Revenues and Engagement Is Now

Membership, email, online giving, donor acknowledgement

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At Greater Public, we connect individuals who are working on similar problems at different organizations within the public media system. We believe that when these folks share support and knowledge, we all gain insights about our industry as a whole because the challenges we face are rarely unique.

By applying this philosophy to research and testing of digital fundraising, we’ve concluded that public media’s digital fundraising practices need urgent attention and prioritization.

This discovery was confirmed by two groups of Greater Public members who began testing digital engagement this spring. One group focused on online donation forms and the other on email engagement. Both groups worked with advanced practitioners to guide their tests.

As the project progressed, we noticed a striking divide between the teams that were able to quickly implement new ideas and best practices with their online donation forms, and those that weren’t. While station size and limited team capacity can present challenges, size and resources weren’t the only predictors of which stations missed out on fundamental opportunities to raise more revenue online.

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KALW and KUT Leaders Speak About Guiding Stations in a Moment of Change

leadership, diversity & inclusion, COVID-19

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As organizations wrestle with the question of whether or when to return to in-person workspaces, public media leaders are aware of the seismic changes that have taken place since their teams filed out of buildings in March, 2020. Some employees have endured great hardship and loss. Many have altered perspectives on work-life balance. There may not be consensus about what constitutes a safe return. And our nation’s wider public consciousness about race and racism demands our attention. 

We spoke with two system leaders, Tina Pamintuan, general manager of KALW in San Francisco, and Debbie Hiott, general manager of KUT Public Media in Austin, Texas to learn about their approach to leadership at this moment in time. 

Greater Public: Have you settled on plans to return to in-person workspaces?

Tina Pamintuan: After we sheltered in place for much of 2020 and into 2021, we put out a survey to understand what was positive about working from home and what had been hard. We’re developing a plan from that feedback. We will likely return to work with a hybrid situation because we know that people do want to see each other, and being in the same space makes a difference. 

We want to accommodate people’s comfort about returning; they want to know that the other people in their workspace are vaccinated [for COVID-19]. We will require that volunteers and staff be vaccinated, but there are conflicting opinions about how to work with interview guests.

We are also going through intense cultural change right now which has its very real challenges, especially when working remote. Still, in many ways, we have a happy workplace, where people celebrate each other’s successes. Spontaneous dance parties occasionally break out—even on Zoom. Our newsroom has a barbeque that is well-used when we are on-site. 

Debbie Hiott: We made plans to come back in September, and then pushed that back. Then our [affiliate] university required that we come back by September 16, which we have been able to change to October 1. We’re part of a state agency and our [state] government doesn’t want things shut down. Legislation was passed in Texas that forbids us from asking about people’s vaccine status and we can’t require mask-wearing. Our university went to a flex work system, which is something I’d been wanting to do at KUT even before the pandemic, in part because our content floor is bursting at the seams. Both our music and news teams have experienced a lot of growth over the past five years. 

Flex work allows for people to coordinate working outside of the office on some days, so we’re setting up hoteling desks and the team is excited about having that flexibility. I think [whether or not we return fully in-person] is a business continuity issue. The Delta variant has shown us how precarious things can be. I’m [at the station] a few days a week and about 50% of students [at affiliate University of Texas at Austin] are wearing masks. The vaccination rate in our county is about 67%, but that doesn’t capture the rate among students who come from other areas in Texas whose rates can be lower than 50%. We try to stress to our university that we need to protect our on-air staff. Even though they’re vaccinated, illness could take them away from their jobs for days.

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How Public Media Can Create Equitable and Inclusive Content & Marketing

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, diversity & inclusion

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What does equity in media look like?
Are the materials we publish reinforcing or subverting stereotypes? 
How can I make sure I’m considering all identities? 

These are just some of the questions folks in public media have asked me since my original blog post on Whiteness in public media and my keynote presentation for PMDMC 2020. And it’s why I wrote my first book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives (Sept. 7, 20201, Berrett-Koehler, www.TheEquityBook.com). 

As I write in Equity, if bias is the thumbprint of culture on the brain, then media are the inkpad. Media are more than news and entertainment programs; they’re all the content we consume, from marketing and advertising to PR stunts and blog posts. And media are exceptionally powerful. 

As media scholar Christopher Bell explains in his 2015 TEDx talk,

In media studies, we spend a lot of time saying that media can’t tell us what to think, and they can’t; they’re terrible at that. But that’s not their job. Media don’t tell us what to think. Media tell us what to think about [emphasis added]. They control the conversation, and in controlling the conversation, they don’t have to get you to think what they want you to think. They’ll just get you thinking about the things they want you to think about, and more importantly, not thinking about things they don’t want you to think about. They control the conversation.

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Effective Ways to Educate Clients About the Reality of Radio Listenership

sales strategy, Corporate Support

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Many stations have seen a surge in digital traffic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And many agree that digital sponsorship revenue is likely to further increase as the work-from-home phenomenon and other consumer and marketing shifts continue into 2022 and beyond. Much about this has been great news for public media, both because it has helped to fill some of the void left by broadcast revenue loss in the past 18 months, and because it has helped stations get their backend and digital inventory operations in order to grow audience and sponsor engagement across digital platforms. 

But this excitement about digital has also generated marketplace misperceptions about radio that many sales teams are working to overcome.

Perception vs. Reality

Many marketers and media buyers continue to think that the audience attrition felt at the beginning of the pandemic continues, and that radio listenership is essentially dead. 

In reality though, radio has the biggest share of listening time compared to streaming, podcasts, and other audio listening; many public media stations are within 10% of their pre-COVID audience numbers.

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How You Can Build a Diverse Donor Base Through On-Air Fundraising

Membership, pledge drive, diversity & inclusion

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“As people of color become majorities in communities across America, successful nonprofit organizations will need to have a diverse donor base to sustain and grow their operations.” 

- Dr. Emmett Carson, Silicon Valley Foundation

“According to a recent report by Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, Diversity in Giving, nearly three-fourths of donors today are non-Hispanic whites, despite the fact that whites make up only 64 percent of the population. The underrepresentation of multicultural donors suggests that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities. For instance, African-American and Hispanic donors say they are solicited less frequently. Furthermore, they suggest they would give more if they were asked more often.”

- Tarsha Whitaker Calloway, nonprofitpro.com

Engaging a more diverse community of donors is key to fully realizing the potential of public media fundraising. However, many stations are at a loss when it comes to proven fundraising strategy to attract and retain a diverse group of donors – especially when it comes to on-air fundraising.

Here’s some good news! The fundraising leaders at Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) are finding success with the following innovative, culturally-savvy strategies that leverage core programming, unconventional thank-you gifts, and dynamic special events to attract and retain new, diverse donors and strengthen community connections. 

First, get uncomfortable.

Talking about race and structural racism at work can feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s okay. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a good thing because these conversations are the necessary starting point for us to move forward, to learn from one another, and to find solutions together. 

Build DEI into your DNA.

Atlanta is one of the most diverse metro areas in the United States. At Public Broadcasting Atlanta, the diversity of our listening audience and our viewing audience is in fact identical to metro Atlanta’s racial diversity by percentage. We have worked hard to achieve that audience diversity and are working to maintain audience representation. But like most American cities that are very racially diverse, Atlanta is also very segregated. We live in the second most segregated American city after Chicago. Through our programming, community engagement efforts, and our fundraising strategy, our intention is to foster a sense of community, despite the segregation that exists in our city. To do that, we’re always working to be an organization that reflects the audiences we serve. As our President and CEO Jennifer Dorian puts it, “DEI is in our DNA,” – diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of the work we do across the station.

Start with data.

We've all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” Our fundraising strategy starts with setting key metrics: How much money we aim to raise, how many new donors we intend to attract, how many of those donors should be sustainers, and so forth. Another part of the strategy involves asking questions about the composition of the membership file and it reflection of the diversity of our city: 

  • What are the demographics of our listeners and viewers? Does it match the diversity of the city?
  • Does our membership file reflect the diversity of the listening and viewing audience?
  • Is there a population that is growing in size and influence, that we may be overlooking?
  • Are we programming to a diverse audience and are we really asking all of our listeners to give?
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The Five Best Sponsorship Business Categories to Work Right Now

sales strategy, Corporate Support, prospecting

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It’s exciting to see performing arts come back, events being scheduled, and the return of concerts and festivals of all kinds. We’re all hungry to go out again.

But, wait, let’s not forget what lesson we learned in sponsorship from the absence of all our beloved performing arts during the pandemic. It’s important to always, always keep a vital list of sponsorship accounts across a range of business categories including healthcare, professional services, local and state government, financial services, colleges and universities, senior living, and retail.

If you took time during the  pandemic to prospect every other business category while performing arts were dormant, good for you! You may have made progress and brought in some new sponsorship business. So don’t stop now. Welcome back your performing arts friends and clients, while still focusing on the addition of new business in other categories to your account list.

Recently the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) presented a “Radio Works for Recruitment Advertising” webinar that focused on the future of the job market. The RAB shared Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the American Staffing Association (ASA) which identified the top five sectors for wage and salary jobs through 2029.

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WBEZ Takes Chance on Sustainer-Focused Digital Campaign and Wins

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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After its spring 2021 pledge drive, Chicago’s WBEZ-FM realized it had a problem. Although the station was making its goal for one-time donations, it was missing the mark for sustainer memberships, a factor that could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revenue from sustainers is critical. At WBEZ, it accounts for more than $7 million of its $13 million annual membership budget, representing more than 60% of its donor base. Amy Wielunski, vice president for WBEZ Membership, could see that a sustainer downturn was starting to persist over time, something the station could not afford to ignore. 

“During the pandemic, we noted that pledge drives were effective in generating one-time donations,” says Wielunski. “We were meeting our budgetary goals for our drives, but were falling short in the number of sustainers per pledge drive. We knew we had to do something about it.”

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