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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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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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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A Time for Change

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

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The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and too many other Black Americans, along with the anguish being felt in cities nationwide, have pulled back the curtain for many on injustice and the need for systemic change. And we are part of the need for change. Our industry grapples with the same issues of implicit bias and whiteness that exist nationwide.

Change is tumultuous. But the beauty of change is that it brings opportunity.

Public media has everything it takes to learn, grow, and serve all the people of this nation just as our mission has called us to do from the beginning. We have always lifted each other up in service of our mission, and our capacity to come together remains undiminished. In fact, the way forward for our entire industry exists within the wisdom and practices of individual stations and teams. We have the advantage of being able to learn from one another.

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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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How KPCC’s Mission Statement Project Could Help On-Air Drives in a Moment of Change

Membership, pledge drive, marketing

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Every public media station is changing how they approach on-air fundraising in this moment. The drive structure, duration, and tone that worked so well a few months ago are being reassessed. What remains constant is the message of public media’s critical service, whose value is perhaps more important than ever. 

A recent project in the newsroom at KPCC in Southern California captured that value in a way that could serve other stations, particularly during this time of change for on-air drives. 

In 2019, KPCC newsroom leadership asked all reporters and producers to write mission statements for their work.

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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 be made at least once during each hour of the program.

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