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Staffing for Success: Accelerating Digital Fundraising Results

Cause Craft Consulting analyzed 72 stations’ integration of “digital fundraising” practices into traditional fundraising, marketing, and member cultivation strategies and took a closer look at the integral role that Passport has played.

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“Although your time horizon will be different from other stations, the future of digital fundraising will eventually arrive.”

As our world progresses toward a digital future, PBS stations find themselves making promising, yet uneven progress. While 40% of stations report that they are already seeing significant success and 54% cite Passport as an accelerator for their digital fundraising results, almost half of stations self-report that they’re still in the early days of digital fundraising – either just getting started or not yet seeing desired results.


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As stations were analyzed, four staffing profiles for digital fundraising emerged:

  1. “All Hands on Deck” – the most common. Some tasks are individual, but each staff member is cross-trained (and expected) to handle anything. Digital campaigning is limited to the amount of time staff have after other work is done. This model can constrain station staff’s ability to develop deep digital fundraising expertise and skills
  2. Membership-Driven with Distributed Responsibility – incorporates contributions from multiple skillsets and teams, but with Membership ultimately responsible for fundraising performance and bearing much of the workload.
  3. Dedicated Digital Fundraisers – fundraising responsibilities fall on one or a few skilled, dedicated staff members, typically from Membership. However, implementation still relies on internal teams and outside vendors to complete the breadth of the work.
  4. Shared Responsibility – joint ownership of digital fundraising between Membership and another team, most commonly Marketing or Digital (or both). This hybrid model must involve clear division of labor, close collaboration, and minimal politics to be effective.

As is the case with many processes, there is not one perfect approach or silver bullet. Smaller stations cite that an even distribution of tasks can work well for them, as it keeps everyone in the loop, but there are success factors to this model (as well as small stations pursuing other staffing models for digital fundraising). Medium-sized stations most commonly have a targeted few responsible for digital fundraising with a larger pool of people supporting the work.  It’s important to keep in mind that while these seem to be the prominent trends, many stations set up their digital fundraising quite differently- since all stations have their own individual needs and methods.

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Stations seeing the greatest digital fundraising success tend to implement the following six “better” practices:

  • Make Passport a full station initiative
  • Don’t let digital fundraising become a silo
  • Establish an ongoing Passport working group
  • Institute a multichannel content and campaigns calendar
  • Invest in training all relevant staff
  • Hire a digital fundraising generalist (or specialist) when budget allows

As is the case with many new movements, support from leadership proved to be a universal “critical success factor,” and improved the perception and understanding of digital fundraising within the station. An opposite culture with a digital fundraising “black box” showed fewer promising results, and even left some station staff unfamiliar with the concepts, practices, and lessons that digital fundraising has to offer.

All things considered, hiring a digital fundraiser might also be an impractical solution for some. Stations can make great strides by committing to learn from the collected Passport data, educating staff about current trends and internal efforts within digital fundraising, exploring a feasibly different staffing model, providing greater training opportunities for staff, and instituting process improvements that allow for better coordination of digital fundraising/marketing across platforms.


“We’ve emphasized this point throughout, but it’s worth calling out again: Digital platforms, including Passport, are offering stations an unprecedented level of data driven insight.”

Passport represents a giant step forward for PBS, but many stations are not taking advantage of every opportunity it offers. One possible answer to this could be the least common approach: hiring a dedicated digital fundraiser. Allocating these responsibilities to a single staff member is often the catalyst that allows a station to begin running membership campaigns between pledge drives, focus on specific opportunities like Passport activation, and harnessing data to construct a picture of member behavior.

With our world rapidly expanding into a more digital age, each station shares the same progressive goals: effectively engaging a new class of donors and enhancing long-term station sustainability. A full-time digital fundraising staff member, increased staff training, and implementing new staffing or organizational methods are just a few practices that would aid in embracing change and fending off obsolescence.  While each stations’ path will need to be custom tailored, there should be a ubiquitous sense of urgency for effective digital fundraising well-suited for the upcoming digital age.


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