In 2005, KLRU, Austin’s PBS station’s, revenue picture was bleak. Individual donors were declining, much as they were at PBS stations across the country. At the same time, the number of days KLRU interrupted programming to fundraise on-air had grown to an all-time high, and among the highest in the country, of 89 days per year, almost a quarter of the year. Online giving was almost non-existent and there were few major or foundation donors.
Nell Edgington, KRLU’s Senior VP of Corporate Strategy and Development at the time, put together a plan to take KLRU’s revenue-generating function into the 21st century. The plan would cost $350,000 over 3 years and included a new donor database and online giving software, a Webmaster, staff training, and market research. Nell secured a handful of foundation and individual donors to fund the project.
With those investments in hand, she combined the development, membership and marketing departments into one team. She recruited and trained a team of seasoned fundraising professionals. She then led a comprehensive planning effort with the group and put in place an annual, measurable station marketing and fundraising plan. They launched a new web site; converted to a new donor database; made KLRU’s messaging clear, consistent and focused on KLRU’s community impact; revamped the corporate underwriting structure; streamlined and updated on-air fundraising; and launched a major giving campaign, with the help of KLRU’s well-connected board, to recruit $10,000+ gifts from corporations, foundations and individuals. They also brought graphic design in house and created the first ever Annual Report and membership brochure, while saving the station tens of thousands of dollars in marketing fees.
The results, after 3 years were tremendous:
- Revenue increased almost 40% to $4.9 million
- Fundraising expenses decreased by almost 20%
- The number of members increased by 36% to over 19,000
- The dollars raised from major donors increased by 195%
- The number of members retained year over year increased by 10 percentage points, from 58% to 68%
- The number of days of on-air fundraising decreased from 89 to 60 days, a 33% decrease, allowing more than 4 additional weeks per year of mission-based programming
- Dollars from corporate supporters increased by 26%
- Foundation support increased by 171%
- Online revenue grew by 250% and the size of the average online gift increased by 164%
While other PBS member stations were struggling to keep their members from leaving and their on-air pledge days from sky rocketing, KLRU’s members grew and their on-air fundraising days shrunk. KLRU became a model in the PBS system for how innovation in the face of a changing landscape can overcome the most difficult obstacles.
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