In latest CDP analysis, radio stations continue to see fundraising declines

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Among public broadcasting stations tracked by CDP, median Membership Revenue for the three-month period from November through January is up 2.6% year-over-year. While the overall trend is down, there are signs of revenue recovery, including positive end-of-year giving results. It’s important to note that the overall trend is carried by TV/Joint licensee stations, with a 3.2% increase. Radio stations experienced a modest decrease, down 1.7%. Unlike as in other months, station size is showing no impact on this month’s performance of this index.

While these results are encouraging, it’s too early to tell whether they indicate a persistent upward trend for station revenues. In addition, as noted above, these increases were primarily driven by positive results for TV/Joint stations, while Radio stations continue to show declines in all four indices. The hope is that reporting on these broader trends will provide valuable insight and context for stations as they adapt their fundraising strategies in response to market forces.    

One of the most pressing issues facing public media fundraising programs systemwide, new donor acquisition, continued its downward trend, with a 5.1% drop in New Donors compared to the same three-month period last year. While still a concern, it represents a significant improvement when compared to the last reporting period, when it was down 13%.

The persistent decline in donor acquisition over the past 12+ months is a key predictor for the size of membership files and revenues in the near future — any improvement in performance will have significant positive impact on a station’s future. Declines in acquisitions have affected stations of all sizes and license types. That said, station size was a factor here, with large stations faring better (down 1.9%) than medium and small stations (down 8.1% and 10.1%, respectively.)  This difference is likely attributable to large stations’ continued investment in a diverse, multifaceted donor acquisition strategy.

While Sustainer giving is up 6.1% overall, station licensee types are separated by a significant gap. TV/Joint license stations experienced growth of 9%, while Radio stations were essentially flat (down 0.1%.)

For TV and Joint licensees, Passport continues to play a key role in new donor acquisition and Sustainer growth, with the Passport Index indicating an 18.2% increase in users during this reporting period. As noted earlier, Passport viewing correlates with member retention and engagement. Though double-digit gains show continued strength, the pace of growth has started to slow overall. It’s worth noting that small stations are adding significantly more Passport donors when compared to their larger counterparts.

The High Dollar Index reflects the continued challenges and opportunities surrounding major-gift fundraising, showing a slight increase of 0.6% over the three-month period. When broken down by license type, TV/Joint stations have grown by 3.2%, while Radio-only stations saw a 3.6% decline — mirror opposite in terms of performance.

This monthly report on the fundraising performance of public media stations is provided through an editorial collaboration between Current and Contributor Development Partnership (CDP). The collaboration draws from CDP’s National Reference File, which collects monthly membership and revenue data from more than 170 public media stations. (Read more about the methodology.)

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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