January CDP Index: Stalled high-dollar giving impacts end-of-year revenue performance

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Mike Janssen, using DALL-E 3

Through much of 2023, the Membership Revenue Index showed modest overall increases, driven primarily by healthy increases in high-dollar gifts (gifts of $500 or more). In the last quarter of calendar year 2023, high-dollar giving was flat compared with the same period in 2022, driving similarly flat performance for the quarter in membership revenue. The year-to-year performance for membership revenue shows an increase of 1.5%, in line with a 1.7% increase in high-dollar giving, with gains of just over 2% for TV/Joint stations and flat performance for Radio.

TV/Joint stations showed a median revenue increase of just 0.5% in this most recent three-month period but 2.2% growth in the 12-month comparison. Radio revenue performance had a steeper decline in the three-month comparison of 3.1% than the year-over-year decline of 1.5%. Year-over-year comparisons outperforming three-month comparisons indicate that the end-of-calendar-year period was especially challenging.

The end-of-calendar-year period is typically one in which high-dollar gifts are more abundant, so high-dollar trends during this period can have a significant impact on year-over-year results. After several periods of solid growth in the High-dollar Gifts Index, the most recent period showed zero growth overall. Medium-sized stations (stations with 15,000–40,000 active donors) had the strongest performance with 1.9% growth, and large stations saw more modest growth at 0.6%. Small stations saw declines of 5.7% in high-dollar gifts in the final quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.  

Turning to acquisition, the New Donor Index has had the greatest swings in rolling three-month results of any of the five indices. As new donors have consistently grown only for TV/Joint stations, these swings are likely related to programming events on Passport. Data from the Passport Users Index is temporarily excluded in this analysis as CDP and all stations await updated data from PBS. However, data from CDP Insights shows that the share of new donors acquired through Passport was 42% in 2023, up from 32% just two years ago. In this most recent index, TV/Joint new donors increased by 3.9% in compared to the same three-month period in 2022, driving a 1.1% increase in overall new donors.

New Passport-acquired donors are also the likely driver for the ongoing growth in the Sustainer Index. In the most recent period, sustainers increased by 6% due to a 7.6% increase for TV/Joint stations. Radio sustainer counts have been flat for most of 2023 and are beginning to see signs of erosion with very modest declines in the last two report periods.

New donor acquisition is clearly impacting overall sustaining donor growth for Radio stations. New donors declined by 14.3% in the three-month comparison period. Year-over-year results saw a much more modest decline of 1.8%, indicating that perhaps a new normal for new donor acquisition is emerging. Radio stations generally use fewer acquisition sources than their TV counterparts. Investing in diverse acquisition techniques and identifying and growing new audiences are key for growth beyond waiting for the next big news story or tune-in event.

On a positive note, the overall year-over-year increase in new donors of 1.4%, driven by a 2.1% increase for TV/Joint stations, was certainly welcome news in a year when new donors were largely hard to come by for the nonprofit sector at large.

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.)

Deb Ashmore joined CDP as Analytics Strategist in September 2023. With more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and public media fundraising, she is passionate about working to help clients understand their fundraising data to inform strategies for long-term file health and growth. Her previous public media experience includes 10 years as director of individual giving for WXPN in Philadelphia.

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