Jay Clayton

Greater Public On-Air Fundraising Advisor

Recent Posts

The Need for Sustainers Is Bigger Than You Think

sustainers, Membership

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NPR News stations have a fundraising opportunity they’ve never had before and might never have again: the opportunity is to turn significantly more listeners into sustaining givers. Why now? On March 11th, David Giovannoni, President of Audigraphics, Inc. and longtime public radio researcher, wrote in Current that “The events of the last 10 months have accelerated longstanding trends in listeners’ relationships with their NPR News stations. Today listeners to NPR News stations rely more on these stations than ever. The programming is more important to them than ever.” 

Audience 98 showed us that listening causes giving. But listeners give only when they become core listeners, and even then it can take up to a decade (or more) for a listener to become a giver. It’s clear that the time to translate increased loyalty into sustaining giving is now. 

Seizing upon increased loyalty to create more sustainers isn’t just something we can do, it’s something we must do. The revenue stability we can create from increasing sustainers will be a necessity as we grapple with changing listening habits and a greater-than-ever imperative to build new audiences.

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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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What You Need to Learn From Your Own Fundraising History

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership, COVID-19

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In our recent examination of data from 47 stations that participated in our Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising surveys every year between 2008 and 2013, the first few years of the last recession, we saw that stations’ membership revenue grew by 32% during that time. 

That number – 32% – is encouraging, but it’s also limiting. It tells us what happened to our group of 47 stations as a whole, but a closer look at their individual fundraising histories tells us a different story or, in fact, several different stories. 

Only seven of these stations grew at an overall rate within five percentage points above or below the average for the group. In other words, the average doesn’t tell us enough about what actually happened at most of the stations in our sample. 

One station’s membership and mid-level giving revenue grew 109% while another station’s revenue decreased by 37%. These are the outliers in the group, but they have company. Eight of the stations saw a decline in their membership and mid-level revenue while seven stations experienced increases of at least 54%.

There are two important takeaways here:

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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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How to Use Air Checks to Make Each Drive Better Than the Last

PMDMC, Membership, pledge drive

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When we surveyed stations last year about their on-air fundraising practices only 30% said they used air checks from on-air drives. Programmers use air checks to review and improve everything else on your station. Since fundraising is programming, we should use air checks to make drives better too. 

Air checks are the best way to experience your membership drive the way a listener does, which is exactly what you need to do to create a listener-focused pledge drive. Air checks are the best tool we have to make our drives sound better (keeping listeners with us) and perform better (turning listening into more givers and revenue).

When you do listen to air checks, here are some good ideas about when and how to listen, and how to use what you hear to improve the sound - and fundraising effectiveness - of your drive.

1. Listen to air checks after every drive.

And don't wait too long to do it! It's best to listen soon after the drive so the experience is still fresh in everyone's minds.

Don't look for your best or the worst pitch-breaks. Instead, find a handful of typical examples of how your drive sounded. This is what your typical listener heard.

And, of course, listen to the same air checks again right before your next drive to reinforce what you're aiming to improve.

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How to Use Your Station’s Fundraising Data to Create a More Accurate Annual Budget

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership, budgeting

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by Craig Oliver and Jay Clayton

Your budget for the coming fiscal year is only as reliable as the predictions that inform it. When you bolster those predictions with data, you can be more certain you’ll reach the goals outlined in your budget.

Greater Public's Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising assesses your station’s potential performance in all areas of fundraising using your station’s own fundraising data alongside that of other stations.

This comparison is effective because it examines net revenue relative to audience (annual listener hours). Benchmarks focuses on net revenue because these are the dollars stations invest in creating public service. Benchmarks reveals the growth potential of participating stations.

Greater Public's Benchmarks compares stations' fundraising performance to the median, which is the number in the middle or the performance midpoint (50 percent of the stations perform better and 50 percent do not). The report also shows the 90th percentile or top ten percent of performers. These are taken from peer reports, which include all key metrics measured for all formats, market sizes, and revenue categories.

To put your Benchmarks report to work in your budgeting process, first determine where your station is compared with the median. If you are behind the median, your goal should be to reach the median. If you are ahead of the median, you may still have room for growth.

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The Healthy Station's Secret to Getting More Donors

Membership, pledge drive

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What’s the most effective way to get more donors? This is among the questions we at Greater Public hear most frequently from our colleagues in membership. And they’re right to ask.

Increasing the number of people who actively give money is the most reliable path to building and sustaining public radio’s financial health over time.

While some stations have had great success strengthening their membership core with sustainers, sustainers aren’t immune to attrition. The pressure on membership as a revenue source continues to increase, and would increase significantly if public media were to face cuts in federal funding. And, simply put, there are so many members who have the potential to give! Why leave them without the opportunity to connect to the content they love?

So how do we get more donors?

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How One Station Created Its Own Sustainer Revolution in Five Steps

sustainers, Membership

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…And How Your Station Can Do the Same

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising show us there's a gap between larger and smaller stations when it comes to the conversation of donors to sustainers. In fact, the percentage of sustainers varies widely even among bigger stations.

Wait. Sustainers aren’t free. So why are they so essential?

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The Potential for Growth Among Public Radio’s Major Giving Programs

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Major Giving

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co-authored by Jay Clayton and Craig Oliver

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The Imbalanced State of Public Radio's Sustainers Programs

sustainers, Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership, pledge drive, small stations

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Co-authored by Craig Oliver

This is the first in a series of three articles in which we will share and provide analysis of critical findings from Greater Public’s 2015 Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, the annual survey that quantifies stations’ fundraising performance and revenue potential relative to listening. The 2015 survey included 97 stations that represent 49% of all public radio listening.

Sustainers, or monthly givers, are the biggest game-changer in public radio membership fundraising this century. But after investing a decade of research, toolkits, packed conference sessions, and consultants-turned-sustainer-evangelists, our industry has discovered a picture of imbalance among public radio’s sustainer programs.

All but four of the 97 stations in the 2015 Greater Public Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising report that they have a sustainer program. While virtually everyone is in the game, some are faring far better than others.

Of the 93 benchmarks stations with sustainer programs, only 12 have converted at least half of their annual givers to monthly contributors and only 29 stations have converted more than 40 percent of their givers to sustainers.


But, this relatively small penetration doesn’t tell the whole story.

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