KCET – Sustainer File Strategy

How audience refinement strategies have grown KCET’s sustainer file

The challenge

KCET – the largest independent nonprofit public television station in the country – came to Russ Reid at a time when they were on the brink of breaking away from PBS and were making programmatic changes at the organizational level, in their line‐up of TV programs and in their fundraising programs. One of their main needs was to rebrand their fundraising program to show the new direction of the organization.

KCET had suspended acquisition for a year, so it was imperative that they make significant improvements in their conversion programs – while also making considerable cost improvements.

Prior to Russ Reid, KCET had been sending the sustainer invite to members in specific months of their membership cycle who had specifically indicated that they did not want to receive any add gifts and/or only one renewal effort (out of a typical multi‐effort series).

This amounted to only 150 invites a month with a sub‐par response rate, and a high cost per donor, as they weren’t mailing enough pieces to qualify for nonprofit postal rates, and their original sustainer package was very exclusive and had a high‐end look.

So our key objectives were to:

  • Increase sustainer conversion
  • Rebrand the package to reflect the new direction
  • Save on costs

Russ Reid solution

We dug deep into the current audience selection and segmentation, and after researching potential prospect pools, we determined the members with the highest propensity to convert to sustainers were those who had just joined the organization, renewed or rejoined, having just affirmed their commitment to KCET.

This new audience increased the mail quantity by 87 times! This new quantity immediately saved on costs, as the invites could now qualify for nonprofit postal rates. More importantly, this change increased percent response by 300% and doubled the number of sustainers on the file!

Subsequently, having proved that this new audience was viable, our next step was to redesign the package in a way that reflected the right brand and positioned the sustainer program in a brand new way that would make it more compelling to donors. This new package yielded comparable results – and saved KCET 84%!

Russ reid analytics case study

From FY10 to FY12, the audience strategy remained the same. Additionally, KCET has been managing follow‐up telemarketing campaigns to all donors who receive the direct mail package through their preferred telemarketing partner, achieving high conversion rates that complement our mail efforts.

In FY13, we tested a new audience strategy to mail donors on a quarterly basis, expanding our segmentation selection. Additionally, we redesigned the creative to mirror our show‐focused strategy, which had proven positive on all mail programs. With one sustainer campaign final, we’ve increased conversion by 48%.


In FY10 this approach decreased cost by 84%, increased percent response by 300%, increased number of sustainers by 68% and increased ROI by 438%.

When retested in FY13, sustainer conversion increased by 48%.

Next steps for KCET include culling through their data to determine if moving the sustainer ask further out in a donor’s membership cycle will garner a larger conversion rate.