May CDP Index: Larger stations struggle to land major gifts

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Median Membership Revenue for the three-month period from February through April is down 2.2% year over year. Much as in prior periods, this month’s Index reflects the continued fundraising challenges public media stations have faced this year. The results reflect the performance of 174 public media TV, Radio and Joint stations of varied sizes, providing a solid representative benchmark against which individual stations can compare their own performance. Radio stations, down 1%, appear to be doing better than TV and Joint stations, where we see declines of 2.5%.

As noted last month, New Donor acquisition, which has been showing an upward trend since bottoming out in November, is up 3.5% for the period, completing two consecutive periods of growth. Small stations, up 6.8% for the period, appear to be leading the charge ahead of medium and large stations, up 4.4% and 2.1%, respectively. Radio stations, down 4.9%, continue to struggle in their efforts to add new donors. Focused efforts to raise public awareness of the distinct value proposition public media stations deliver, such as Public Media Giving Days, will be critical in attracting more first-time donors in coming months.

Sustainer giving, up 6.7% for the period, is particularly strong among TV and Joint stations, where an 8.8% median increase is reported. Donors with sustaining gifts to radio stations have remained relatively flat, down 0.3% for the period. It’s particularly important for stations to bring new donors into their files as sustainers given the typical challenge in retaining a first-year donor into their second year of giving.  TV and Joint stations have been particularly successful in converting Passport-acquired donors to sustainers, leading to the strong sustainer giving numbers reported here.

Passport viewing, measured as the count of unique viewers streaming at least once during the period, continues to show solid growth, up 16.1% for the period.  This growth is particularly strong among small stations, up 19.3%, when compared to their peers at medium- and large-sized stations, up 16.4% and 15%, respectively. Year-over-year growth for the 12 months ending April 2023 is up nearly 22% at small stations, 16.9% at medium stations and 16% at large stations. All are benefiting from compelling programming content persuading existing members to renew and new donors to join.

The High Dollar Index, down 5.9%, continues to reflect station challenges in attracting $500+ gifts in a market that grows increasingly competitive in its focus on major donors. These challenges are greatest among large stations, down 7.6% compared to medium- and small-sized stations, down 4.9% and 2.3%. Interestingly, the High Dollar Index for TV and Joint stations, declining 7.4%, is down twice as much as radio stations, where a decline of 3.7% is reported. The need for focused and creative marketing strategy and investment aimed at major donors cannot be understated and will likely have considerable impact as stations edge closer to completing the fiscal year.

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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