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Public TV Must Now Compete with Streamers for Essential Dollars

Where would we be without Big Bird? Julia Child? Mr. Rogers? Masterpiece Theater? All are icons of what we call “Public Television,” an essential service with a long and, unfortunately, somewhat troubled history.

Fundraising for Public Television

 Public television, or, more accurately, non-commercial television, has been part of the American landscape since 1952 when the FCC reserved 242 channels of the then-nascent VHF radio spectrum to “serve the educational and cultural broadcast needs of the entire community to which they are assigned.” 

A year later, the first educational TV station, KUHT, began broadcasting from the University of Houston in Houston, Texas, financed solely by private funding. In 1955, station KQED in San Francisco would stage the first TV fundraising auction. Since then, appealing to the public to support public broadcasting became a tradition, one that continued even after the Educational Television Facilities Act (1962), the Public Broadcasting Act (1967) and the Public Broadcasting Service (1969) began funneling federal tax dollars to non-commercial radio and TV stations throughout the United States.

  Flash forward to today. Presently, many Americans believe PBS provides most if not all the funding needed to support its member stations. This is far from the case. Currently, only about 15% of public TV funding comes from the Corporation for public Broadcasting (CBC). The rest? It must come from private donations, usually directly to local PBS-affiliated stations.

Fundraising for public television has always been a challenge, but perhaps even more so these days with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, Apple +, etc., competing for viewers’ entertainment dollars. According to recent surveys, 1 in 4 American households spends more than $75 per month on streaming subscriptions…with 1 in 10 having “no idea” how much they spend. 

Contributor Development Partnership (CDP)

Such changes in the TV landscape put even more pressure on public television fundraisers to identify donors and secure funding. Contributor Development Partnership (CDP) is one such organization dedicated to the cause. An independent public benefit corporation, it works on behalf of more than 230 American public radio and TV stations to share data across the system, analyze fundraising performance, and develop best practices.

 Founded in 2011 as an initiative within Boston’s WGBH, CDP collected a group of PBS-affiliated stations to create the industry’s only National Reference File, a tool used daily to help them recognize where and how they can increase fundraising effectiveness and efficiency. This has resulted in more than $200 million in net revenue for participating stations.

According to its website, CDP’s mission is “to help sustain a thriving public media system. CDP works with local 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. Stations can then use these new resources to better serve their local communities.”

How DonorSearch has helped:

DonorSearch has been central to CDP’s operations for more than half a decade. “Contributor Development Partnership, also known as CDP, started about 10 years ago as an initiative within WGBH Public Broadcasting to set up a collaborative fundraising model for public media,” explained Hunter Sears, CDP’s Associate Director of Partner Services. “I just had a station the other day that had a donor who said, ‘Hey, I’ve been waiting for you guys to call me.’ Without DonorSearch, this station wouldn’t have had the insight to reach out to them. In the last 25 years, media has just grown, and connecting the public media content to the Need to Give has been harder and harder. What DonorSearch really did with that methodology of identifying actual philanthropic giving to outside organizations is you’re able to kind of pinpoint exactly what the affinity of those donors have through their outside giving. Our fundraisers can identify and pivot their engagement to that donor based on those interests.”

DonorSearch Ai

DonorSearch Ai helps clients like CDP via using advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and target potential donors based on factors that go far beyond mere net worth. Analyzing donor behavior along a number of axes, can find people whose likelihood of making large donations far exceeds what one might suspect based on their past behavior. It can, for example, identify donors who have a strong personal affinity for public broadcasting in general, or who are rabid fans of particular programs carried on PBS stations.

Ultimately, by pairing targeted messages with each recipient’s individual sympathies/loyalties, DonorSearch makes acquiring donations far more efficient, effective, and cost-effective. Specifically, DonorSearch helps you:

  • Pinpoint donors who have a capacity to give and possess an affinity for your cause.
  • Expand your prospect list with our philanthropy-focused prospect search database.
  • Predict a prospect’s giving capacity with accurate, secure giving intelligence data.

“It’s now been over five years and we’re approaching about 75 stations that are taking advantage of DonorSearch’s services through CDP,” Sears continued. “I can’t see myself recommending a prospect research solution other than DonorSearch. The customer service is top notch and I also love that they’re constantly innovating.”

To find out how you can achieve the same kind of success CDP now enjoys, please contact our team of experts to arrange your demo of DonorSearch Ai today.

Additional Resources

Donor-Centered Fundraising Starts with a Culture of Philanthropy: Six Questions to Test Your Readiness

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When You’re Inspired, Your Donors Give More

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