How public broadcasters can improve donor engagement

Public radio project Curious City asks donors and listeners to participate in programming.
Date Published
01/17/2014

Donors don’t want to be treated as a cog in the fundraising machine, meaning they increasingly want a relationship with organizations that extends beyond donating to a nonprofit. A stronger connection doesn’t involve sending a greater number of emails or text messages asking for contributions, but instead requires charitable organizations to find a new avenue to communicate or interact with donors. By fostering relationships with contributors through outreach efforts that go beyond targeted appeals, nonprofits – and public broadcasters in particular – have an excellent opportunity to increase donor loyalty and improve retention.

Getting donors involved
The truth is many nonprofits are resigned to the fact that a significant number of people who participate in a fundraiser will only contribute once and never be heard from again. In fact, Nonprofit Hub indicated that a sizeable proportion of philanthropic groups anticipate losing at least 60 percent of their donors after the first contribution. However, organizations that put forth the effort to produce programming and projects that involve donors can expect to retain a higher number of donors. This can result in a significant payoff for future fundraising activities. In the long run, keeping a minimum of 10 percent of first-time donors involved can lead to a 200 percent “lifetime return,” explained Nonprofit Hub.

Asking questions, getting answers
One way for public broadcasters to do this is by continuously keeping donors and listeners involved in creating content. Contributors shouldn’t be a broadcaster’s sole source of material to fill on-air scheduling, but a daily segment or program that involves donors in the material can improve relationships and loyalty. For instance, a public radio project called Curious City asks listeners to propose questions through an online portal about the metropolitan area or region that the station covers, Current.org reported.

Subsequently, the public broadcaster conducts its particular brand of investigative journalism to find the answers and puts them on air. Curious City, backed by public media conglomerate Localore, received funding through a grant from the Knight Foundation, and the project recently expanded with WYSO Curious, based out of Yellow Springs, Ohio.

With a participatory platform like Curious City, public broadcasting providers have a direct link with listeners. Instead of supporting a pledge drive and waiting to receive a letter or email explaining how important their contribution was, donors have a more immediate experience by interacting with their public radio station. This can lead to a stronger relationship and improve fundraising initiatives.

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