Late last year, PBS invited stations to test the hypothesis that offering a Roku Streaming Stick as a mission-based premium would be sufficient incentive to encourage conversions to monthly Sustaining Memberships. More than 50 stations had applied and fortunately KQED was lucky enough to be one of the chosen stations. Cool! Send out some messaging to our file, and see who bites. Lots of people did: hypothesis proven. However, that was not the end of KQED’s role in the campaign.

Given KQED’s status as well-run station in a large market, and reputation for strong online fundraising strategy, we wanted to do more than go for the low hanging fruit. Other stations, and PBS, would benefit from more than just a high volume of new sustainers acquired from Rokus. So we did some analysis, broke down some segments, and ran some tests.

As senior manager of KQED’s new Audience Insights and Ingenuity team, my new role is to coordinate precisely this type of analysis. Here was the perfect opportunity to get a first set of real insights.

We pulled 3 separate segments:

  • Current nonsustaining members
  • Lapsed members
  • Prospects

We broke each of these into 2 sub segments:

  • Current – offline vs online donors
  • Lapsed members – previously offline sustainers vs. non sustainers
  • Prospects – PBS prospects vs all other prospects

Not surprisingly, current members proved the most receptive, with the highest open and clickthrough rates. Online donors were by far the most likely to open and click (52% open rate, 1.5% CTR), but much less likely to donate than offline donors. (33% of all donations were from offline donors, vs 12% from online donors).Hypothesis: donation habits reflect viewing habits: online donors, although interested in the concept of on-demand viewing, already have a Roku or similar device and see less benefit in making an additional donation. Offline donors are making a new venture into time shifted viewing.


This was the toughest group to convert. Interestingly, lapsed sustainers, though slightly more inclined to open the email (22% open rate) than one-time lapsed (21% open rate), were impossible to convert. Lapsed nonsustainers, though their open & clickthrough rates were very similar, were much more likely to rejoin (14% of all donations).Hypothesis: once bitten twice shy: although some former sustainers may be interested in the idea of time shifted viewing, they are not interested in resuming the sustaining method of membership. Former one-time donors are much more receptive to the concept of sustaining membership.


Both PBS and KQED Prospects showed similar interest (25% and 24% open rates respectively), but KQED prospects were more likely to click (1.46% CTR vs 0.97%), and somewhat more likely to convert (22% of donations vs 18%).Hypothesis: PBS Prospects already have Rokus or similar devices. Considering this fact, and the fact that this group has proved difficult to convert in general, 39 new members is a respectable number. And a total of 87 new members from the total prospect pool is very nice!In fact, 55% of all donations received came from nonmembers or lapsed members, with the remaining 45% being conversions by existing members to sustainer membership.

These hypotheses indicated that there were segments for whom a Roku Streaming Stick is possibly not a great incentive. But Sustaining Membership in itself has benefits of its own: continuous “set-and-forget” donation; no persistent renewal notices; more of your donation goes to the cause you choose. Could this be an incentive in itself to some of our current online donors and PBS Prospects?I turned around the copy on the email, switching the emphasis from the Streaming Stick as a cool premium to the benefits of Sustaining Membership, with the Roku only mentioned at the end as an added bonus. I sent this email to the 3 groups that had been less receptive last time around (PBS Prospects, Lapsed Sustaining Members, and Current Online members), and it did seem to move the needle.

With this message, we found that some of those lapsed offline sustainers came back to us, drawn by the explanation of the benefits of Sustaining Membership. The gap between current online and offline donors also closed somewhat (9% and 12% respectively), showing that some of those existing Roku users didn’t mind getting another one if they understood the benefits of their gift.

Several of these donors were clearly well aware of the habits of online streaming of content, but didn’t realize the additional benefits of Sustaining Membership. Others had flirted with it in the past, but offline, and were now discovering the benefits of online donation.Likewise, another group were used to consuming content by traditional means, but were now ready to make the leap towards digital on-demand viewing.

Once you start getting creative with data, the possibilities keep expanding. For example, how many of the Roku donors are also using KQED Passport? Answer: only 10%. Once Passport becomes more widely available on over-the-top devices such as Rokus, this must be a fertile audience for increasing the Passport reach, since they now have the device and are already eligible.

But only half our active Passport users are currently Sustaining Members. Since the Passport audience consists of known digital users with current online memberships, we can now test the notion that here is another growing segment (non-Sustaining Passport actives) ready to hear the Sustaining Membership message.

All of this analysis is behavioral rather than demographic – none of the segmentation was based on geography, age, gender, etc. but entirely on their history of platform usage (online or offline), source, and giving history. This is a crucial part of the work of the Audience Insights and Ingenuity team, to get a 360 degree view of our audience, and what drives them, what their preferences are, what are their patterns of consumption, etc. as well as the new ways we need to reach them.

Andrew Alvarez | Senior Manager, Audience Insights & Ingenuity | KQED

*Originally posted on the PBS SPI Blog