This is posted on Thursday, November 10, 2016 by Rodney Ho on the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
90.1/WABE-FM had its shortest fall fundraising drive in history last month: just seven days. And it still managed to exceed its fundraising goal of $625,000 by pulling in about $800,000.
A lot of people are not fans of begging so the station said if people pledged a certain amount the first day, they'd cut it down a day. It worked.
Fundraising methods have shifted in recent years. The station began a "sustainers" program in the spring of 2014 where people can contribute a small amount each month. At 23,000, sustainers now represent 60 percent of the station's 38,000 individual contributors. That's very high among NPR stations nationwide.
"We are certainly the envy of other stations considering we ramped up so quickly," said Amanda La Kier, director of individual giving who joined the station in 2014 and had previously worked at CURE Childhood Cancer, the American Jewish Committee and the American Cancer Society.
Nearly all "sustainers" actually stick around year after year. That's great for NPR stations because they don't need to ask them for money every year.
As more people sign up for the "sustainers" program, the amount of money pledged via traditional means tends to go down. But impressively, WABE actually matched last year's pledge numbers. Sustainer figures are not included in that pledge number.
Pledge figures used to exceed $1 million before the sustainers program. But the station now pulls in far more money overall. And it smooths out cash flow.
"It gives us the confidence in our cash flow that we can try new things," La Kier said. "We can make long-term investments. We can do more planning we weren't able to do before."
Interest in the current political season has certainly helped WABE, along with other NPR stations nationwide.
And now that WABE is past the 21-month point of its change to all news/talk during the weekdays from classical music, the ratings during that time have started to improve, especially among younger listeners. The average age of the WABE listener has dropped from 50 to 44 in two years.
"People are starting to take that in," said Hilary Silverboard, senior vice president of marketing and business strategy. She noted that listeners in the ages of 25 to 34 have doubled in the past year.
And while news/talk has forced WABE to spend more on staff, the increase in revenues have been able to compensate for that.
So far, WRAS-FM's arrival on 88.5 as a rival NPR station has not tangibly hurt WABE. Currently, WABE still draws more than five times more listeners at any given time than WRAS. Silverboard said duplicate listeners between the two stations is just 17 percent.
Both individual giving and underwiting is up this fiscal year so far, representing 80 percent of the approximately $13 million budget. (The fiscal year ends June 30.)
The station did some marketing research and has decided to emphasize its deep storytelling as a selling point as well as being the hub for culture and conversation.
The PBA television station raises about 10 percent of revenues at about $1.5 million.