February CDP Index: New donor acquisition reaches ‘crisis phase’ for radio

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Mike Janssen, using DALL-E 3

As we enter 2024, the Membership Revenue Index shows a modest year-over-year increase of 1.9%. As has been the case throughout the preceding year, TV/Joint Licensees are experiencing greater growth at 2.3% than Radio at 1.2%. The year-over-year change in overall revenue has been positive, though moderately so since June.  Focusing on the three-month period ending January of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023, overall membership revenue shows flat performance at -0.1% with a -2.6% decline for Radio. The rolling three-month year-over-year change rates have been decreasing since October of 2023. 

The greatest growth in revenue has been for large stations, defined as stations with 40,000 or more donors. Membership revenue increased by 3.4% for large stations in the 12-month comparison, while small and medium-sized stations experienced less than 1% change.

Focusing on new donors, the New Donor Index has consistently shown growth only for TV/Joint stations over the past year, with swings likely related to programming events on Passport. Data from the Passport Users Index has been updated and reflects ongoing though slowing growth in Passport users, up by 10.1% year over year. In this most recent index, TV/Joint new donors increased by 3.1% year over year, driving a 1.2% increase in overall new donors.

However, contrast that with the three-month rolling index, which shows a mere 0.7% increase in Passport users over the same three-month period in 2023 and a 0.7% decline in new TV donors for the same comparison periods. With data from CDP Insights showing that the share of new donors acquired through Passport was 42% in 2023, it may be prudent for TV/Joint licensees to invest in diversifying acquisition channels while Passport is still a reliable source of new donors and to guard against these vagaries of high tune-in program release timing.

Though new donor channel diversification may be a concern, new Passport-acquired donors are certainly a boon to the system and especially sustainer programs. Passport donors are the likely driver for the ongoing growth in the Sustainer Index. In the most recent three-month period, sustainers increased by 6.9% due to an 8% increase for TV/Joint stations. Radio sustainer counts have been flat for most of 2023 and had a minor positive reversal from the last period with a 0.5% increase.

For Radio, new donor acquisition has reached a crisis phase and is clearly impacting overall sustaining donor growth. New donors declined by double digits in the three-month comparison period. Year-over-year results saw a similar decline. These declines are compounding on declines of previous years and are resulting in flat sustaining donor counts. Investing in diverse donor, listener and digital user acquisition is critical to the future of local public news outlets.

A brighter spot for both TV/Joint and Radio throughout most of 2023 and now heading into 2024 has been growth in the High-dollar Gifts Index. Overall, gifts of $500 or more increased by 3.5% year-over-year, with a 1.4% increase in the three-month comparison period. Both TV and Radio experienced similar results for both the year-over-year and three-month comparisons. Gains in the three-month comparison were driven by large stations with medium-sized stations at 0.1% growth and a decline of 2.1% for stations with fewer than 15,000 donors, perhaps reflecting varying levels of resources for major gift programs. 

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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