September CDP Index: Membership income continues growth, but declines in donor acquisition persist

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The Index of Membership Revenue, CDP’s benchmark for Public Media fundraising, continues to show positive growth with a 3.3% revenue increase reported for the three-month period ending August 2023. This marks four consecutive periods of growth, beginning in May. Year-over-year increases for the June–August period were strongest among large stations, up 4.2%, followed by medium stations up 3.3% and small stations up 0.3%.

Positive results for radio licensees, up 1.7%, are encouraging given the declines we reported earlier in the year. TV/Joint stations, 105 in total, showed a median increase of 3.5%, illustrating the broad gains across stations. 

This month’s results reflect the performance of 167 Public Media TV, Radio and Joint licensee stations of all market sizes, offering a solid representative benchmark for individual stations to compare their own performance to.  

While we’re seeing meaningful gains in revenue for many stations, the New Donor Index reveals that donor acquisition issues persist as it continues to trend lower, down 5.3% for the three-month period ending in August compared to the same period last year. Over our annual timeline, we only see three periods with positive results, suggesting that new donor acquisition remains a challenge across Public Media. Radio stations, down 13%, continue to show variable results, albeit with a consistent downward trend. TV/Joint stations are down 5% for the three-month period. Similarly, all size groupings in the New Donor Index report negative numbers, with large, medium and small stations showing declines of 5.5%, 3.5% and 7.8%, respectively.

Sustainer giving, up 5.5% for the June to August period, remains particularly strong among TV and Joint stations, up 8.8% compared to radio stations, which reported an increase of 0.1%. Station size does not appear to be a significant factor when attracting sustainers, though the Index does show stronger growth among small and medium-sized stations, up 8.8% and 8.5%, compared to large stations, which were up 2.9%.

Passport viewing, measured as the count of unique viewers streaming at least once during the period, continues to show positive growth, up 8.4% for the period. While positive, it should be noted that we have seen a negative trend in this growth that began earlier in the year. Interestingly, we find that small stations, up 10%, are outperforming their medium- and large-station counterparts, who saw growth of 8.3% and 8.1%, respectively.

The High-Dollar Index, which looks at gifts of $500+, was up 6.8% and suggests these donors are contributing to the positive results seen in the broader Membership Revenue Index. Much like the broader index, the High-Dollar Index is showing increases for four consecutive periods, with the current reporting period reflecting positive increases for both TV/Joint, up 8.3%, and Radio, up 4.2%.

Results are more varied when we examine stations by size. Here we find large stations up 9.4% for the three-month period ending in August, followed by medium-sized stations up 5.6%. Small-station results are flat for the period, suggesting challenges in attracting higher gift amounts. If the broader membership revenue index is to stay positive, it’s critical that stations continue to attract higher giving amounts as we move into the all-important end-of-year giving period.

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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