March CDP Index: Passport users decline, but sustainers continue upward trend

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Mike Janssen, using DALL-E 3

Two months into 2024, the Membership Revenue Index shows a year-over-year increase of 2.8%. As had been the case throughout the preceding year, TV/Joint Licensees are experiencing greater growth at 3.3% than Radio, which has no year-over-year change. The year-over-year change in overall revenue has been positive, though moderately so since June of 2023. Focusing on the three-month period ending February of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023, the results are very similar to the 12-month results, with a 2.9% overall increase, driven by a 3% increase for TV.

The greatest growth in revenue has been at large stations, defined as stations with 40,000 or more donors. Membership revenue increased by 4.1% for large stations in the 12-month comparison, medium-sized stations experienced a 2.1% increase and small stations saw a minor 0.4% decline in membership revenue.

The New Donor Index for the 12-month comparison period has consistently shown growth only for TV/Joint stations, with swings likely related to programming events on Passport. Data from the Passport Users Index reflects ongoing though slowing growth in Passport users, up by 8.6% year over year. In this most recent index, TV/Joint new donors increased by 3.2% year over year, driving a 2.3% increase in overall new donors.

However, contrast that with the three-month rolling index, which shows a decline in Passport users over the same three-month period in 2023 — the first of its kind in the last 12 indices. This corresponds with very flat new donor performance for TV and an overall new donor decline of 0.3%. We have been banging the drum to encourage acquisition channel diversity for a while now, as reliance on just one strategy or benefit is not optimal.

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 8.4% increase for TV/Joint stations. Radio sustainer counts were flat for most of 2023 and had a minor positive reversal from the last period with a 0.7% increase.

For Radio, new donor acquisition challenges are clearly impacting overall sustaining donor growth, which has been largely flat for the last several months. However, for the most recent three-month index period we are so pleased to report that Radio experienced a 3.4% increase in new donors. There have been some signs that the nadir of new donor declines occurred in 2022, and we’re hoping that Radio audience and new donor acquisition numbers have stabilized. Stations saw a very wide range of results for new donor acquisition, which may in part be driven by the timing of pledge drives. This remains an area to watch in 2024.

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 3.6% year-over-year, with a 1.5% increase in the three-month comparison period. Gains in the three-month comparison were driven by large and medium stations. Performance for stations with fewer than 15,000 donors was flat, 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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