What I first moved from commercial radio to public radio in the 1980s I was amazed at the number of people who called to pledge their support to stations. Think of it: People actually call to pledge money for a service they get for free. What I’ve learned since then is that membership is an indication of the value listeners place on programming and the station that provides it.
Raising money from noncommercial listeners is part art, part science. But how do you know what to expect? Is it possible to determine the number of people who theoretically should pledge?
Recently on the Public Radio Association of Development Officers (PRADO) e-list, public media fundraising consultant Mike Wallace [link], provided this simple formula from a DonorCentrics [link] report from a couple years ago:
• The number of contributing members should represent about 8% of your number of weekly cumulative listeners,
• Or, even better, the number of contributing members should represent about 18% of your core audience.
A station’s “core audience” (sometimes called the P-1 audience) is the number of listeners who tune-in during an average week to your station more than any other station. Nielsen Audio provides estimates weekly cumulative listeners and core listeners, typically as a percentage.
For example, KUT-FM in Austin had around 195,000 weekly cumulative listeners. KUT’s core audience – those folks who listen to KUT more than any other station – is around 37% of its weekly cume, roughly 72,000 people.
Then, to determine the benchmark for the number of supporting members, multiply 72,000 by 18%. The result: KUT should have at least 4,000 people pledging their support. KUT claims over 18,000 members, according to information on its website, so it far exceeds “average” expectations. (KUT also operates Triple A station KUTX.)
THE STAIRWAY TO GIVING (with apologies to Led Zeppelin)
Listening to a station is the most important variable that leads to supporting the station. The theory is: First a person listens to a station; then they listen to the station a lot, becoming a core listener; then they (hopefully) becoming members.
This dynamic is clearly shown in a 2011 presentation Wallace gave to the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference (PMDMC) in 2011. It answered some of the most basic questions:
WHAT IS THE GENDER OF PUBLIC RADIO CONTRIBUTORS?
WHAT IS THE AGE OF PUBLIC RADIO CONTRIBUTORS?
HOW FREQUENTLY DO CONTRIBUTORS LISTEN TO THE STATION?
So, success in Noncom radio starts with the programming!