Sustainers: more efficiency and stability, shorter pledge drives

After a decade, sustaining members have given four times as much, net
Everywhere you look these days, there’s a different message on the state of the economy: the Dow is up, the Dow is down, hiring is up, the recovery is jobless. If anything is certain, it’s that the outlook remains very uncertain. It’s a genuine blessing, therefore, that sustaining members can put a little more certainty into your station’s life. Since Minnesota Public Radio began its sustaining member program in 2007, it has revolutionized the way we generate financial support from our audiences. Sustaining members take a step beyond those who commit to a year of monthly gifts on their credit card or through their bank.

How many listeners donate? One in 12 or one in three?

Which is it? Is the conventional wisdom correct — that one out of every 10 or 12 public radio listeners is a station member? Or is it the more encouraging one-in-three, as found by the Audience 98 research project?The seemingly conflicting estimates flew past each other at last month’s Public Radio Development/Marketing Conference in Washington, D.C., without much elucidation. Now comes an attempt at elucidation. The leading proponents of the 1:12 ratio, Oregon-based fundraising consultants Lewis-Kennedy Associates, reported at the conference that an average of 8.3 percent of stations’ weekly cume listeners can be found as donors in the membership files.

How much of the funding gap would individuals fill?

In this time of unprecedented threat to public broadcasting, people are responding with unprecedented generosity to station’s pleas for support. TV station WPBA in Atlanta beat its $75,000 pledging goal by 39 percent, with pitching help from hometown boy Newt Gingrich. The boon fell just short of doubling WPBA’s in-take during last year’s March drive — $42,000. If donations to the system expand permanently by 15 percent,  the increase would amount to about $58.5 million — one-fifth of this year’s federal appropriation to CPB. Pacifica station WBAI in New York broke a record for community radio stations with an $820,000 January drive.