Eliminating Pledge Drives
That’s a moot point now because every week will be a survey week when Arbitron’s PPM measurement system is in place. But the severity of these suggestions reaffirm that listeners don’t like pledge drives. We know stations benefit greatly, financially and in audience perceptions, when they act to mitigate the downsides of pledge drives.
Could we eliminate them altogether? Let’s do the math. It’s cocktail napkin math, but the scale is right.
Pledge drives generate about $107 million per year in direct gross income. That’s about 14% of all gross revenues in public radio including all individual giving, underwriting, subsidies, grants and entrepreneurial income.
Pledge drives generate roughly 1.2 million donations per year. Replacing all of those donations completely through off-air means would require a minimum of an additional 24,000,000 appeals -- direct mail letters, email appeals, and telemarketing calls.
That’s assuming an average response rate of 5%, which would be quite good given that about half of all pledge drive donations come from listeners who have given before and not responded to renewal mail, telemarketing, and email appeals. It also assumes that the average gift would be the same as achieved through on-air drives. That’s no sure bet.
The annual value of pledge drives to stations is much higher than the $107 million. Public radio depends on on-air drives to acquire or keep 900,000 names on the annual membership roles. These names are essential to the $148 million per year stations raise through the mail, email, telemarketing, and major donor efforts. This is an essential point. New donors, renewing donors and lapsed donors who give this year create the foundation for next year’s revenue base, both on air and off.
To summarize; the challenge of eliminating pledge drives is not only replacing the $115 million in annual income they generate but also replenishing the donor base so next year’s off-air income can grow.
Next time -- thoughts on how public radio can do that.
Sources: CPB's Public Broadcasting Revenue report for FY 2005, DEI's Benchmarks for FY 2005, JSA calculations.