Stories Matter. (And So Do Membership Drives. Here’s Why…)

Sep 2, 2013

VPR is making some important changes to our membership drives in the coming year.

We know that drives are not necessarily a listener favorite, but they are a critical way for VPR to remind our audiences of how our unique business model works. Also, every day there are people who discover public radio for the first time, and we need to regularly encourage new listeners to become contributing listeners.

Here are answers to some of the questions you may have. If you don’t find your question answered here, please share it in the comments section below or feel free to email me directly at bkinney@vpr.net.

Brendan Kinney
Vice President for Development & Marketing
bkinney@vpr.net | @brendankinney
 

Why are you having a membership drive in September? Isn’t it usually in October?

Historically, VPR has held membership drives in October, February, and June. Starting with this month, our schedule will be September, December, and March. We also sometimes partner with a community non-profit and conduct a 3-4 day “mini-drive,” that also benefits the partnering organization. If and when we hold a mini-drive, it’s typically during the summer months.

A membership drive in December…really?

In our research, we found that December ranks as the best month of the year for charitable giving. In fact, a certain group of folks only make charitable gifts in December. Many other public radio stations across the country also report that December drives are generally well received and successful. VPR is also looking into the possibility of offering gift memberships, and so timing this opportunity around the holidays makes sense.

Can’t you do fewer membership drives?

It’s important to regularly remind listeners of how our unique business model works. In addition, membership drives are the best way to invite new members to the VPR family. That being said, VPR is committed to having as few on-air fundraising days as possible.

Why do drives take so long?

Historically, VPR membership drives have lasted 10-11 days. In the future, we’d like to keep them to just 9 days each. In 2009-10, VPR had a total of 38 days of on-air fundraising. In 2011-12, we had 32. In the coming year, we look to reduce that number to 27.

If drives are so important, how can you do fewer days?

In 2010, we had about 6,000 Sustaining Members. This year, we count 11,000 members that contribute to VPR on a monthly basis. With more than 40% of our members choosing Sustaining Membership, we are able to reduce our drive goals accordingly. This year will be the first where gifts from Sustaining Memberships eclipse gifts that we receive during membership drives. We are able to have fewer days of fundraising with lower goals thanks to our Sustaining Members!

I’m a Sustaining Member and shouldn’t have to put up with membership drives!

We too have had this thought and eagerly sought out more information when we heard that fellow public radio station KQED in San Francisco offered a pledge free stream. What we also learned is that it takes a lot of people-power to produce an additional broadcast alongside the regular broadcast schedule. We just don’t have as many people to make this possible as does KQED, but we’ll keep our ears and eyes open for how we do this in the future, or any new ideas or possibilities.

We know that a membership drive is not a fan favorite. But we have tried to make listening easier on the ears by encouraging our on-air staff to be personal, energetic, and to have a little fun.

If you’d rather not listen to the membership drive, you can check out VPR Jazz24 or BBC World Service. You might also tune in to VPR Classical for a change of pace (while our classical team also participates in membership drives, the experience sounds quite different).

How do you determine membership drive goals?

When we determine our budget for a given year, we examine how gifts received through membership drives can help meet our needs.

We take a look at past performance of membership drives as one indicator. But we’re also feeling the effect of increasing Sustaining Memberships. With more and more people choosing this option, fewer people make a pledge during drives. (However, during drives Sustaining Members will call in to upgrade their monthly contribution or make an additional one-time gift).

In the coming year, expect to hear lower goals than you may be used to. Again, these lower goals are due (in part) to a rapidly growing number of new Sustaining Members.

If I become a Sustaining Member during a drive, how do you “count” it?

Historically, VPR has focused on the importance of renewing memberships each year. But with Sustaining Membership, the model changes significantly. In effect, Sustaining Members are supporting VPR on an ongoing basis; renewals are no longer necessary.

So what does this mean when it comes to “counting” sustaining memberships during drives?

Before:

When someone became a Sustaining Member during a drive at $10 a month, we would count it as a 12-month “pledge,” for a total of $120.

Now:

When someone becomes a Sustaining Member during a drive at $10 a month, we count it as a $10 “recurring gift.” Because you don’t have to renew a Sustaining Membership after 12 months, we don’t count it as a pledge. As a Sustaining Member, you tell us when you’d like to change or stop making a monthly contribution.

This new math doesn’t impact any of the benefits that Sustainers receive, such as gifts or premiums we offer during drives, nor the fact that all Sustaining Members are automatically included in all of our drawings. It is primarily an accounting adjustment on our end.

Can’t you raise money another way?

VPR is a community licensee. That’s public media speak for the fact that we rely on community funding to bring you the programs and services you enjoy. Individuals from across the region make gifts to VPR and area businesses underwrite our programs, which add up to more than 90% of our overall support. Less than 10% of our funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and we don’t receive grant funding from the State of Vermont.