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.
3. Demonstrate great stewardship. Show donors how important they are to your station. Show how you invest their membership dollars. The old-fashioned pie chart still works in the mail, on-air, online — and even in your lobby!
4. Leverage gifts. Choose a partner to make a challenge grant — perhaps your board or a corporate friend who is looking for a new way to gain attention.
5. Use an end-of-year call to action. Use a lift note or buck slip from a station executive in renewal, lapsed and additional-gift mail. Have her/him make a frank statement on your year-end situation and clearly ask for a contribution.
6. Ask early and often. In good times, stations’ appeals sometimes get soft and too polite. Excite donors with your enthusiasm; educate them that members equal programs; tell them that you need each other. Then ask for the money. Clearly. And be sure to thank them.
7. Say “thank you” often! That’s so important, we said it again! Anytime you communicate with members, say “thank you” as often as “please.” This includes renewal letters and additional-gift appeals, and around programs you know have a high ratio of current givers.
Tom Hurley is partner and president, nonprofit group, at Massachussetts-based consultancy DMW Worldwide.