What a CDP analysis reveals about public media’s membership revenue, now and in the future

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Current and Contributor Development Partnership (CDP) have launched an editorial collaboration to publish timely top-line data tracking public media’s fundraising performance. 

The collaboration draws from CDP’s National Reference File, which collects monthly membership and revenue data from more than 170 public media stations. Each month, we’ll look at three-month trends in five indices: membership revenue, new donors, sustainer giving, Passport users and membership gifts of $500 or more. The data for this first report is from October to December 2022. 

The percentage change reported for each index has been weighted to show the overall performance of all public media stations. To calculate this, CDP weights the data from each participating station according to the size of its membership file. (Learn more about the methodology.)

Our goal for this collaboration is to make timely information about fundraising performance accessible to people across public media. We want to provide an easy-to-read resource for everyone to understand the “state of the system.” You can email us to let us know what you think about this first take and what else you want to learn. — Karen Everhart, Managing Editor

Observations for January 2023 indexes

Median Membership Revenue for the three-month period from October through December is down 0.6% year-over-year, continuing a downward trend that began in April 2022. Performance across different station categories varied: TV and joint-licensee stations saw a decrease of 0.7% in membership revenues while radio stations achieved a slight gain of 0.9% after 9 months of declines. Revenue declines in this index appeared to affect large and small stations more than medium-sized stations.  

The negative trend for New Donors continues with a 9.7% drop in performance for the same three-month period last year. The decline in donor acquisition over the past 16 months is a key predictor for the size of membership files and revenues in the near future — and beyond if the trend isn’t reversed. Stations of all sizes and license types have been affected by declines in acquisition, though the impact was uneven for this period. Large stations were down 7.0%, while medium and small stations dropped 11.3% and 16.2% respectively. This difference may be attributable to large stations’ investments in donor acquisition programs, but more research is needed to validate this hypothesis.

Stability in Sustainer Giving, which is up nearly 7%, and 22% growth in Passport usage help to mitigate the declines in new donors. Passport viewing consumption by station members is a key indicator of engagement and predictor of retention. Looking over a longer 12-month period, public media stations have increased sustaining members by 6.9% and Passport users by 16.8%, both strong indications of member support.

The High Dollar Index reflects continued challenges around major gift fundraising, showing a slight decline of 0.9% over the three-month period. For context over a longer time frame, the total number of major gifts decreased 1.8% in calendar year 2022 compared to 2021.

The Passport Index continues to show significant growth in the number of users consuming digital content as part of their membership benefit package. As noted earlier, Passport viewing correlates with member retention and engagement. Though double-digit gains show continued strength, the pace of growth that began in October 2022 has started to slow overall. It’s worth noting that small stations are adding significantly more Passport donors when compared to their larger counterparts. January is a key month for monitoring this index, as it’s typically a strong one for Passport viewership.

Michal Heiplik is president and a co-founder of the Contributor Development Partnership, a Boston-based public benefit corporation that provides fundraising solutions, marketing strategies, technology innovations and data and analytics services to more than 230 public radio and television stations. As a 20-year veteran of public broadcasting development, he has extensive experience in database management, membership development and identifying effective fundraising practices.   

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