NHPR Earns Top Honor for Reaching Major Growth in Benchmarks

sustainers, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, Benchmarks

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Winning the 2020 Benchmarks for Public Radio Fundraising Award is no easy feat, yet NHPR did just that with a little grit and plenty of perseverance. The big takeaway? Pay close attention to Benchmarks and you, too, could win the coveted honor next year.

Benchmarks are an annual data collection methodology that Greater Public compiles, measuring each participating stations’ fundraising performance and potential, both overall and in each individual fundraising area. According to Greater Public, this is the most purposeful way to measure stations’ fundraising effectiveness and efficiency.

In 2017, NHPR brought in Deb Turner as its development director, with proven experience in building both major gifts and membership programs--and a strong believer in Benchmarks. 

Turner immediately went to work tracking Benchmarks. It helped her determine where the gaps were, including areas in which NHPR hadn’t been performing well, particularly in the areas of major gifts and sustainers. 

“We knew we were underperforming,” observes Turner. “Using the Benchmark tool, we were able to identify what to prioritize and invest in.”

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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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How Public Media Can Create Equitable and Inclusive Content & Marketing

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, diversity & inclusion

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What does equity in media look like?
Are the materials we publish reinforcing or subverting stereotypes? 
How can I make sure I’m considering all identities? 

These are just some of the questions folks in public media have asked me since my original blog post on Whiteness in public media and my keynote presentation for PMDMC 2020. And it’s why I wrote my first book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives (Sept. 7, 20201, Berrett-Koehler, www.TheEquityBook.com). 

As I write in Equity, if bias is the thumbprint of culture on the brain, then media are the inkpad. Media are more than news and entertainment programs; they’re all the content we consume, from marketing and advertising to PR stunts and blog posts. And media are exceptionally powerful. 

As media scholar Christopher Bell explains in his 2015 TEDx talk,

In media studies, we spend a lot of time saying that media can’t tell us what to think, and they can’t; they’re terrible at that. But that’s not their job. Media don’t tell us what to think. Media tell us what to think about [emphasis added]. They control the conversation, and in controlling the conversation, they don’t have to get you to think what they want you to think. They’ll just get you thinking about the things they want you to think about, and more importantly, not thinking about things they don’t want you to think about. They control the conversation.

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How You Can Build a Diverse Donor Base Through On-Air Fundraising

Membership, pledge drive, diversity & inclusion

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“As people of color become majorities in communities across America, successful nonprofit organizations will need to have a diverse donor base to sustain and grow their operations.” 

- Dr. Emmett Carson, Silicon Valley Foundation

“According to a recent report by Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, Diversity in Giving, nearly three-fourths of donors today are non-Hispanic whites, despite the fact that whites make up only 64 percent of the population. The underrepresentation of multicultural donors suggests that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities. For instance, African-American and Hispanic donors say they are solicited less frequently. Furthermore, they suggest they would give more if they were asked more often.”

- Tarsha Whitaker Calloway, nonprofitpro.com

Engaging a more diverse community of donors is key to fully realizing the potential of public media fundraising. However, many stations are at a loss when it comes to proven fundraising strategy to attract and retain a diverse group of donors – especially when it comes to on-air fundraising.

Here’s some good news! The fundraising leaders at Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA) are finding success with the following innovative, culturally-savvy strategies that leverage core programming, unconventional thank-you gifts, and dynamic special events to attract and retain new, diverse donors and strengthen community connections. 

First, get uncomfortable.

Talking about race and structural racism at work can feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s okay. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a good thing because these conversations are the necessary starting point for us to move forward, to learn from one another, and to find solutions together. 

Build DEI into your DNA.

Atlanta is one of the most diverse metro areas in the United States. At Public Broadcasting Atlanta, the diversity of our listening audience and our viewing audience is in fact identical to metro Atlanta’s racial diversity by percentage. We have worked hard to achieve that audience diversity and are working to maintain audience representation. But like most American cities that are very racially diverse, Atlanta is also very segregated. We live in the second most segregated American city after Chicago. Through our programming, community engagement efforts, and our fundraising strategy, our intention is to foster a sense of community, despite the segregation that exists in our city. To do that, we’re always working to be an organization that reflects the audiences we serve. As our President and CEO Jennifer Dorian puts it, “DEI is in our DNA,” – diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of the work we do across the station.

Start with data.

We've all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” Our fundraising strategy starts with setting key metrics: How much money we aim to raise, how many new donors we intend to attract, how many of those donors should be sustainers, and so forth. Another part of the strategy involves asking questions about the composition of the membership file and it reflection of the diversity of our city: 

  • What are the demographics of our listeners and viewers? Does it match the diversity of the city?
  • Does our membership file reflect the diversity of the listening and viewing audience?
  • Is there a population that is growing in size and influence, that we may be overlooking?
  • Are we programming to a diverse audience and are we really asking all of our listeners to give?
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WBEZ Takes Chance on Sustainer-Focused Digital Campaign and Wins

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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After its spring 2021 pledge drive, Chicago’s WBEZ-FM realized it had a problem. Although the station was making its goal for one-time donations, it was missing the mark for sustainer memberships, a factor that could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Revenue from sustainers is critical. At WBEZ, it accounts for more than $7 million of its $13 million annual membership budget, representing more than 60% of its donor base. Amy Wielunski, vice president for WBEZ Membership, could see that a sustainer downturn was starting to persist over time, something the station could not afford to ignore. 

“During the pandemic, we noted that pledge drives were effective in generating one-time donations,” says Wielunski. “We were meeting our budgetary goals for our drives, but were falling short in the number of sustainers per pledge drive. We knew we had to do something about it.”

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Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture in Our Organizations

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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We work in the culture business. Our individual and collective efforts have the ability to mold the world outside of our industry’s walls. The stories we report, music we air, programs we produce, and events, webinars and experiences we offer to our audiences all add to the narrative of our multifaceted, multi-lensed society. Our programming is like a tapestry; it offers perspectives carefully designed, woven and crafted with different materials, patterned and textured to make something uniquely appealing. Adding our own flair to the public media tapestry is a privilege we all share; we do not take this position lightly. Each of us brings ourselves, past and present, to our work in hopes of creating something meaningful that resonates throughout history.

It is critical we look at culture when thinking about who has access to public media. To do so, we must examine the definition of culture from an everyday perspective and within the workplace. Generally speaking, culture defines our way of life, such as our norms, values, attitudes, customs, vernacular, and the nuances in between, depending on the group in question. In a corporate setting, culture sets the tone for how business is conducted. It ripples across departments and hierarchy, denoting which behaviors are praised and which are deemed unacceptable. In both settings, culture maintains boundaries, whether physical or psychological, tangible or abstract.

Leadership controls the culture. We look to their vision as our main objective while measuring and observing their every move. This includes a litany of things: their public and private behavior; their decision-making processes; their character; what and who they value; where they divert time, attention and resources; the company they keep, and so much more. The list of attributes that encompass their leadership style is endless. The compilation of these traits creates a culture barometer, measuring the efficacy of the entity’s vision.

Much of my time as a consultant is spent untangling conversations, carefully pulling them apart and then piecing information together to get to the crux of an organization’s culture. In some instances, I have separate conversations with multiple people within an organization and find there is a disconnect between the information both parties share. When this happens, it becomes evident that the organization’s communication mechanisms are strained, signaling a potential culture problem. I ask questions about leadership and how supportive they are in creating a workplace environment where everyone receives what they need to be successful. Too often, I hear comments similar to these:

“When I have a question about a project, or have an idea that could help my department or organization, I’m told to stay in my lane.”

“My organization says it supports professional development, but all of my requests are denied. How do I grow if I’m not receiving the training I need?”

“I have glowing performance reviews and am told the department could not function without me, yet I always get passed up for the promotion and I’m always asked to train the new employee hired for the job.”

“My manager asked me for feedback about a project/situation. I came prepared and explained my concerns and solutions in detail. My feedback was never incorporated and my manager never gave me an explanation as to why.”

“My editor is afraid my story, that includes instances of racism, will upset our core audience and wants the story scrapped altogether.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m not trusted to do the job I was hired to do.”

“The organization’s leadership continues to ignore recommendations from its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, or makes plans without asking for our ideas, insight or opinions.”

“I always have to jump through hoops to get the things I need/my department needs, while other employees/departments get things handed to them without question.”

“How people are promoted is secretive and exclusive.”

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Failing Forward: Learning From Mistakes on the Journey to Anti-Racism

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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So often we spend a lot of time thinking about the mistakes that we make, both those we realize on our own and those that others point out. We can spend days replaying a scenario particularly when it is related to race or gender identity. Some describe it as minefields that they are fearful of saying the wrong thing. I want to liberate you and tell you that you WILL make a mistake and you will offend someone. When working in equity and inclusion and striving to build knowledge while moving forward it is important to have a framework of what to do when you make a mistake. This strategy allows you to make amends, to learn and to feel more courage to take risks and make mistakes in the future. 

During a webinar I was once asked this question: “I have run into situations where a name is unfamiliar to me (e.g. I recently hosted a panel and one of the panelists had a Vietnamese name I hadn’t heard before). I struggle with having to ask someone multiple times to pronounce their name because it feels disrespectful but I am asking because I genuinely want to get it right. Any tips on how to handle this situation?”

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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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WXPN's Virtual 5k Brings Surprising Results

event sponsorship, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, Audience Engagement

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, events have gone virtual. From screenings to concerts and 5k runs, we’ve all been scrambling to figure out the best way to transition to this new model.

Last fall, WXPN successfully did just that, for its Musicians on Call campaign, in partnership with a national organization by the same name. The results were impressive, particularly when it came to participation. With approximately 200 more participating in its annual 5k fundraiser this time, many were listeners who lived too far from Philadelphia to join past runs, but were signing up now.

“We’re a big supporter of the local music community,” says WXPN’s Director of Marketing, Kimberly Winnick, who is responsible for raising funds for the program. “It’s one of the reasons we got involved with Musicians on Call. Our mission is to connect artists and audiences, and build, serve and engage the community. With a large community of local musicians and passionate volunteers, we knew we could build and sustain the volunteer staffing needs for this program. It’s a perfect fit for us.”

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