Wednesday, July 15, 2015

PMDMC Did Little to Clarify the Future of Pledge Drives

There were two sessions on the future of public radio pledge drives at last week's Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference In Washington, DC.  The conference was organized by Greater Public, the industry's trade group for fundraising and marketing professionals.

Here's a summary of the main points from those two sessions.

1. It is getting harder to raise money during pledge drives.

2. Greater Public presented a formula for lowering pledge drive goals to counter the impact of sustaining (monthly) givers and $1,000+ donors on drive results.  The example shown at the conference suggested goals should be lowered by as much as 25%.  The exact percentage will vary by station. The more successful a station is with Sustaining Givers, the lower the goal will be.

3.  Greater Public's Fundraising benchmarks show that up to 90% of stations still had room to increase annual listener income through pledge drives.

Unfortunately, those three points taken together lead to just one conclusion -- many stations will need to do more on-air fundraising with lower goals in a tougher fundraising environment in order to meet their listener income potential. That's a recipe for more pledge drive days and, perhaps, more pledge drives per year.

A separate, but related, thread in these sessions was the new wave of shortening or eliminating pledge drives. Station representatives from Phoenix and upstate New York presented their current approaches to reducing on-air drives.

As noted in a previous post, we always learn something new and valuable when stations embrace more programming and less on-air fundraising. What hasn't changed in nearly two decades of drive shortening efforts is this -- the less on-air fundraising a station does, the less room it has to increase its on-air goals.

We know from past experience that the less on-air fundraising approach doesn't rule out growing annual listener income. Most of that growth, however, has to come outside of pledge drives.  That conflicts with Greater Public's assertion that most stations still have growth potential from on-air drives, even in a tougher fundraising environment.

In the end, the conference sessions did affirm the difficulties stations face and that could help foster productive dialogue between fundraisers and their station managers.  But moving forward to the Fall fundraising season, PMDMC didn't deliver any new industry-wide intelligence on how to address the pledge drive challenges ahead.  It feels like a missed opportunity.  

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