Opportunities for Leadership: Three Ways Public Media Can Improve its Essential Service as a Result of COVID-19

General Management, leadership, philanthropy, COVID-19

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Across the United States, public media newsrooms are doubling down on their efforts to inform local communities about the dangerous unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re setting up remote reporting and broadcasting capabilities, adding reporters to their teams, and ramping up the flow of information to ensure timeliness and accuracy. 

Will public media also use this opportunity to address known challenges and accelerate change? And, if these strategies are successful, will public media have positioned itself more favorably in the minds of journalism funders? Here are three opportunities—for public service certainly, and for revenue, potentially—that the pandemic opens to public media newsrooms.

Serve the Full Community

Public media has long touted its “grass tops” service to affluent, educated audiences. But in recent years, this audience focus has become a significant liability for public media among grantmakers considering local journalism support. Gaps in the reach of news and information are increasingly well documented, showing that communities of color, immigrants, and low-income people are not reflected by or reached through legacy news, including public media.

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The Great Major Giving Pivot

Major Giving, General Management, leadership, philanthropy

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Whenever I talk to leaders in other nonprofit industries about fundraising for public media, they tell me how lucky we are. They understand that our supporters - the people who love and give to public media - are truly the stuff of envy. Our fans proclaim their adoration on tote bags, in dating apps, in conversations with friends and family, and by becoming members. More than half of public media donors are sustaining members; they give year after year. This percentage is head-and-shoulders above the share of sustainers that can be claimed by other nonprofits. Not surprisingly, overall retention among public media donors is also significantly higher than the national index.

Public media has nearly perfected the model of raising money from a large swath of people who love what we do. Our central strategy has historically relied on the fact that our supporters engage with us everyday, all day long on our airwaves. When we want them to give, we don’t have to go far to get their attention. We simply go on-air and ask. These donor interactions are straightforward and transactional. And they deliver.

Like I said, the stuff of envy! Of course, our greatest strengths can conceal our greatest weaknesses, or, as I see them, our greatest opportunities.

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How to Monetize Your Podcast With Grants

Corporate Support, philanthropy, podcast

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It’s been said that we’re living in the Golden Age of Podcasting. This relatively new medium has exploded in popularity; those who listen are often super-fans. There’s a natural fit between corporate sponsorship and big-name podcasts like Serial and Death, Sex and Money. But for many of our smaller startups, securing podcast sponsorship is an absolute challenge.

If you haven’t yet grown your audience numbers to attract a business sponsor or your community just isn’t quite “podcast savvy,” there’s another funding option that might be perfect for you: securing grants.

The good news is that if you are a grant writer, getting a grant for a podcast is no different than getting one for any other project. And if you are in sales, making a case for funding to a foundation is much like making the pitch to a potential underwriter or sponsor, as long as you have honed your writing skills.

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Why the Symphony Gets Bigger Gifts Than Your Classical Public Radio Station

Membership, Major Giving, philanthropy

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Case language is near and dear to my heart. I love writing case language. Because I’ve been doing it for a couple of decades, I know that one easy mistake is to write as though your case for support exists in a vacuum. A successful philanthropic case not only describes what you’re doing in compelling language, it also takes into account the interests and expectations of the donor or funder on the other end. Those expectations are shaped in part by what everyone else is doing and how they describe it.

And the “everyone else” in the context of classical-format public radio stations is other arts organizations.

This seems obvious, but it has implications for our fundraising, our community engagement, and our digital presence that need careful consideration − more than we’re currently giving. Classical stations may compete with other broadcast and digital media for listening audience, but in philanthropy we’re primarily competing within the arts.

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How Public Radio Stations Fund Events (and How Yours Can Too)

event sponsorship, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, philanthropy

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We’re seeing a clear trend in public radio: more stations are experimenting with live content events, and we’re doing so in new and interesting ways. We’re also trying new ways to fund our events. A funding source can greatly affect how an event is executed, who the stakeholders are, and what it’s trying to achieve.

Over the last year, I co-authored a national survey of 14 stations around the country that included the question: where does your money come from to support content events?

We asked stations to evaluate six funding sources as unimportant, marginal, important, and most important, and followed up with interviews to understand the rankings.

We’ll also share how stations can successfully pursue categories of event funding that are not already part of their mix.

Here are the categories and the percentage of stations that deem them to be “important” or “most important” sources of funding:

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A Pathological Optimist’s Vision for a Powerful, Collaborative Public Media of the Future

Membership, Social/Mobile, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, philanthropy

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It’s been an exciting eight weeks since I stepped into my role as Greater Public CEO, in particular because we’re in a moment in history when what we do is more important to the public than ever before.

While public media is growing and expanding reach and impact based on audience trust and support, it’s also clear that, as individual organizations, most of us don’t have enough of a margin to invest in ourselves.

We must:

  • Double down on local content creation.
  • Buy or build the digital infrastructure we need to position ourselves for the future.
  • Invest in reaching new audiences.
  • Figure out how to fully monetize non-broadcast engagement.

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Using the Art of Persuasion to Overcome Major Gift Challenges 

PMDMC, Major Giving, philanthropy, planned giving

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Each new major giving prospect presents an opportunity to connect with someone's unique set of passions... and challenges. To do so, major gift officers must cultivate their persuasive abilities. These are techniques that convince people to do something that is actually quite unnatural: Give away money.

Anne Melvin, director of training and education at Harvard University, solicited case studies from stations and tackled some of the trickiest major donor predicaments  in her PMDMC 2016 session “The Science and Art of Persuasion." Her many strategic suggestions offer a catalogue of tactics that can be applied to 


Case study 1: Do-Overs

What do you do when a donor preempts the ask you were planning?

Problem: A major donor becomes interested in a station's new initiative that has a budget of about $400,000. The major gifts officer cultivates the donor's interest by inviting him to appropriate events and connecting him with the content lead on the project. The donor gets progressively enthusiastic about the new initiative. His wealth screen shows his capacity to give ranges from $100,000 to $500,000.  

At a casual dinner, the donor proclaims he's so fired up about the new initiative that he wants to support it and encourages others to do so as well. Two days later, a check for $1,000 arrives from the donor. The major gifts officer hasn't even had the chance to make her ask. The donor is thanked for his gift, but a year has gone by and the officer still regrets that her ask was preempted.  

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Three Key Ways Impact-Centered Cultivation Makes a Difference

sustainers, Membership, marketing, philanthropy

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When it comes to revenue and donor retention, good fundraising practices are paramount to success. Yet for the most part, outside of recent sustainer success, public media’s record of retaining donors year after year, and transitioning more people to philanthropic levels of giving has often been mediocre at best.

In order to retain more donors, it’s vital to make the most of opportunities as they present themselves to signal impact and value to donors. This means finding ways to talk about what the station brings to the community that goes beyond the simple act of listening to programs on the radio. It’s about helping listeners and donors build a deeper sense of meaning and understanding of the importance of your mission.

Here are three key ways that demonstrating the impact of your programming makes a difference in donor cultivation:

1. It shows their donation makes a difference.

It keeps your new and long-time members connected to the “why” of their support, serving as a regular reminder that their listening and support has true purpose and importance – that it matters – and their continued participation makes it all possible.

2. It paves the way toward major giving.

It sets your potential major donors up for a more fruitful conversation at a more advanced starting place, a position likely to result in greater levels of giving.

3. It draws in younger (more impact-sensitive) donors.

It strengthens connections with younger donors, a generation that we will count on to fund the work of public media in the decades to come. This is a generation that – at least to date – has shown that impact is a key driver of their charitable giving choices.

Even though budgets are tight, a creative approach coupled with a little time invested can ensure that some important impact ideas reach your donors on a regular basis.

Here are two excellent recent examples of stations using existing tools and resources for an additional purpose of signaling impact.

OPB's Story

In the midst of the occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon, OPB utilized its weekly e-newsletter to go beyond a “tune-in-for-developments-here” message. President and CEO Steve Bass crafted a timely and significant leading letter that:

  • Shares behind-the-scenes information about the coverage
  • Tells readers why it’s important
  • Gives donors props for making it possible
  • Touts how OPB’s work is central to national reporting efforts, an idea that builds pride amongst supporters.
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Three Ways to Be a Better Major Gift Fundraiser This Year

time management, Major Giving, philanthropy, planned giving

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The start of a year is always a great time for fresh thinking and new approaches to your work. And there is no better time to resolve to improve your major gifts fundraising program.

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Notify Donors Before December 31: Charitable IRA Rollover Is Now Permanent

Major Giving, philanthropy, calendar year-end

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The president has signed the Tax Relief Extension Act of 2015 (HR 2029), making the charitable IRA rollover available for 2015 gifts and going forward.

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