How WBEZ Made Strategic Changes in Fundraising to Win This Year’s Benchmarks Award

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving

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For a station to reach and sustain its full fundraising potential, it must make smart investments in talent and programming, and create strategic growth in all areas of fundraising. 

That’s what’s been underway at Chicago’s WBEZ over the past five years. And the station’s success as a result has been telling. WBEZ was given this year’s Benchmarks Award, which recognizes sustained revenue growth and overall fundraising and corporate support excellence. From FY15 to FY19, WBEZ’s total gross fundraising revenue increased 61%. Total net fundraising revenue increased 54%, showing the station’s ability to spend its fundraising dollars wisely. 

Increase Share of Listening

While overall listening to broadcast radio is down across the country, WBEZ increased its own share of listening by 13 percent over five years. This was achieved with a disciplined approach toward programming, promotion and positioning. The station revised its program mix to ensure it was more “on the news” each day, and strategically encouraged a daily listening habit on the radio and smart speakers. 

Individual giving can only be as strong as the loyalty of the audience, and the strength of fundraising starts with listening.

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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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Molly Davis’s Top Four Recommendations for Achieving Meteoric Growth With Benchmarks

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management

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Molly Davis says the first year was the hardest. It was also what set her station on a course for unprecedented fundraising growth.

The assistant general manager at 88.5 WFDD in North Carolina has overseen her station's data entry for Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising for the past four years. In order to receive her customized report, Davis was charged with gathering audience, expense, and revenue numbers from several different departments within the organization. Finding the right numbers to enter that first year was, frankly, hard.

The Challenges

WFDD is a university licensee; some of the raw data Davis needed was provided by staff members in campus financial services, who weren’t fully versed in the public radio business model or in the purpose of Benchmarks reports. When she reviewed her station’s past reports, she discovered their data had been entered both incorrectly and inconsistently. A key feature of Benchmarks is the ability to analyze year-over-year performance to highlight areas of opportunity. She began to take detailed notes on how each point of data should be calculated and where it came from (use our handy worksheet for your own notes). This would save anyone coming after her from the confusion she faced; it also vastly simplified her process the following year.

The Roadmap

After completing (and documenting) her data-entry process, Davis received her station’s report. It showed several areas where WFDD could be performing better. Some might have read the results with disappointment. Not Davis.

“We had loads of potential,” she remembers. “I pulled out that report and said here’s where we are. We are leaving money on the table.”

The Payoff

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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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Eight Easy Ways to Finish Year-End Fundraising With a Bang

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership, #GivingTuesday, Year End Giving

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By about mid-October, you should get your year-end giving efforts underway. American donors love giving at the end of the calendar year. Trust the data: 30% of all giving in 2015 occurred in December and of that 11% in the last three days!

Make the most of your year-end opportunities and close the year with champagne, fireworks, and a healthy revenue bump by following these eight steps to success:

1. Make a plan and share it.

Whether you use the latest project management software or the cat calendar tacked above your desk, your campaign success depends on making an integrated communications plan. Decide which elements you want to use, then map out the start date and frequency of those efforts. 

In addition to produced on-air spots, direct mail, and e-appeals, consider adding some of these pieces to your communications mix:

    • Goal trackers
    • Lightbox
    • Live on-air appeals
    • Challenges/matches
    • Special giveaways
    • Homepage takeover
    • Digital ads
    • Street marketing

Share your year-end plan broadly, so that everyone at your station, from traffic to programming to the front desk, feels like he or she is working towards a shared goal.

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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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Growing Your Station's Corporate Support: Increasing Contract Size

sales strategy, Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Corporate Support, underwriting prospect

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In a recent post, we pointed out that a common problem encountered by stations that underperform based on their potential for underwriting revenue was small contract size. This is understandable given that small businesses often consider public radio one go-to place to effectively reach a desirable audience. And we all have those “grandfathered in” businesses that have been loyal supporters who just can’t afford to spend more.

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The State of Underwriting: How to Grow Your Station's Corporate Support

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Corporate Support

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Co-authored by Craig Oliver and Jay Clayton

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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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New Year's Resolutions for Your Membership Team

Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising, Membership

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The new year wouldn't be complete without a few resolutions to kick off the month of January! The membership elves at Greater Public have put these together in hopes that you have a very prosperous 2016.

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