Stations see fundraising opportunities despite uncertain environment

By Mike Wallace

Audience use of public media continues to evolve. Individual giving is down. It’s harder to find new donors. It’s simply not an easy time to fundraise.

Bucking the trends: donations of vehicles and, now, real estate.

“It’s hard to imagine in today’s fundraising climate, but 12 of our station partners made more than a half-a-million dollars a year with vehicle donations in 2022,” says Howard Pearl, CEO of Charitable Adult Rides and Services (CARS). “And of those, five raised one-million dollars or more last year. But like anything else, they’re committed to keeping the program front and center with their audience, which is why they’re so successful.”

Vehicle donations continue to rev up

“2022 was the second-best year ever for vehicle donations,” Pearl says, “and the market for used vehicles is still strong. Data we’ve seen predicts prices are on the rise. As employment goes up, demand for affordable vehicles will follow.”

Data provided by CARS and shared with participants of PMWL’s CEO/COO BootCamp showed that more than $38 million in net revenue was generated by stations through vehicle donations last year.

“Stations that do best with vehicle donations are the ones that dig into the marketing of their program and find creative ways to keep ringing the bell,” says Bianca Barlas, Senior Account Manager with CARS. Barlas was one of three presenters from CARS who spoke at the PMWL BootCamp in January.

“It’s not about investing a whole lot of time or effort,” Barlas says. “It’s easier than you might think to have a successful program – you just have to market it regularly.”

Consistent and creative marketing (like these televised spots created by Nine PBS) reminds supporters that they can donate their old vehicle to their favorite station when ready for an upgrade.

 “Cars Parade” from Nine PBS

Lots of potential in real estate donations

A new frontier in fundraising? Land.

Sakhi Vyas, Corporate Support and Major Giving Manager at WMUK, explained the circumstances behind a recent land donation they received through Giving Property (powered by CARS) that brought in over $54,000 for the station.

“Our donor had been paying too much in taxes on their unused parcel of land and just wanted to get rid of it, but they were having a hard time selling it through a real estate agent. Then they heard about the donation opportunity with us on air and realized it could be a great solution for them.”

Vyas continued, “Our donors considered giving to a couple of different groups that were meaningful to them. They ultimately decided to go with our station because we have an established partner who knows how to process these types of donations.”

Other stations have started to see an increase in donations of vacant land. Public Media Group of Southern California raised more than $13,000 from a donation of a vacant parcel.

“It’s interesting because we’re noticing similar motivations for donating real estate as we’ve always seen for donating vehicles. Donors want to avoid unnecessary expenses like taxes or repairs, and they want a convenient solution,” says Beth Carter, Senior Director of Partner Support at CARS. “Whether it’s a vehicle, a building or a vacant lot, we love how these donations mutually benefit both the station and the donor.”

It may look like (literally) nothing, but the above piece of land raised $13,000 for the Public Media Group of Southern California.

Like spreading the word about vehicle donations, promoting a real estate donation program is about making a relatively simple, consistent effort.

“We’ve done all the promoting of our program thus far from our existing marketing channels” says Peggy Goodfriend, Director of Broadcast Promotions at Nine PBS.

“We send out a weekly programming highlight email with a piece about donating real estate at the bottom. I actually think all the leads we’ve had so far have come from that little blurb!”

CARS expands fundraising services

To help stations navigate today’s fundraising challenges, CARS hired veteran public media fundraiser Bob Breck as National Director of Consulting Services. Bob co-leads a new service for stations called The Giving Agency.

Breck says that stations and other nonprofits are already turning to The Giving Agency for guidance.

“Stations are asking us about which CRM systems they should invest in and how to use them more effectively, how to take their sustainer program to the next level, how to find new donors, coach new staff members and more. We listen, analyze their donors, and help them build a stronger program.”

Last month, Breck presented findings of a new national survey exploring the state of optimism among fundraisers in the current economic environment as part of a staff retreat on the future of fundraising at station KPBS/San Diego and to stations in the Public Television Major Market Group (MMG).

The Giving Agency team is planning a follow up to this survey to track how fundraisers’ level of optimism has changed since the end of 2022. They are also planning to research two areas stations have expressed keen interest in: the needs of public radio’s millennial listeners, and learning more about Passport donors. Stations interested in participating in these projects should email Bob Breck at [email protected].