Get Your Passport

Get Your Passport

Passport icon (compass)Introduction: Sustainers and PBS Passport

The Fine Line between Sustainers and Subscribers

Still new to many PBS stations, PBS Passport is now an important component to building a robust sustainer program. PBS Passport represents a shift in the relationship between a station and its donors – one in which a monthly donation is not only a sign of support for the station, but also an opportunity to stream their PBS programs digitally, when and where they want to watch. This switch also represents an opportunity for each station to think strategically how to make use of the availability of PBS Passport to build sustainer loyalty.

PBS Passport serves as a valuable benefit for sustainers – and one with a lower point of entry at an enticing sustainer rate of $5 per month or $60 annually. As an automatic monthly withdrawal from the donor’s account, PBS Passport appeals to donors familiar with monthly services.

Because of this, members who have activated PBS Passport are typically younger than traditional donors, furthering trends seen for sustainers and online giving. While younger donors are difficult to capture through mail or even on-air fundraising, they do go online for their entertainment – and with PBS Passport there is a way to engage them with both high-quality content and as new donors to their local station.

The Best New Benefit in Your Toolkit

While the primary impetus to become a sustainer is ideally always the love of your programs, and a desire to become a partner in the effort to keep your station on the air—benefits help provide an additional push to donate.

With activation rates of 25-30%, or even as high as 50% at some stations, PBS Passport may not be essential for all donors, but it is valuable to many current and new donors alike. Unlike a physical premium, PBS Passport provides an additional benefit, and a reason to give continuously for those donors who need another reason to donate to their local station.

Using PBS Passport as an avenue to appeal to new – and younger – sustainers can also be accomplished with minimal addition to your current costs. The best place to reach prime audiences for PBS Passport has been online with upwards of 95% of donors acquired through PBS digital platforms. Some important techniques to make sure you’re taking advantage of your online real estate for PBS Passport are:

  1. Make sure that PBS Passport is prominently advertised on your homepage, with easy to identify graphics and available programming.

  2. Maintain an informative PBS Passport page that is easy to navigate for finding answers to frequently asked questions and especially easy to sign up.

  3. Integrate PBS Passport into all online giving forms and call center scripts, so that even if your donor came through an unrelated appeal, they are aware of their benefits.

Traditional channels like direct mail and telemarketing have so far been less effective in acquiring new donors who are primarily motivated by PBS Passport, but telemarketing is an effective way to convert annual donors to sustaining members.

For all members giving more than $60 annually, keeping your audience informed about station events, and programs available on PBS Passport is crucial to ensure they are ready to give on time. If they are already a member encouragement to activate PBS Passport will help to strengthen their relationship with your station. Make sure this member benefit is mentioned on the air and advertised in member magazines. Its impact in the mail and telemarketing is still being tested.

To make sure you’re getting the most out of PBS Passport, you can also download the PBS Passport Score Card and see how your program measures up.

A New Frontier in Public Television

Many stations have seen an increase in sustainers signing up for PBS Passport, though it’s also worth noting that, since these sustainers are giving for the benefit of PBS Passport, many are also giving at the minimum level of entry - $5/month or $60 per year. You may see a drop in your average gift as a result, even as your sustainer members increase. It will be extremely important to reach out to these donors with the option to upgrade their membership as time goes on. The average monthly gift in pubic media is $11/month when compared with the average of $19/month for non-profits outside the sector, there is room for growth. However, PBS Passport is still too new to know if most PBS Passport-motivated donors will be likely to upgrade or make additional gifts.

It’s important to remember that PBS Passport is a new and growing part of the PBS experience. It will take time to learn how to interact with PBS Passport-motivated donors and find the best ways of reaching out to the public to get more new donors attracted to making their first gift to public media. Be ready to test new techniques and keep an eye to trends, both in your station and across PBS, as the best practices are refined.