An option to donate to the NPR Network through NPR.org brought in nearly $500,000 in the first two months after it went live, CDO Leora Hanser told a board committee Thursday.
The option for website visitors to give to the NPR Network, a collaborative effort to increase donors and gifts to NPR and stations, debuted in November. Since then, the donor conversion rate on NPR.org’s donation form has doubled, Hanser said. After NPR added the option to donate to the NPR Network, the rate jumped from 1.7% to 3.4%. Before the addition, users could donate only to stations.
“This is actually a very big deal,” Hanser told the development committee of NPR’s board. “… What this tells us, really, is we’re headed in the right direction.”
Hanser said that NPR could have seen even more revenue from digital donors if not for “year-over-year audience declines.”
“But despite this, we’ve converted users into donors at a higher rate than we had anticipated,” Hanser said. “… So there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Hanser was sharing “high-level results” from a report on NPR’s 2022 digital fundraising results, she said.
“Early data suggests that the NPR Network donation will increase the number of public radio supporters as intended,” Hanser said. However, she cautioned that “year-end behavior does not reflect the year.”
In its analysis, NPR found a gap between the average donation amount to the NPR Network and stations. The Network brought in an average of $130 per gift on the NPR.org donation page, Hanser said, compared to $95 per gift to stations.
“Given that these donations came in on the same form under the same conditions, we have no attributable reason for this difference,” she said. NPR plans to conduct additional research to better understand why users gave at different levels.
NPR is looking to understand whether adding the NPR Network donation option “grew the pie” or ended up “slicing it up in a different way,” she said. The “same rate of users donated to stations before and after” the NPR Network option went live, Hanser said.
“We’re eager to learn more about this data and see how well NPR Network leads connect to local stations, as that’s really our goal,” she said. “That story will take more time and is much more likely to be evident in about a year.”
Additionally, about 61% of NPR Network donors had never given to a station, Hanser said.
Hanser’s team is hoping to analyze a “normal” week of digital donations to make better projections about what to expect from the form. Donations spiked after news of the network’s financial challenges and its recent disagreements with its treatment on Twitter, she said.
Moving forward, Hanser hopes to have better access to data about donors who give to stations that are not part of NPR’s streamlined giving program. The program enables gifts to participating stations through the NPR.org donation form. Donors who want to give to stations not in the program are forwarded to the stations’ websites. After that, “we have no way of knowing if they donate,” Hanser said.
“The more information that we have makes it easier for us to then determine what kinds of activity and donation campaigns we would want to do moving forward,” she said.
In 2022, stations received $622,000 in donations through streamlined giving. NPR estimates that its website referred users to give another $1.15 million to stations that aren’t participating in streamlined giving. “Though the initial returns were modest, they offer exciting glimpses of what is possible when we all work together,” Hanser said.
Board member Maria O’Mara, executive director of PBS Utah and KUER, said the biggest hurdle for university licensees to participate in streamlined giving is language in a Contributor Development Partnership contract that gives CDP “zero liability if there’s a breach of data.” NPR and CDP are partnering to cross-reference NPR Network donor information with CDP’s National Reference File, which includes station donor and donation data.
“If we could just remove that line, I think I’d see a lot more participation from university licenses,” O’Mara said.
“If we can get that fixed, that would be great,” Hanser said. “Because as I’ve said before, the more stations we can get participating in the National Reference File, the better we will all be.”