What common marketing mistakes should we avoid?

It will take some experimentation to figure out which messages and channels work best with your audience, but there are some membership “don’ts” that are true across the board. Here are some of the most common mistakes. 

Not regularly sending appeals to members and non-members. Many organizations think they’re sending out too many solicitations because every time they send one out, they get one or two cranky responses. Organizations take that as a vote against more solicitations, but they don’t count the members who responded to the appeal as opposing votes. Here are some points and counterpoints to combat squeamishness: 

Concerns your colleagues might haveHow to respond 
“We don’t want to annoy our readers.”“Let’s compare the number of complaints to the number of donations we received. (A donation in response to an appeal is someone saying ‘I’m glad you asked.’)”
“I’m hearing a lot of negative feedback on solicitations.”“Will you forward that feedback on to me? I’m going to write back with this: ‘I’m so glad you value our work. We want to make sure we can provide more of that, so we have to ask people for money! The more we ask, the more people give and the more great stories you get to read.’”

It is important that your newsroom either suppresses membership appeals to existing members or sends them a different message than the one you’re sending to prospective members. Their message should thank them for their support and invite them to increase their contribution or tell someone else about the opportunity to become a member. 

Setting your default donation amounts too low or asking for too little. In behavioral economics, setting defaults is an effective nudge when there is inertia or uncertainty in decision making. Nudge people toward monthly donations and larger donations by setting aspirational defaults. The News Revenue Hub has experimented with increasing the default monthly donation on a member organization’s checkout page. They’ve found that most people will give what you ask for. If you set your default amount at $5, your average monthly gift is going to be around $5. If you set your default monthly donation amount at $10, your average monthly gift is going to be around $10. Additionally, avoid “micropayments.” It runs counter to your goal of getting most supporters on a recurring payment cycle to support your body of work.

Assuming readers understand your business model. News organizations may think it’s obvious that they need audience members’ financial support. It isn’t. Your audience members may have a very thin grasp on how much real, good journalism costs – and if they don’t know that or why you need that support, they’re unlikely to give it.

When a new news organization is accepted into News Revenue Hub, the first thing the Hub does is have them conduct an audience survey. The survey helps measure an audience’s emotional connection to a news outlet and sheds light on areas of possible confusion: Questions like “Did you know we’re a nonprofit?” or “How do you think we’re funded?” sometimes yield unexpected results.

Readers often don’t know if their contributions are tax-deductible. Sometimes, readers assume news organizations are funded by advertising, even when there are no ads on the site. Misconceptions about membership and paywalls are common, too. When asked if they think consumers of the news should help fund it, respondents who answer negatively often say, “No, because some information would not be available to those without funds.” The survey responses will help you understand what you need to clarify in your marketing efforts.