‘Best of Public Radio’ pledge experiment yields mixed results

Best of Public Radio 2008, a year-end fundraising special that aired Dec. 27 on 70-plus stations, raised nearly $181,000 though a special website, GivetoPublicRadio.org. Listeners’ direct contributions to local stations were projected to boost the campaign’s fundraising total to $225,000.

The preliminary results are below the $250,000 “minimum target range” set for the campaign, according to pubradio marketing veteran John Sutton, who produced the special appeal with fundraising consultant Jay Clayton. Best of Public Radio 2008 was pubradio’s first-ever campaign to combine a national fundraising program with online giving and traditional direct-mail appeals.

The campaign brought in an amount comparable to what a single medium-to-large station might earn in a pledge drive, but it took only three hours of weekend air time and didn’t disrupt more than a week of drivetime programs, as most drives do.

Development Exchange Inc., NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International and Public Interactive collaborated in various ways to make the campaign possible.

“I would characterize it as a success, but it was not successful for every station,” Sutton said. “It worked really, really well for some stations and didn’t work at all for others.”

A station survey now underway will collect more details on the response to direct-mail appeals, e-mail blasts and on-air support spots created for the campaign, according to Clayton.

The campaign was designed as a low-cost way to solicit year-end charitable contributions from public radio listeners, so it lacked labor-intensive elements of traditional on-air pledge drives such as phone banks, challenge grants and premiums.

By soliciting contributions online, “we saved over 1,000 hours of staff time locally,” Sutton said.  Using results from the appeal as a baseline, Sutton and Clayton will be able to project phone traffic for subsequent campaigns. “We didn’t want to over- or under-staff phone lines” for Best of Public Radio 2008, Sutton said.

Rene Lindsay, development director for WABE-FM in Atlanta, doubts that giving listeners the option of phoning in their pledges would have made a big difference in her market. Many WABE supporters are “early adopters” who prefer online giving to more traditional methods. They contributed just under $10,000 through the campaign’s website, and some pledged directly via WABE’s website.

“We felt really, really good about it,” Lindsay said of the campaign overall. “The messaging was wonderful and the scripts were great.” She said she’d “love to see” a similar package offered for the station’s regular spring and fall campaigns.

E-mail blasts and direct-mail appeals to station members produced the biggest results for KUAF in Fayetteville, Ark., according to Terry Bumgardner, director of individual giving. Nearly $6,000 came in response to a direct-mail solicitation, including more than $2,600 from the station’s list of lapsed members. An e-mail blast sent two weeks before the on-air pledge special raised nearly $3,600 of the station’s total $10,500. But that total includes only $900 generated via GivetoPublicRadio.org. “It was kind of a mixed bag,” said Bumgardner.

“We know the economy is changing, and we wanted to try something new to see what would happen,” Bumgardner said.

Sutton and Clayton produced the campaign in partnership with DEI, NPR, APM, PRI and Public Interactive. DEI managed the project and the three pubradio networks contributed content, talent and partial support. Public Interactive donated the use of its Quick Pledge module for the campaign website.

Web page posted Jan. 13, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC

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The project created a website that collected pledges for participating stations. (After the drive, the site was revised to send donors directly to stations.)

DEI describes the project.Stations paid fees of $250 to $2,000 each, depending on audience size.

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