Are Public Radio Fund Drives Actually "Working"?
May 7, 2015 11:51 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know about the success rate of public radio fund drives? During the last cycle in October, a local public radio station missed its target at the end of its drive by almost 30%. Yet, everybody keeps saying fund drives "are working". Where can I find data that says if that's true or not?
posted by CollectiveMind to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The best place to get answers for this question is at the annual conference for Public Media Development and Marketing. Since you've asked at least three questions about public radio recently, perhaps you're in the biz and it would be worth the cost of attending.

You could also ask PRADO, the Public Radio Association of Development Officers. They have an active Listserv, which you may use without being a member. However, being an unknown newcomer may mean that answers to your questions may be circumspect or rare. I'd encourage you to be excessively friendly and considerate when asking your questions there.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:59 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some of this depends on what it means to have a successful pledge drive. Was their goal to just survive another 6 months to a year, or did that pledge drive budget include items or activities that would potentially benefit the station, but weren't critical to purchase in the near future?
posted by filthy light thief at 12:09 PM on May 7, 2015

"a local public radio station missed its target at the end of its drive by almost 30%"

Missing the target by almost 30% is definitely still "working". Maybe not working as well as one would like, but working nevertheless.

Missing the target by 100% would be not working at all. Just barely making the expense of actually running the fundraising drive would be another definition of 'not working'.

But this drive is clearly raising a lot of money, and a lot more than it costs to run the fundraising drive itself. It is only 'failing' in the fairly weak sense of not raising as much as they had hoped or anticipated. That may be as much because they were bold enough to set an ambitiously high goal as any other reason.
posted by flug at 12:41 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

missed its target at the end of its drive by almost 30%. Yet, everybody keeps saying fund drives "are working".

For values of "working" that might include eliminating a couple expensive national programs from their schedule or letting a staffer or two go, it's probably accurate. (Sadly enough.) It might also mean that the next pledge drive will take place a little sooner than it might have otherwise.

The graphic in the middle of this article suggests that radio is, at least, experience some growth (more than can be said for public tv).
posted by aught at 2:03 PM on May 7, 2015

I would guess (based on my experience working in fundraising for other types of nonprofit organizations) that the total number raised is not the only important metric by which stations gauge success. For instance, I'd bet an important metric is number of new donors. Someone who donates for the first time, even if it's only $25, is extremely valuable to a nonprofit, because that's a new person they can go back to. This is one reason why nonprofits still use fundraising methods that may seem really expensive, like glossy mailers. Each new donor can be "worth" hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Similar metrics for success involve renewals: what percentage of previous donors re-upped? How many gave more than they gave the year before? How many went from being annual to monthly donors? How many lapsed members started giving again? And so on.
posted by lunasol at 6:03 PM on May 7, 2015

WFMU isn't a public radio station, but it is listener-supported, and they made their marathon goal this year — although just barely, and they didn't cross the finish line until a week or two after the drive was officially over. As a matter of fact, every day WFMU stays on the air is evidence that its own fund drives, at least, are working.

I realize that all I've done is counter your own anecdote with one of my own, but if you're going to investigate further, WFMU could be an interesting case for more study. They do a lot of innovative stuff, like running the annual WFMU Record Fair (it costs seven bucks to get in, so another fundraiser) and operating an actual live performance space on the ground floor of the building they own in Jersey City (they charge money for tickets to many shows, so another fundraiser). They don't take any money from NPR or corporate underwriting, though I think they do get the occasional grant, so fundraising is a hugely important part of the routine.
posted by Mothlight at 6:12 PM on May 7, 2015

Response by poster: Every question different and worth it. Thanks very much for this, Mo Nickels. I would've never known about this otherwise. I'm not in the biz, but am researching it.
posted by CollectiveMind at 6:24 PM on May 7, 2015

"Individual giving--memberships and major gifts--is the driving force behind the growth of public radio in the last decade: $388 million in 2013, four times more than CPB provides each year.

But now there's a problem: at two thirds of all public radio stations pledge drives are slowing. Member files are starting to shrink. And there's emerging agreement that things could get harder as listeners get more audio options." (source)

I'm currently on a fellowship at Harvard, where I'm hoping to create the framework for a new model of membership within public media that would complement already-existing forms by offering membership to people who may not be able to donate financially, but would like to donate a skill or their time to their local stations. I suspect this will inculcate a sense of identity and ownership amongst listeners, allowing them to feel more invested in public radio's content, work, and mission, while also transforming public media stations into public community spaces that continue to fulfill the original mission.

I'm planning to conduct the fellowship as a series of two-week-long sprints. (You can see what the first one looks like here.) I'm structuring the fellowship this way, in part, so that I can talk to people across public media (and across other industries) to inform what I build or create, and so I can hold myself accountable as the fellowship progresses. I also plan to make all of my research public.

As you can probably tell, I'm neck-deep in this stuff right now and happy to dig up more if you need it.

posted by melodykramer at 4:58 AM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The hosts of the current fund drive being conducted by the local public radio station just announced that they have about $124K of a $250K goal yet to achieve. This is day four of a five day drive.
posted by CollectiveMind at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2015

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