DENVER — An increase in sustaining memberships has provided a welcome source of stable income for some public radio stations, but it has also prompted some to rethink their strategies for on-air fund drives. Under a sustaining membership, a donor sets up automatic monthly contributions to a station instead of giving on an annual basis. That reduces the pressure during on-air fund drives to convince listeners to renew their memberships, and stations are responding by redoubling efforts to enlist new members during pledge campaigns. Executives from two stations described their approaches in a July 10 panel discussion here at the Public Media Development & Marketing Conference. “Our drives are no longer a renewal machine,” said Jacquie Fuller, on-air fundraising manager for Minnesota Public Radio.
Basic memberships offered during pledge drives and in direct-mail appeals are a time-tested enticement for converting pubcasting viewers and listeners into contributors, but station-based development staff are perplexed about how to set the rate for this donation level. Some pubcasters are weighing whether to stop offering basic memberships altogether. A survey conducted this fall by Plymouth, Mass.–based direct-marketing consultant DMW Direct found that most stations charge below $50 for a basic membership, and few have adjusted the rate within the last five years. The basic median rate among the 41 public TV and radio stations that participated in the survey is $40, but 16 stations reported to DMW that they charge less. These rates are far below average gift amounts for public stations.
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.
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.