The importance of donor data for public broadcasters

Getting information from donors is helpful for budget planning.
Date Published
12/11/2013

Nonprofit organizations need to maintain a close relationship with their donors and members to make sure their content is hitting the mark. Much like in any relationship, if the two parties aren’t communicating well, problems will fester and build toward a breaking point. However, nonprofit groups shouldn’t allow such a dramatic circumstance to arise for a number of reasons.

Individuals continue to be a strong source
First, public broadcasters – in both television and radio – continue to rely on individual donors for the bulk of their fundraising support in spite of recent trends. A growing number of public television and radio stations have reached out to foundations for help. In fact, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting recently released its annual revenue report for 2012, finding all public broadcasting groups earned a greater share of revenue from foundations, with public radio earning 7 percent more from this source in 2012 than in 2011. However, more than a quarter – 28.5 percent – of revenue came from subscribers, whereas money from foundations represented just 8 percent of all revenue. 

While public television organizations saw a diminutive drop, or 0.3 percent, in individual donor support between 2011 and 2012, public radio stations experienced about a 4 percent increase in individual donors, the report said. Accordingly, individual subscribers are a significant source of revenue for many public broadcasting enterprises and should earn a fair share of their attention.

The importance of donor preferences
But the many nonprofits are left wondering how they can gain keener insights into their donors. Depending on a group’s budget for membership and communications, a nonprofit can utilize some of the most traditional means of information gathering with great success. In fact, the Charleston Gazette recently reported West Virginia Public Broadcasting conducted an informal survey looking into the viewing and listening habits of its membership. According to the Gazette, the survey was conducted during the summer of 2013 among 575 listeners and viewers in 12 locations across the state and online.

Scott Finn, West Virginia Public Broadcasting executive director, indicated the nonprofit organization was looking to find out what exactly was resonating with the audience. The study found individuals in the state were highly drawn to television programming about and reflective of the region, especially documentaries. On the other hand, other locally-produced content didn’t gain as popular a following, while PBS mainstays like “Downto​n Abbey” and “Masterpiece Theater” continued to entertain a large following of fans.

The Gazette indicated the lack of fanfare for local content – besides documentaries – is due in large part because viewers and listeners weren’t aware of them, pointing to missteps in marketing efforts. On public radio, national programming, such as “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” and “Morning Edition” rank as some of the most popular shows in addition to the locally-produced “Mountain Stage.” Because purchasing the broadcasting rights to much of the content can be quite expensive, Finn told the Gazette, this information is useful for the nonprofit enterprise in deciding where to allocate funds.

For any charitable group, it’s important to understand exactly what type of programming donors and members are looking for. Without acquiring this knowledge, many nonprofits might be developing a strategy based on incomplete data.

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