In the Trenches: Membership in Turbulent Times
News of the challenges of fundraising this summer and fall is streaming into DMW Worldwide from stations around the country. The fundraising “perfect storm” we feared did strike some public-television stations. The distraction of the Olympics, the hard-fought political season and a totally unforeseen worldwide economic crisis has affected some stations much more than others.
It’s hard to get members to focus when their personal finances are in peril and many aren’t sure their local banks will be around next week.
Two questions are being asked by nearly everyone:
1. What’s happening?
2. What should I do?
Let’s take them in order. According to a recent public-television station poll taken during a conference call last week, pledge dollars are down 13 percent and pledges are down 9.8 percent. Direct mail and telemarketing vary widely — with more of a performance swing from station to station than we have seen in a long time. On the other hand, public radio news and information pledging is generally strong.
Here’s our perspective: The turbulence may continue into next year. But remember, your station is as relevant and important as ever. PBS remains the most trusted institution in America, according to a recent Roper poll. Your programming continues to be a safe haven for children, a stage for beauty and a forum for respectful discussion. You likely serve more citizens of your community daily than any other mission-based enterprise.
While the performance of your efforts may lag for a while for reasons you can’t control, there are some things you can do in these turbulent times.
1. Adjust ask amounts. Show a willingness in all media (on-air, direct mail, online and telemarketing) to take a lower gift amount to keep the number of gifts stable. Try tweaking, and see what happens.
2. Offer a “bargain.” Many stations offer a “discount” off standard membership rates and actually see an increase in average gift. Higher-level donors remain unaffected. Low-end givers sweep up to the discount rate. Note: Don’t link the discount with a comment on the lousy economy. Just make the offer. Every donor’s personal financial situation is unique.