Founded in 2011 as an initiative within WGBH, the Contributor Development Partnership (CDP) was spun out in 2018 as an independent public benefit corporation with one mission: to help sustain a thriving public media system and create a “fundraising alliance” for public media.
The organization delivers new and innovative fundraising solutions, marketing strategies, technology innovations, data and analytics services, and scaled best practices on behalf of more than 230 public radio and television stations nationwide. The Boston-based CDP grew out of an initiative by the public media’s Major Market Group (MMG), which, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and WGBH, built a solution to help stations identify fundraising areas of opportunity.
CDP works with local public media stations to grow their active donor files and increase net revenues through the development of best practices in fundraising, scaled vendor management, innovative fundraising and operational services, and best-of-breed technology systems.
Single Customer View in Omnichannel Marketing
One of the best-of-breed solutions was the implementation of Redpoint’s rg1 software for data-driven, personalized engagement.
Legacy marketing and database systems lacked the ability to create a comprehensive single customer view to rely on for donor engagement systems. First implemented at WGBH and carried over to the CDP, the Redpoint rg1 solution offered a simple way to bring together all information about donors, create personalized one-to-one interactions across all marketing channels and have insight into real customer data to make informed decisions.
Using Redpoint’s solution, CDP’s Member Service Bureau (MSB) – a large-scale fundraising collaborative that enables participating stations to focus more on local donor relationships and less on back-office processing – is able to perform complex granular segmentations for omnichannel marketing. CDP leverages those segmentations to drive successful direct mail campaigns, gift processing activities and, in pre-pandemic days, door-to-door canvassing using neighborhood and real estate data to target potential donors. Stations that participate in CDP’s MSB benefit from significant scale that is derived from rich collaboration and powerful solutions like RedPoint rg1.
Stop, Breathe Deep and Assess What is Next
In early 2020, COVID-19 presented CDP with its biggest challenge yet. Could the organization help find a way to help sustain partner stations in a pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, CDP immediately conducted an “economic environmental scan” to determine the potential impact on its client partners. While still looking ahead to upcoming fundraising campaigns, the company also mobilized to protect existing fundraising commitments, counseling its client partners on how to respond to increases in cancellation requests from monthly sustainer donors.
CDP used historical data to determine the potential impact of the pandemic on client partners and advised them to prepare to reforecast existing fundraising budgets. Seeing the possibility for long lasting impact from the pandemic, CDP also recommended its client partners take a conservative approach to FY21 planning, going to so far as to suggest provisional budgets that could be revised regularly.
There was a consensus that if CDP focused on using the existing public media community cohesion there was potential for sustained donor levels during the worst of times. Donors who believe strongly that public media provides critical information, playing a role in providing medical or educational resources, would be driven to support these stations as their “part to play” in helping people.
Don’t Assume, Check the Data
There were factors that indicated this community approach strategy faced a high degree of uncertainty, but working with Redpoint, CDP took the guesswork out of it. They were able to immediately test assumptions, messages and adjust accordingly. CDP president and co-founder Michal Heiplik said, “Redpoint’s rg1 solution enabled CDP and its partners to react quickly to a changing market and customize for the needs of our member stations and their donors.”
CDP tested its initial theories, collecting data from 112 stations representing 2.5 million donors and nearly $100 million in donations from January to March 2020. In mid-May, it produced its first analysis of the effects of the early stages of the pandemic on stations’ individual giving programs. That data, combined with the understanding that public media was providing a vital community service at a time of great uncertainty led CDP to the decision to continue to fundraise at a time when many others scaled back or paused their fundraising completely.
What they found was:
- Membership revenue was holding its own.
- Stations that continued with their March on-air drives were able to build momentum that led to year-over-year growth.
- Stations with strong “sustainer” membership programs were also showing resilience.
Don’t Stop Requesting Help
As the magnitude of the pandemic became apparent, the CDP Community pivoted an entire cooperative fundraising program consisting of more than 30 client partners representing 800,000+ donors to incorporate an effective omnichannel COVID strategy.
While many other non-profits paused, CDP and its client partners ultimately leaned in, updating messaging, creating timely custom one-off direct marketing pieces and literally stopping the presses on an in-progress direct mail campaign that was deemed inappropriate for the moment, shelving it for a later time and replacing it with a fast-tracked COVID-specific campaign.
On the digital front, CDP adjusted messaging and doubled the cadence of email communications to break through the clutter and remind donors of their critical role in public media’s public service mission. CDP recognized early on that donors, as people, craved connection, and a sense of control at a time when so much in their lives was out of their control. People wanted to feel that they could do something, anything, to make a difference in the face of this unprecedented moment in time.
It worked. By reminding listeners of their “critical role in public media’s public service mission,” stations successfully engaged first-time and recurring donors, and even outperformed 2019’s revenues.
Looking back on the initiative, Heiplik’s takeaway was a simple one: “In times of crisis, people want to help. Determine why your organization matters during these times and work to draw your donors and prospects closer to you.”
Leaning in When Instincts Say to Pull Back
CDP partner clients rolled out their targeted COVID campaign against the backdrop of these results. CDP then tracked the campaign’s results and found that despite an initial four-week dip in year-over-year performance from mid-March through mid-April, participating stations’ cumulative year-over-year revenue (for gifts < $1000) rebounded in mid-April and began outperforming 2019 by double digits, and continues to do so.
The organization bet (correctly) that existing donors, both one time and sustainers, would respond enthusiastically and were also pleasantly surprised at the large number of unsolicited new donors added to the files as well.
Heiplik provided the following advice for fundraisers navigating a world transformed by COVID-19: “Don’t let personal circumstances and upheaval cloud your professional judgment. Relentlessly track the events impacting your donors, as well as your fundraising performance, and adjust as needed, letting data drive your decision-making.”