WNET Market Research Reveals Key Distinctions with Passport

In response to the survey findings, WNET has launched a screening series for Passport activated members. More than 600 people responded to the first offer. Jonathan Raymond, Senior Director of Membership, is shown above welcoming attendees to a screening of the first episode of the final season of Poldark next to a costumed super-fan, held at WNET’s Tisch studios in Lincoln Center.

Last fall, WNET received email copy from a former direct response vendor that concerned the team. The copy was clearly targeting an older demographic, but appeared out of touch with the younger demographic Passport was garnering for the organization.

The station decided a change was necessary, but the first step required learning more about its members and their motivations. The fundraising team remembers asking itself, “What could we find out about our donors’ motivations that would offer a fresh approach to our direct response? And could we apply these insights to a testing strategy for fundraising?”

WNET began by hosting focus groups across its membership file—with sessions broken out by giving level. The Passport sessions revealed a number of noteworthy insights. For instance, younger participants preferred streaming-on-demand over broadcast and rarely watched traditional broadcast. The Passport members were also motivated to donate by more emotional triggers, and a number noted that, for them, Passport was personal—a “gift they give themselves.” 

WNET’s fundraising team then followed up with a quantitative survey, delivered via email, using a Downton Abbey screening offer as an incentive for participation.

The survey was enormously successful on a couple of levels. “In less than two weeks we had gotten a pretty amazing response rate,” says Todd Whitley, Senior Director of Digital Fundraising. The 32-question survey received nearly 1,000 responses from Passport donors alone. “We had an 88 percent response rate for the survey itself,” he says. However, the survey also generated more than 1,100 donor testimonials from the survey takers. The survey responses and testimonials on why the station was important to donors provided rich and actionable material for fundraising, particularly for Passport. 

“We had a couple of assumptions moving into this,” explains Whitley. “We thought that, perhaps, our Passport donors didn’t understand how important individual support was to our fundraising efforts. And we thought we weren’t communicating specifically enough to them about the importance of their support.” Recently the station had dramatically increased its email volume and wanted to know how recipients felt about the messaging and communication frequency.

”There was an amazing response from people who were over 60,” Whitley says. While the station was able to engage younger donors for its focus groups, WNET’s core membership proved more inclined to respond to the quantitative survey.

A few of the prominent findings include:

Communications preferences: 80 percent of Passport respondents preferred to be contacted by email, and their least preferred method of contact was the phone. “Email was the overwhelming winner. Texts didn’t rate very high,” Whitley says. “That’s something we want to explore.”

Social issues: 45 percent of Passport donors said balanced news coverage was most important to them—a finding that helped to reinforce the significance of a calendar year-end campaign theme.

Fundraising frequency: When asked to rate the frequency of fundraising efforts, 27 percent of Passport donors said there was too much televised fundraising. More than 85 percent replied that there was just the right amount of email. “It was great to see that they thought the volume of fundraising appeals via emails was just right—and we had increased that three-fold in the past year,” Whitley says.

Passport: 74 percent said they took advantage of the Passport benefit. Only seven percent admitted they weren’t aware of Passport. When asked what they valued most about Passport, more than 85 percent of recipients answered that they liked watching programming on their own terms and schedule. The least popular answer was “access to exclusive local programs.” 

Answers to these questions were also noteworthy:

  • Would increased access to online journalism prompt you to increase your support? Maybe (56 percent), Yes (21.5 percent).
  • How do you consume arts programming? Nearly 51 percent answered “streaming on demand.” The least popular answer was “social media.”
  • Have you contributed through a televised fundraising campaign? Yes (51 percent).
  • Which opportunities would make you inclined to increase your support? Almost 70 percent said “invitations to lectures” would prompt more support. The least popular answer was “special donor recognition.”
  • Where do you think the largest percentage of support for THIRTEEN comes from? “Individuals” led with 59 percent of answers. The least popular choice was “government funding.”

Ultimately, the results of the survey show that WNET could benefit by enhancing personalization in its communications. Also, what works well for core members may not resonate as strongly for newer Passport donors. “Our previous approach to direct response was largely informed by traditional direct mail. That’s not going to work for our (newer) Passport donors moving ahead,” Whitley says. “Direct response that appreciates digital must be data-driven and more responsive to behaviors—something that will continue to evolve. This is part of an ongoing process for us.”