“We always have a concern about how old our file is,” says David Preston, VP of Membership at Twin Cities PBS (TPT). With that in mind, TPT began intentionally working to attract younger donors, especially through a family membership program and benefits like Passport. At the same time, it didn’t neglect the tried-and-true channels that continued to show success with more established, older donors.
To gauge the results of those efforts, TPT spent several weeks investigating the data in the membership file. Specifically, the station wondered what are the ages of new members and through what channels were they being acquired?
In 2012, on-air fundraising was the station’s most successful fundraising channel for attracting new members. However, while on-air fundraising remained a valuable acquisition source in the following years, the membership file showed growth across all fundraising channels, including Canvass, TPT Passport, and Mail (see chart below).
“That’s pretty exciting,” Preston says of the 2018 statistics, which indicate a diverse base of acquisition channels, with new members well-distributed across the multiple sources. “Looking at sheer numbers, it is a good mix. It’s interesting how it has changed over time. We’re trying to figure out now how we can maintain that.”
He was also surprised by the increase in younger members. “For years, I’ve said, ‘Why would we bother soliciting 30-year-olds? They don’t use our services and they don’t give money anywhere,” he admits. “Anytime I see someone younger than 50 giving me money, that always surprises me. And that’s not just for PBS, but everywhere.”
Preston’s expectations were based in reality. During 2012, TPT only acquired 330 new members within the 30-39 age range. Compare that to nearly 2,000 members who were in their 60s upon acquisition.
But the advent of streaming services and the convenience of TPT Passport has changed that dynamic over the past few years. During 2018, more than 2,000 new members were in their 30s—surpassing the 50-year-old demographic and almost catching up to the number of 60-year-olds. In other words, people under 50 will join with the right offer, and younger donors are more likely to become sustainers.
There are a few elements to these numbers that weren’t a surprise. For instance, legacy channels like mail, on-air fundraising and telemarketing still attract an older audience. “No one under 50 is responding by mail,” Preston points out. Meanwhile, Passport and canvassing bring in large numbers of younger members. TPT also has an in-house telemarketing team, which makes this station stronger in telemarketing than others.
These numbers also carry an impact beyond acquisition. “Strategically, we have to think about how we are following up with people,” says Preston. “How are we going to retain them? What channels are we going to use to retain them?”
But more than anything, he’s convinced that stations need to keep that set of acquisition channels diverse—and stations need to become familiar with which techniques and channels work best with which demographic. “That’s the most important part of fundraising. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, because they’re going to break. You need to have different channels to appeal to different people,” he says.
Consider Passport, which brings in a huge number of viewers in their 30s, 40s and 50s but only 8 percent of members over age 70. Conversely, more than half of members who respond to mailed communication are over 70. “We’re really not stealing much from one channel to another because they are all appealing to different people,” Preston says.
“Last year we had nine different channels that we acquired new members from,” he continues. “It’s clear to us that we should be using all those different channels. That’s something we pride ourselves on—that we have a great deal of diversity in how we build our file.”