April CDP Index: Station focus on Passport acquisition is paying off

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Median Membership Revenue for the three-month period from January through March was relatively flat at -0.4% year over year. This month’s Index, which represents the first full quarter of calendar year 2023, is based on the performance of 179 TV, Radio and Joint stations of varied size and provides a solid representative benchmark against which individual stations can compare their own performance. Small stations, down 3% for the 3-month period, appear to struggling the most, with medium and large stations, up 0.2% and 0.1%, performing slightly better.

On a positive note, New Donor acquisition, which has been trending upward since bottoming out in November, has finally shifted positive, rising 7.4%. However, this rise has not been entirely equitable, as Radio stations, down 6.9%, continue to struggle in their pursuit of new donors. Additionally, it’s important to note that our comparison period (Jan–Mar 2022) was not a strong period for new donor acquisition, so this year’s increase, while impressive, needs to be assessed in context.

That said, there is cause for cautious optimism in what we’re seeing this month. New donor acquisition among TV and Joint stations was up 8.3% for the period. We believe this was largely due to Passport acquisition driven by strong programming. The average TV station is delivering 36% of its new donors from Passport acquisition, up from an average of 31% a year ago. We believe that station investment in Passport acquisition efforts is a key contributor to the gains we’re reporting in this month’s New Donor Index and hope to see this trend continue.

Sustainer giving for all stations rose 7.4% from January to March of 2022 to the same period in 2023

Sustainer giving is also a bright spot for TV/Joint stations, showing a 9.4% increase, while the change in donors with sustaining gifts at radio stations has remained relatively flat. Efforts at TV/Joint stations to bring in Passport-acquired donors as sustainers is likely behind this trend, along with broader efforts to convert one-time donors to sustainers.

Passport viewing, measured as the count of unique viewers streaming at least once during the period, continues to show solid growth, up 18.2%, as viewers’ appetite for compelling programming is served by programs like Sanditon, Call the Midwife and Marie Antionette. This engagement via Passport, and the programming, continues to improve retention rates and attract new donors.

The High Dollar Index, down 3.7%, continues to perform in a variable direction, with three periods from the last six showing an increase and three showing a decrease. Large stations, down 5.4%, continue to experience slightly greater challenges than small and medium-sized stations, down 4.2% and 0.5% respectively, as they develop strategies aimed at attracting major donors in a highly competitive environment.

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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