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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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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Innovative Underwriting Ideas Being Used by Stations During COVID-19

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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Stations and the businesses that support them are moving into a new phase of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are some ideas that are gaining traction for underwriting, as shared in recent Zoom roundtable calls with station cohort groups.

Client Stewardship

  • Conduct short Zoom calls with your top two clients to say thank you. These don’t have to be more than 15 minutes. Ask your GM and the station underwriting rep to join you, and invite the CEO and marketing manager from the client side as well. This is a great vehicle for client stewardship and can keep top clients feeling special and engaged. 

  • Ask your board members to reach out to top clients to thank them for their support. This can be done by phone, email, or Zoom. One station shared that this worked extremely well in the case of one accounting firm. The thank-you call did not involve an ask, and this went a long way for said firm, which had been receiving a lot of extra requests during the pandemic.
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Two Stations Build Community for Parents in a Time of COVID-19

facebook, Social/Mobile, COVID-19

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In the past, staffers at both St. Louis Public Radio and WDET in Detroit had discussed ideas for parent-focused reporting and engagement, but neither station had developed anything definitive. Then the coronavirus pandemic drastically altered lives and routines. Among those most obviously affected: parents. With schools and extracurricular activities canceled indefinitely, parents of all walks found themselves responsible for not just their own daily duties, but also for those previously handled by teachers, caregivers, and coaches. 

Sascha Raiyn, an education reporter at WDET, says it was then that she and her colleagues knew it was the right moment to create content specifically for parents. 

They launched a Facebook group called "Doing Our Best: Parenting in the Age of COVID-19."

“We realized [parents'] lives were changing," she explained. "And there was a way to engage them. Parents' experience with this, their feelings … that was a gap we could fill."

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Building New Revenue Starts With Gratitude

Major Giving, COVID-19

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Your resources - including time - are being simultaneously crunched and stretched. Corporate sponsorship is likely underperforming, membership may be holding steady but the long term is uncertain, your licensee may be reducing support, but your community’s need for your service has never been greater. 

If our industry has ever needed a path to “new” revenue, it needs it now. 

I would maintain that there is substantial revenue hiding in plain sight at most local public media organizations.

Where is it hiding? On your donor list.

Whether you have 5,000 donors or 50,000, whether you’re in a major market or in a smaller community, there are individuals that are currently supporting you with a relatively modest annual gift that have the capacity to give more – in some cases much more.

I have seen analyses of donor lists from dozens of public media organizations prepared by colleagues at Veritus Group, our partners in the Transformational Major Giving Pilot Program and Public Media Major Gift Academy. Every single one of those analyses shows the potential for dramatic growth based on Veritus’s experience with organizations large and small, across nonprofit sectors.

Every single one.

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Strategies to Make the Most of Working From Home

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, COVID-19

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One benefit of work-from-home is that my car is getting three weeks to the gallon.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a number of public radio underwriting sales staff who were already working from home (WFH), often because their station’s reach covered a sizable geographic area or their entire state. Those salespeople live in various parts of their coverage area in order to be able to call on and visit with underwriting prospects and clients.

And then it happened. WFH. Everyone.

In these [pick one: challenging, crazy, terrible, unprecedented] times, stations’ underwriting salespeople packed up their files and list of accounts to work from home as states implemented stay-at-home orders that shuttered businesses and helped isolate those who have the virus to prevent it from spreading. 

The show must go on.

As we soon learned, the mandatory WFH situation that many of us found ourselves in is not ideal. Schools closed and kids had to be home-schooled. Restless pets were wondering why their human owners were not leaving the house. With everyone home, some home Internet connections were being taxed due to the increased use by multiple family members. Accessing the station’s network remotely from home had its problems. For most of us, these new situations only added to existing work challenges.

With the “interim or new-norm” of WFH it can be difficult to remain motivated through all of the uncertainty. So what are some of the things we’ve learned to motivate us and keep us productive while working from home?

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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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The Current Impact of COVID-19 on Underwriting, Part 3

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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Cities and towns across the country are beginning to open back up, and we are entering a new phase of COVID-19 recovery, to varying degrees. For public media underwriting, this next phase brings evolving market factors - and opportunities - to which sales teams must adjust. Here’s a quick update on what Greater Public is hearing from station sales professionals across the country as they continue efforts to sustain sponsorship revenue in the months to come.

Business Categories

  • Home Services: stations are seeing some uptick in categories like home improvement, landscaping, gardening and specialty services (i.e. gutters, lawn treatment), given the attention consumers are now giving to home and garden as they spend more time at home.
  • Professional Services: with many companies now supporting a virtual workforce, cyber security firms are emerging as prospects.
  • Political: regardless of economic recovery scenarios, many agree that political advertising is coming back, and likely in a big way given the current climate and the limited in-person campaigning taking place. As it does in any other presidential election year, this will put pressure on commercial inventory in ways that can play in our favor. Public media may be able to leverage traditional advertisers getting bumped from commercial stations, or those wanting to escape the political clutter, to help make up some lost revenue. (Also, consider this refresher about underwriting with candidates, campaigns and PACs.)
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How to Use Your Airwaves to Support Other Nonprofits Legally and Responsibly

Membership, FCC, pledge drive, COVID-19

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt lives and the economy, many stations are extending their service to the community through collaborative fundraising for relief efforts. This might include supporting a food bank or local disaster relief. These efforts promote the wellbeing of the community and allow donors to make a deeper impact with their financial contributions by supporting two nonprofit organizations at one time. Take care, though, because there are FCC regulations that govern public media third-party fundraising. Here’s what you should keep in mind.

If you’re planning on holding an on-air drive in support of another nonprofit, you will need to request a waiver from the FCC. Typically stations work with their attorney specializing in FCC law to submit the official request in writing or by email. 

You don't need a waiver, though, if you are a non-commercial station not receiving CPB funds, and you are not an affiliate of NPR. There are still limitations, mainly that third party nonprofit fundraising appeals that interrupt regular programming can only comprise up to 1% of your total airtime in a year (about 88 hours).

Whether or not you need a waiver, the rules require on-air disclosures at the beginning and end of any fundraising appeal in which the station tells its audience that the money is going to a third-party nonprofit organization, not to the station. For longer programs, the same announcement must also be made at least once during each hour of the program.

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Station Results From the May 5 #GivingTuesdayNow Event

Membership, pledge drive, #GivingTuesday, COVID-19

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Facing a disrupted spring fundraising season, many public media stations around the country participated in the May 5 special international campaign organized by GivingTuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: #GivingTuesdayNow. In a survey of Greater Public member stations, we found that 86% of them participated in the event. Most of the 14% who did not participate didn’t believe the day fit their strategy.

The setting for the day was anything but promising: stations were shifting or cancelling on-air drives, personnel were scattered by work-from-home rules, and audience members were reeling from a relentless daily flow of news about the devastating health and economic consequences of a pandemic. But the special campaign was driven by three elements: 

  1. A near-universal sense of shared purpose
  2. A deep gratitude for the work of community groups including public media
  3. A desire to take some sort of action in response to the helplessness felt by so many stuck at home

The number of stations reporting strong results on May 5 far exceeded the number of those that did not, and a scan of some examples paints a picture of how to succeed in fundraising in the middle of the biggest disruption the nation has faced since the last world war.

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