What We Learned From Making Secret Online Donations to Public Media Organizations

Membership, email, online giving

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The disruption in listening and giving habits during the pandemic have made public media online giving and engagement mission-critical.

We know that the online giving experience that we create for donors directly affects the number of completed donations, size of gift, and the decision to give again.

In order to help public media organizations raise more revenue online, our colleagues at NextAfter Institute for Online Fundraising made online donations to 69 public media stations of different sizes across the country, and then observed online interactions for the 45 days that followed. 

There were many interesting findings and stats. We organized them into a “scorecard” that also offers concrete and essential ways every public media organization can improve the online giving process in order to raise more money online.

Here are the most important findings that all stations can act upon:

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Three Ways to Stop Sabotaging Your Own Growth

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership

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Professional development is something we know is important, but very few managers and leaders give it the time, resources, and prioritization that it needs. Of course, you can also choose what value to place on your own career development. If you’re looking to regain your momentum and start growing faster, here are a few traps to avoid: 

1. Stop Thinking You Don’t Have Time to Learn.

You’re busy, I get it. But why is it that some busy people can make time to grow in their jobs and others can’t? Your manager’s attitude and company culture play a role, sure, but I think an even bigger contributor is the belief that professional development is somehow an “extra” that needs to happen when your other work is done

Take this very concrete example: A public radio membership director spends two hours per week doing a complicated multi-step process to prepare data from a payments system to import it into a CRM. She knows that if she were to design a template to do this, she could probably reduce that time to 15 minutes. She also knows that if she knew how to build this template, she could build others that would save her time on other tasks. And, she could teach this skill to other people in her department so they could be more efficient. “One day, when I have time,” she says. 

The bottom line is that you will never not be busy. The only way to “make time” to learn and grow is to stop thinking of it as something you do separately from your day-to-day work.

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Are You Mis-Applying Membership Tactics to Your Major Giving Program?

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, Gift Clubs

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In public media individual giving, membership is king. It’s where we’ve had the most success. In fact, we’re kind of famous among nonprofits for how good we are at getting large numbers of donors to give small amounts. And that is something to be proud of.

If you work in public media major giving, you also know that our successes in membership can sometimes affect how we think about other areas of giving. 

Perhaps you’ve experienced one or more of the following:

  • Donors move into a major giving portfolio based only on a gift level instead of on a qualifying process.
  • There is a significant percentage of donors in your portfolio whom you don’t know well at all.
  • You don’t have a plan for each donor in your portfolio.
  • Your organization does not have projects defined that can be matched to donor interests.

Nearly all public media organizations are fluent in membership. But when public media fundraisers take the tactics that made membership wildly successful and mis-apply them to major giving, it results in low major giving revenue and frustrated major giving officers.

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Corporate Support Prospecting During the Pandemic

Corporate Support, prospecting, COVID-19

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Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve gotten used to social distancing and the alternate ways in which we now must communicate with new underwriting prospects: Zoom meetings, emails, and e-newsletters. The challenge is to stand out from all of the other media salespeople in your market who also are working to get the attention of the business owners and decision-makers that you’re pursuing.

When you need to get close while keeping your distance, here are ideas to establish and maintain connections and relevance while attracting new prospects.

Review what you’re currently doing.

What underwriting information are you sending to your prospects and how often are you reaching out to them? Position yourself and become a resource to your prospects. If you think you’re going overboard in your mailed or emailed communications, think about making your website’s underwriting pages the place for news, updates, and tips about underwriting, promotions, marketing, and advertising. Some businesses and prospects are knee-deep in alligators, so to speak, and don’t have the luxury of time. They may not have an annual plan right now. They’re doing what they need to do today. Make sure you provide them with information that can help them meet their challenges. All it takes is having one of your ideas or suggestions turn into a success for the prospect and you’ll have made a huge step forward in cultivating your relationship.

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Navigating Power and Privilege in Public Media

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

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The city where I grew up – San Antonio, Texas – was majority Latinx, but by no means unsegregated. The East Side was predominantly poor and Black, and much of the South and West Sides were poor and Brown. If you were an upwardly-mobile POC, you moved to the city’s whiter, more affluent northern suburbs. That’s where my assimilated, single mom – originally from the West Side – raised me, with help from her Mexican immigrant parents and, eventually, my SoCal Chicano stepdad. 

As a white-presenting mestiza (raised in white suburbs, no less) I am, in the words of Leslie Arreoloa-Hillenbrand, “both colonized and colonizer.” To be white-presenting is to live a duality: to both benefit directly from racism and be privy to the psychic pain it inflicts. It’s an eternally uneasy place to live.

When I was 31, I moved to Minnesota, and it was nothing short of culture shock. Exposed to people and cultures with which I’d had no prior experience – Somali, Hmong, Ecuadorian, Ojibway, Dakota – Minneapolis made me realize how diverse San Antonio actually wasn’t. New to me was the experience of feeling my whiteness so blaringly. 

Shortly after arriving, I landed my first job in public media as an administrative assistant at Minnesota Public Radio. At the time, I was one of very few ethnic minorities or people of color at MPR. There were a few – I bonded early with another Tejano colleague, a fellow Black assistant who eventually rose in MPR’s ranks, and a rotating-door of Latinx journalism fellows – but there weren’t many. At one point in my ten-year tenure, despite Minnesota being home to the largest Somali population in the U.S., the only Somali in the building was on the janitorial staff. New to me was the experience of feeling like the only minority for miles.

Minneapolis was also the first time I’d witnessed acute segregation. Months in, I learned that the city’s predominantly Black North Side was a kind of island, when three consecutive taxis refused to drive us to a friend’s house there. I knew San Antonio’s East Side suffered grave inequities, but I’d never heard it spoken of as if it were some dangerous other country. 

To be clear, racism and the inequities it creates are global; Minneapolis is not unique. But, for me, my ten years spent in the Twin Cities was eye-opening and oftentimes uncomfortable, even with the protections my whiteness afforded me. There were things I loved about the place, too, which made leaving – when I took a job in Texas – feel like the end of a failed marriage. On my last ride to the airport, I watched the buildings of downtown Minneapolis shrink in the car’s rear window and thought: Welp, we tried.

Last month, I sat in the safety of my Austin living room, phone in hand, watching video footage of a gas station burning two short blocks from my last apartment in Minneapolis. I felt a lot of things – sadness, anger, worry – but surprise wasn’t one of them.

* * *

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Five Steps to Creating Content Your Audience Actually Appreciates

Membership, Social/Mobile, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing

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Have you ever wondered how we bring you the insightful commentary and research you read on EDGE? The EDGE blog you trust doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of an ecosystem of content created by Greater Public, a nonprofit that serves the professional development of public media fundraisers. 

Creating quality content that people actually want can feel exhausting sometimes, especially when fundraising is your primary objective. Producing the very best blog on public media fundraising is possible thanks to our strong process for vetting, selecting, editing, and publishing content.

To help you streamline your work process and create better content for your members, we want to share the content creation process developed by our senior manager for content and projects, Ellen Guettler. These tips could help you increase engagement and warm feelings for your organization. 

  1. Figure out a problem that’s relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach.

    The easiest trap for any content producer to fall into is focusing on what you want or think is best, instead of focusing on your intended audience. Understand whom you’re trying to reach. Imagine how their day plays out, the obstacles they’re encountering, what’s slowing them down or keeping them from what they want. Content that doesn’t help people is just an ad, which can lose your audience’s attention very quickly.
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Four Big Reasons Public Media Sponsorship Executives Should Use Social Selling

linkedin, Corporate Support, social media

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According to LinkedIn, the B2B social network, “Social selling is about leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals.”

Sounds good, but does it work?

Here’s how four public media account executives from across the country successfully use LinkedIn to bring in revenue and contribute to their stations’ success.


Amanda Harris, national account executive at WAMU, D.C.’s NPR news station, has been on LinkedIn since 2009 and often uses it to find leads. “I will look at organizations I’m interested in and see if I have any connections,” she says. With 1,200 connections on the social network, she just may.

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Strategies to Generate Major Donor Thank-Yous When Times Are Hard

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, Gift Clubs, COVID-19

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As the country navigates the economic effects of massive unemployment, the health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, and calls for change due to systematic inequality, the public media system continues its essential public service for audiences and donors who are affected by this complex and historic moment.

Donors have been extraordinarily generous since the beginning of the pandemic response in March and there are no signs of that slowing down. Organizations are seeing gift-club ($1000 - $5000) donors give earlier and bigger gifts than expected and we are having more substantial conversations with major gift prospects in cultivation.  

This is all wonderful news. Where we have started to let donors down is in the back-end process now that we are no longer working collaboratively in an office environment. Many organizations struggle to send timely and personal thank-you letters to donors under normal circumstances. The pressures of all these joint crises together have made that process break down even further. 

There seem to be three main reasons that this type of stewardship has stumbled. 

  1. Gift officers are extra busy and all aspects of their work is harder during lockdowns.
  2. It’s easy to feel stuck creatively and not know what to say.
  3. We may fear the donor won’t appreciate the note.
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How Grove CMS Features Address the Growing Importance of Digital Sponsorship

Corporate Support, digital sponsorship

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Grove CMS expertise provided by Tutuwa Ahwoi, Director, Spot Sales Operations, National Public Media.

It’s more important than ever for stations to leverage increasing website and streaming impressions to capture as much digital sponsorship revenue as possible. Listening behaviors are changing and station sponsorship revenue depends on additional digital revenue. Jacobs Media recently reported that “With more Americans working remotely and the number of functioning AM/FM receivers in households slowly shrinking, digital delivery of broadcast content has never been more important.” 

Data Behind the Growth of Digital

The IAB recently released the COVID Impact on Consumer Media Usage Report demonstrating the importance of digital. The report showed that consumers spent 14% more time online during the time period of March-April 2020 versus the same time period in 2019. In fact, by March 31 of this year a whopping 87% of consumers reported increased media consumption compared to pre-pandemic; 23% are listening to more radio and 13% are podcasting more. A majority of users in each medium - television, radio, and podcasting - report they’ll increase consuming more on different formats. Smart-speaker growth was up 10% in 2019; mobile phone use is also way up and will continue to be so with many working from home. It goes without saying that having a 320 x 50 and/or 300 x 250 mobile digital ad is more important now than ever.

A handful of stations have been beta-testing NPR’s new Grove Content Management System (CMS) over the last six months. Grove CMS will replace Core Publisher for station websites and is designed to make website content management easier to manage, more flexible, and dynamic. If you are - or are considering - migrating to Grove, here are the ways in which the new system supports the growing importance of digital sponsorship.

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Membership Strategies in Response to Decreased Listening During COVID-19

Membership, COVID-19

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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.
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