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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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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Staying Donor-Centered in a Time of Upheaval

Membership, direct mail, email, COVID

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In the last few weeks, each of us has made a complete pivot in all aspects of our lives. In our work, that dramatic shift has upended the even the most detailed annual donor plans, requiring that everyone (including us at Greater Public!) rethink and rewrite scripts, letters, and acknowledgement copy. 

What we must not forget is to keep donors front and center in all these adjustments. It can be easy to drift inward and focus on what we need. But when we focus on donors, the framework is always “what you make possible.”

In workshops, I often tell attendees to take off their development hats, and put on their donor hats. Then I ask the following questions: Who are the donors? What do they care about? Why do they use (listen/read/view) this particular station? I invite you to recreate this exercise with your team, adding “In the face of this pandemic…..”

There are three main principles to remember in order to keep copy donor-centered:

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What the Latest Data Tells Us About Calendar-Year-End Giving

Membership, calendar year-end, email

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Original data presented by Karen Hopper, senior data strategist, M+R.

Each year, the online marketing and PR group M+R conducts Benchmarks, a study of 154 nonprofits focused on their online strategy and performance. This year's findings about calendar-year-end giving were particularly illuminating. 

First, M + R wanted to know how much December giving would fluctuate from 2016 to 2017, since many organizations experienced a significant bump in year-end giving revenue after the 2016 election.

For the 22 organizations for which M+R has year-over-year data, most saw a 12% increase in year-end giving over that of 2016, which was the same increase as the year before (from 2015 to 2016). But the growth wasn't evenly distributed. The nonprofits that became or remained very political after the 2016 election experienced an exceptionally high giving increase that year. Those organizations had a harder time sustaining their giving increase in 2017. These groups actually saw an average 3% decline in end-of-year revenue from 2016.

There Is Nothing Like a Deadline

Behold: the typical inbox on December 31 of someone who belongs to a lot of email lists:

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Online Fundraising: How Public Media Measures Up to Other Nonprofits in 2018

Membership, email, online giving

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If you have wondered if your last fundraising email could have been more effective or if your online fundraising is performing at its best, we have good news. The 2018 M+R Benchmarks report offers a look into where public media's online fundraising performs relative to that of other nonprofits. The resulting data can provide an easy list of areas to tackle at your organization.

This mardi gras of metrics compiles data from across the nonprofit sector for a close look at the activities that constitute online fundraising: email, website performance, and social media. The M+R Benchmarks report sheds light on the details that contributed to last year’s 23% growth in total online revenue. (Specifically, a decrease in email open rates and conversion was countered by increasing email subscribers, more fundraising messages, the growth of subscription giving, and ever-expanding social media audiences). 

For the first time the report highlights public media organizations and describes a few major differences of our sector versus other organizations raising money online:

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Secrets to WETA’s Record-Breaking Year-End Email Campaign

Membership, #GivingTuesday, calendar year-end, email

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It’s not uncommon for a station to generate about 30% of its annual fundraising between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. But does your email during that period generate 60% of your annual email revenue? In 2017, WETA’s year-end email campaign did just that.

WETA’s 19 calendar-year-end email appeals generated 60% of all email revenue for 2017. The station saw a four-year 142% rise in CYE revenue that resulted from a comprehensive strategy beginning with Giving Tuesday and running through December 31.

Consider the following three recommendations that could significantly amplify the results of your own year-end email campaigns:

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The Best Ways to Personalize Your Fiscal-Year-End Mail and Email Campaigns

Membership, direct mail, email

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As you finalize your station's fiscal-year-end mail and email campaigns, consider these best practices for effective appeals.

1. Keep the font in a readable size for older eyes. Keep the paragraphs indented and the margins wide.

2. Make sure your campaigns reflect your station! Highlight local content to connect more deeply with your listeners. 

3. Make your reply form clean, simple, and easy to fill out.

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Four Easy Ways to Grow Your Email List

Membership, email

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The average churn rate (people who unsubscribe plus email addresses that hard-bounce over a 12-month period) for email lists in public media is currently 14% (MailChimp). For your station to be effective at email marketing and fundraising, you must make a concerted effort to grow your email list year-round. Below are three of the easiest, most effective ways to do that.

1. Prominently feature an email opt-in on your website.

Email marketing services provide email opt-forms that can be copied, pasted, and embedded inside your station’s website. At the most, require an email address and first name to subscribe and position the email opt-in prominently on your website, not just on the homepage but on every page of your website. To clarify, the email opt-in should be located above the fold on your homepage and embedded in the top of the right/left column of your news stories and/or blog pages.

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Increase Donations Over Time With the Right Gift Ladders

Membership, direct mail, email

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Whether online or in the mail, the gift ladder is often one of the final items to be set before a campaign is launched. Or, in some cases, a gift ladder is the one thing that hasn’t been changed in years. But there is tested strategy behind how to encourage members to increase their donations over time.

It matters how your gift ladder is laid out, and what options you give prospective donors.

Here are seven strategies for building effective gift ladders:

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