Uncovering unique opportunities when the challenges are not

By Deb Ashmore, Strategic Analyst (CDP)

CDP’s latest feature, “Ask Deb,” was launched several months ago to answer your burning questions about trends in public media fundraising and your station’s data. So, whether it’s a question of first-year retention, reactivating Passport donors or which fork to use with the second course, I’m here to help.

Here’s a recent station question I received and how we served up some insight:

Q: After years of steady growth, we’ve started to see some declines in sustainers, especially since fund drives have been less than stellar. What could be causing this, and how can we address this?

I recently had a call with a station seeing similar trends—some declines in overall sustaining donors and declines in new donors acquired directly to sustainer giving during radio pledge.  

The first thing we looked at together was radio listening trends. While listening has been slowly declining over time as new ways to consume audio content are ever emerging, the pandemic prompted a steep drop in radio listening in general from which the medium has not recovered in this post-COVID world.  

If listening is noticeably down, it stands to reason that new radio donor acquisition would suffer and the new sustainers among them. However, a phenomenon we noted during the pandemic and beyond was not only the decline in the number of new donors, but a decline in the share of those new donors that made sustainer gifts. 

Prior to the pandemic, radio stations could easily see 35% of all new donors make a sustainer gift—and many with far greater results. By 2021, that median figure dropped to 24%. In the most recent CDP Index, the median share of all new radio donors making a sustainer gift was 30%, a welcome trend reversal, but still below peak rates.

With fewer new donors and fewer of those new donors making sustainer gifts, radio stations are now experiencing too few new sustainers to cover for attrition. Every month, 1-2% of all sustainers stop giving. Many of them are new, but even our most loyal donors stop giving eventually. And we need new donors to fill even this slightly leaky bucket. Before these new sustaining-donor challenges, radio had been seeing monthly increases in the number of sustainers. For the last several indices, however, we’ve noted that sustainer counts for radio have been quite flat.

For those stations that participate in the National Reference File, CDP’s database of public media individual giving, the largest group, by far, are hovering around zero growth in sustaining donors in 2023. Only a handful of stations have greater than 5% growth.

While we were able to assure this station’s hardworking, devoted team that they were not alone, and the listener situation is generally out of the fundraising team’s hands, throwing up those hands in acceptance is just not in public media’s nature. So we dug a little deeper to look for any areas of opportunity to increase new sustaining-donor acquisition.

First, we looked at new-donor trends by source and noticed that while new donors were largely down from prior years, at this station, digital acquisition was seeing some growth. This was great news, made even better by the fact that digital spaces are fantastic for encouraging sustainer giving. To increase digital acquisition, we might ask: What digital advertising is currently in place?  Is your email strategy on point? Have you implemented a texting strategy?  

Once donors arrive at your donation page, are you able to make it even easier to become a sustainer?  When was the last time you audited your donation form to make sure it aligns with current best sustainer practices? 

We also noticed that donors reactivating online had a lower share of sustainer giving than new online donors. Again, we saw this as a great opportunity to work with these donors. A strong conversion campaign via texting or email could be in order. Or this may be a great group to introduce to annual sustainer giving, a technique we see great promise in here at CDP and will be testing around.

As this station learned, even when the overarching trends are impacting your station similarly to your peers, digging into the underlying results and using benchmarking to compare them can help you uncover opportunities unique to your organization that can help mitigate the impact of external pressures on your fundraising program.

Is there a particular challenge your station is facing? Want to dive deeper into the data with CDP Insights? Send your questions about a metric or trend specific to your station by emailing [email protected].   

CDP Insight’s suite of data and reporting tools is designed to put your organization’s fundraising performance in context with more than 100 new KPIs and help you better understand your donor file. Blending giving data with streaming data and demographic data, CDP Insights provides a more complete picture of your donors’ value. By using multiple data sets, you can track more benchmarks, identify more trends, discover more fundraising opportunities and ultimately drive more action and results.

Let CDP Insight’s powerful analytics drive your fundraising strategy to help you meet and exceed your fundraising goals. Contact us at [email protected] for more information.