This is a series on Better News to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) to share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole. This “win” comes from KPCC’s Deanna Archetto, on-air membership manager, and Danny Sway, digital membership manager. KPCC took part in Poynter’s Local News Innovation Program in 2018-19.
Question: What problem were you trying to solve, and why was solving the problem strategically important for your organization?
Answer: KPCC, also known as Southern California Public Radio, is a member-supported public media network that operates across the region, reaching from Santa Barbara down to Los Angeles and Orange counties, and out to the Coachella Valley.
KPCC has quarterly on-air fundraisers, where we spend five to 10 days interrupting on-air programming to ask listeners to support our content. This public radio model of fundraising is successful, but there are hurdles that come along with converting on-air listeners into online givers.
Our call-to-action on air is “Go to KPCC.org to donate,” because it’s easier to say and to remember than the homepage URL plus “slash donate or join.” KPCC.org is also where most of our web visitors land to listen live.
But once you get to KPCC.org, there are still more steps a donor has to take before they can make their donation. They have to find specific calls to action on the homepage — either by clicking on a banner or the small and often hard-to-find “donate” button at the top of the page — which will bring them to the donation form.
Based on our web traffic and click data (and the fact that most of our written journalism is now hosted on our digital publication LAist.com), we knew that the KPCC homepage essentially has two primary uses for visitors: to find the livestream “listen now” link or to find the donation portal.
So we decided to try an experiment: Would we see an increase in donations during the pledge drive if we made it simple and easy for our listeners to start the process right from the home page?
Q: How is this approach related to Table Stakes (e.g. one of the 7 Table Stakes and/or an outgrowth of the Knight-Lenfest initiative, etc.)?
A: This approach is related to Table Stake No. 4 (Funnel occasional users to habitual and paying/valuable loyalists) and Table Stake No. 5 (Diversify and grow the ways you earn revenue from the audiences you build).
Q: How did you go about solving the problem?
A: Online donations are on the rise, surpassing donations via people calling in by phone. But web donations can be tedious, with long forms to fill out and ample time for users to change their minds. Our goal was to make it as easy as possible to help motivated listeners convert to engaged donors.
We decided to optimize the homepage for fundraisers. We started with banners on the page, then added a top-of-page pushdown message to highlight special offers. We embarked on a partnership with the content team that allowed us to use content shells, which are essentially homepage stories. We used that space for fundraising. All of these tactical decisions helped increase web donations. But people still had to click another button on the homepage before they could even start filling out the donation form.
Our most recent experiment came during our fall and year-end fundraisers in 2019. We developed a new module that would easily surface part of the donation form right on the homepage itself.
That gave web visitors (who are largely going to KPCC.org during fundraisers to donate or to stream KPCC live) a clear message about what we wanted them to do: Start the donation process right then and there. They could select their donation amount and frequency and then be taken to the full form to complete their transaction.
We kept the form simple. Upon submission, visitors would enter the rest of their information on the next screen. That made their choice to donate less tedious and led to a higher conversion rate.
Through our partnership with the content team at KPCC, we placed this widget in the top content block, front and center on the homepage, making it the first thing web visitors see. Crucially, it does not obstruct other homepage destinations like a pop-up or splash page would. Visitors could still click the “Listen Live” button. But they would also see that we were fundraising, and that it was as easy to donate as it is to listen.
Q: What worked?
A: We made the homepage widget look exactly like our existing donation form so that the experience was seamless for donors, but it also blended perfectly into the existing page design. We took over the lead story position on the homepage, which put the call to action front and center to web page visitors.
Q: What didn’t work?
A: Originally our idea was to turn the entire homepage into the donation portal. But because of limitations with the old system that powered our previous donation form, we were unable to do that.
We used Springboard from Jackson River, our new donation portal. And we were able to work with Jackson River’s developers to move simple, non-financial query parameters (in this case: donation amount and one-time or recurring donation) to the main donation form, essentially pre-filling a key part of the form before all the rest.
Q: What happened that you didn’t expect?
A: We knew our new approach would be more successful, but we didn’t realize that we’d have about 1,000 more donations than the last two campaigns combined!
We expected that adding a new place to click on the homepage would likely reduce the clicks on other places donors used to engage with, like the pushdown and content shell.
However, we were happy that we still saw an increase in the total number of donations that came in through the homepage with the addition of the donation widget. From fall 2018 to fall 2019, the change was an additional 797 donations — a 22% increase in web giving and an additional $100,300.
When we repeated the test during our year-end fundraiser, we saw 372 additional donations come in via the homepage — an 18% increase over the same fundraiser in 2018, which adds up to $98,000.
Q: What would you do differently now? What did you learn?
A: We’d love to keep testing and improving this approach. Our ultimate goal is to get the entire donation workflow onto the homepage — where a visitor could select his or her donation amount, pick a thank-you gift, and enter their payment information all without leaving the homepage. Some technical hurdles remain. In this instance, we simply didn’t have the engineering bandwidth at the time, so we opted for a quick and simple product to validate the concept. Now that that’s been proven, we can work toward budgeting more resources to improve the experience in the future.
Q: What advice would you give to others who try to do this?
A: Look into what your call-to-action is, and what the user experience is really like for your audience. If you’re asking a large on-air audience to go to a webpage to donate, are you making it as easy as possible for them to complete the task you’ve asked them to do? It shouldn’t require “I-Spy” skills to figure out how to make a donation, and you shouldn’t overwhelm your users with tedious forms or endless options. You have to make the case to senior leadership that a homepage fundraising takeover is the next evolution of your fundraising model success.
Making small changes to your donation form can help increase the number of completed donations you receive, but make sure to bring your donation form to where your audience is. That will work even better.
News organizations that depend on subscribers can also make these changes and see results. It’s important to show readers how easy it is to subscribe by bringing the process of subscribing front and center on your organization’s website. If your homepage isn’t the destination with the most traffic for your organization, implement this idea wherever people spend the most time: i.e., article pages.
Q: Anything else you want to share about this initiative?
A: This method of soliciting donations will likely depend on the platform you use to build your donation forms, and the vendor’s willingness to collaborate. We recently switched over to Springboard from Jackson River, which provided us with the flexibility to create unique widgets and donation forms to make this possible.