Membership revenues dip in latest CDP analysis

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Median Membership Revenue for the three-month period from December through February is down 2.4% year-over-year. Considering the momentary 2.6% gain from the previous three-month index, this drop appears to indicate that any recovery in membership revenues from the overall downward trend could be choppy.

This is not dissimilar to the ups and downs we’re seeing in our broader macroeconomic indicators, such as inflation, energy costs and consumer confidence. Declines in the Membership Revenue Index this period are consistently negative across all the public broadcasting stations tracked by CDP, but radio stations reported a drop of 7.5% for the 3-month period.

To better understand public media’s financial performance, we look forward to next month when the three-month period will analyze results from January to March. Data for the first quarter of calendar 2023 will include results from March pledge drives, which are key campaigns for TV stations. Since our previous two index reports exhibited some variability, the April index will help us better understand the dynamics at play and set our fundraising expectations during a year of uncertainty.

Interestingly, the New Donors Index remains negative year-over-year but continues an upward trajectory that began in November. For the three-month period, new donor acquisition dropped 2.6%, which is half the decline of the prior period. Station investments in fiscal year 2023 acquisition efforts, along with donors’ appetites for supporting public media’s mission, will dictate how long this trend continues — and when and if the upward trend moves into positive territory. To accelerate this trajectory, stations must focus on new sources of acquisition and invest in innovative campaigns. This especially important for public radio, which has experienced the deepest declines in donor acquisition.

Sustainer giving continues moderate growth among TV and joint licensee stations. For radio stations, sustainer gifts are relatively flat.  A significant number of sustainers for TV/joint stations are Passport-acquired donors. Until radio stations find another source for acquiring sustainers, TV/joint stations will continue to outpace their radio counterparts on this fundraising metric.

For TV and joint licensees, Passport usage growth remains strong, albeit at a lower rate than prior periods.  With continued focus on Passport acquisition and programming engagement, stations can continue to achieve double-digit growth. That will require continued emphasis on knowing and understanding their donor base in this challenging and competitive market for streaming content.  Stations must use insights from their streaming data to craft smart promotions of Passport content. The more that TV/joint stations can do this successfully, the more growth they’ll achieve in this area.

Much like the Membership Revenue Index, the High Dollar Index reflects the ups and downs of fundraising results in an uncertain and variable macroeconomic environment.  After three periods of marginal growth, the High Dollar Index reports a decrease of 3.3% in this analysis. Large stations appear to be experiencing greater challenges than their smaller counterparts as they direct their fundraising efforts toward major donors.

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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