Monday, July 12, 2010

The Best Fundraising News in Years

Public radio stations have a strong tradition of sharing innovative and proven practices. It’s one of the industry’s best traits and it was on full display at this year’s Public Media Marketing and Development Conference.

That’s where Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), WBEZ Chicago, and WNYC/WQXR New York shared their success in developing sustainer fundraising programs. “Sustainers” donate to the station on an open-ended, monthly basis via credit card or an electronic funds transfer from a checking account.

Sustained monthly giving has been somewhat of a holy grail in public radio fundraising and while some stations had some success with it, these stations have unlocked to route to it. MPR has dramatically increased its annual donors in the past two years through sustainer programs while reducing on-air fundraising days by 25%. You can read about it in Current, the trade publication for public radio and TV.

Nearly 40% of WBEZ’s donors are Sustainers and they account for half of the station’s membership revenue each year. Having more than $300,000 in monthly revenue has helped the station’s cash flow and allowed WBEZ to become less-dependent on traditional pledge drives.

Consumer acceptance of automatically paying for services such as Netflix probably played a big role in the success of these sustainer programs but that success was no accident. The folks at WNYC made a concerted effort to introduce monthly giving at the outset of converting WQXR from a commercial to a public radio station and they were very successful. WBEZ has developed some excellent donor-service practices to make the sustainer experience a rewarding one for the listener.

Best of all is that these organizations came to the conference as evangelists for the Sustainer approach. They backed their enthusiasm with free support materials and advice to help other stations jumpstart Sustainer programs. NPR is also making a significant contribution to the Sustainer revolution by providing listener and donor research on Sustainers.

Many thank to Valerie Arganbright from MPR, Andrew Arganbirght (yes, they are related) and Jill Shepherd from WBEZ, Lisa Torres from WNYC/WQXR, Lori Kaplan from NPR, and Barbara Appleby (formerly NPR and now MPR) for providing this leadership.

It all adds up to the best news in year in public radio membership fundraising – more donors, net revenue, less on-air fundraising, and new possibilities for creating a more positive experience for those who give to public radio. This is something every station can benefit from in the next few years.

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