August CDP Index: Growth in membership, major giving income warrants ‘cautious optimism’

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For the third consecutive period, the Index of Membership Revenue, the preeminent benchmark for Public Media fundraising, reports a 2.7% increase for the three-month period ending July 2023 compared to the same period last year. These consecutive periods of growth warrant some cautious optimism as we begin the second half of the year. Year-over-year increases for the May–July period were strongest among large stations, which were up 3.2%, followed by medium stations, up 2.6%, and small stations, up 1.2%.

These results reflect the performance of 171 Public Media TV, Radio and Joint stations of varied sizes and provide a solid representative benchmark against which individual stations can compare their own performance. Median performance for the May–July period among the 64 Radio stations in the Index increased 1.9%, reflecting a positive shift in radio fundraising after several periods of decline. TV/Joint stations, 107 in total, showed a median increase of 4.1%, suggesting solid performance and positive momentum. 

The New Donor Index continues to trend lower, down 2.8% for the three-month period ending in July. The relative volatility in donor acquisition is apparent in results from different categories of stations. Radio is up 0.6%, continuing to show signs of recovery after many periods of decline. Compare these positive results to the 6.4% decline at TV/Joint stations, and you begin to see how varied results have been as all stations attempt to attract new donors. This variability is even more evident if you look at stations by size. Small and medium-sized stations are struggling mightily to invest and attract new donors, showing declines of 11% and 6.9%, respectively. Large stations show an increase of 1.9% for the period, perhaps seeing some benefits from their investments in acquisition.

Sustainer giving, up 5.7% for the May–July period, remains particularly strong among TV and Joint stations, which increased 8.6%. Radio stations reported a much smaller increase of 0.2%. Station size does not appear to be a significant factor in attracting sustainers, though the Index does show notably stronger growth among small and medium-sized stations, up 8.7% and 8.4%, respectively. Large stations are up 3.4%.

Passport viewing, measured as the number of unique viewers who stream at least once during the period, continues to show positive results, growing 9.4%. However, the downward trend in unique Passport viewership that we began to see in September 2022 continues. TV and Joint stations need to strategize about how to respond to this slowing growth among Passport streamers, especially given the critical role of Passport in attracting new donors.

The High-Dollar Index, up 11.1%, has returned to positive territory for three consecutive periods, a reversal after four periods of decline. This growth could be contributing to the return of positive results in the broader Membership Revenue Index. High-dollar gifts increased for both TV/Joint stations, which are up 12.4%, and Radio, up 6.4%. Positive results also spread across stations of all sizes. Small, medium and large stations reported gains of 14%, 8.1% and 11.9%, respectively. Looking across trends over the past 12 months, we find a cyclical pattern in our High-Dollar Index that we’ll watch more closely as we finish the 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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