Tips for public TV stations ‘pledging the core’

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WSKG and other public TV stations are in the middle of a multiyear project that’s testing a combination of pledge strategies and public TV’s core shows.

It’s not that the traditional drives built around specials that don’t otherwise air on public TV don’t work — they do. But some station leaders dislike the transactional nature of such drives and find them at odds with the mission of public broadcasting.

“… [W]hat about viewers who tune in to watch their favorite PBS programs — shows like Nova, Nature, or Antiques Roadshow — only to be met with unexpected programming, accompanied by a pledge break?” asks a post on the PBS Development Services blog.

Caroline Basso, director of development and marketing at WSKG in Binghamton, N.Y., wanted to focus on donors.

Almost a year ago, WSKG began to test the waters with soft fundraising appeals built around the shows that attracted viewers to PBS in the first place, in their natural time slots. It wasn’t successful at first—at least not financially. But on the relationship side, things improved tremendously… Rather than tuning in, seeing a pledge drive, and changing the channel, regular PBS viewers would be met with fundraising appeals before, after, and during their favorite shows. “Instead of cherry-picking specific core programming for certain genres, we created on-air messaging and placed that messaging into the core programming, in those spots where they fit,” says Basso.

The station saw an increase in ongoing gifts through its sustaining member program rather than a “quick infusion” of donations around a specific program, Basso said. It’s also seen a better response to on-air appeals. The station plans to continue tinkering with its fundraising model.

Here are 10 tips for stations interested in moving toward “pledging the core”:

  1. Focus on audience, not revenue “needs.”
  2. Create an audience services team.
  3. Alert your board of potential cash flow issues from sustainers and other strategies and brace yourselves for possible cutbacks and some belt tightening.
  4. Commit to donor-centered fundraising strategies. `
  5. Over-communicate fundraising changes.
  6. Coordinate revenue strategies.
  7. Focus on sustaining members.
  8. Remind your staff and board — It’s the right thing to do – believe it and sell it!
  9. Admit failures and adjust.
  10. Plan ahead, adjust your plan, then plan some more.