One of the most promising new membership initiatives to come along for public television in years doesn’t involve phone banks, on-air pitches or premium packages. It’s door-to-door canvassing, the grass-rootsy technique for talking up causes and soliciting donations face-to-face.
Public radio stations have widely adopted sustaining-member programs over the last several years. Because of this, one might assume that a significant number of sustainers contribute to public radio every month. However, the reality for most public radio stations is quite the opposite.
The Super Bowl is over. The boys of summer have just taken the field. And March Madness has only recently subsided. That can only mean one thing to a public media development professional. It’s budget time!
Between the years 1995 and 2010, public television stations’ cash revenues rose, plateaued and then crashed with the 2008 recession, falling altogether 14 percent. Public radio stations, meanwhile, expanded their revenue by 67 percent,
WGBH has begun distributing its monthly program guide, Explore!, in a package that brings video and audio promos along with it to iPad tablets. It can also use Wi-Fi to pull in updated “live listings” from the Web even after it’s in the viewers’ hands.
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.
What you are about to read may sound familiar—like the strategy in public radio, with its emphasis on serving a core audience—but it’s an evolution in the thinking of the LeRoys, prominent audience consultants for public TV stations and co-directors of TRAC Media Services. Public television’s cume fell below 50 percent in the 2001-02 season. The portion of the viewing public that samples it in a week — as high as 59.2 percent in 1991 — was down to 47.8 percent a decade later. Fewer and fewer homes are sampling public television’s fare and they’re viewing it less. When cumes and gross rating points decline, stations can lose membership and support.
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.