Prosper Research

by Josie Keller, Station Products and Innovation

Last month, PBS Interactive kicked off the first phase of a two-part Prosper research project, an audience-facing research initiative designed to determine the motivations of online donors.  This post talks about the overall research goals and preliminary findings of the project.  Later this summer, after the second part of the project is complete, we’ll have a full report to share with you.

The Research Process
Amy Sample, PBS Interactive’s Director of Web Analytics, is spearheading the two-phase Prosper research project with the assistance of a third party research group.

Amy Sample and her two daughters.
We are investigating communication preferences, where online fits in the decision-making process when making donations, barriers to giving and alternative ways could support stations, like premium digital membership benefits,” Amy explains. 

Phase I, which took place during the first week of May, enlisted focus groups consisting of existing and prospective donors in Baltimore and Chicago.  Participants were men and women aged 25 – 64, who regularly watch PBS and included people who had (and had not) visited

Phase II of the project, set to begin in July, will survey existing station donors, existing Prosper donors, and prospective donors.  The nation-wide survey is aimed at verifying whether the various motivations and preferences are representative of the larger population and whether there are geographic or demographic differences in user behavior and intent.

Preliminary Findings
Amy believes Phase I of this project was successful and was excited to share the following preliminary findings:

Preference to Give Online
The majority of respondents (both donors and prospects) had a preference to give online. They see online as more convenient, easier, and allow[ing] them to give on their own time. For several people, a specific program inspired them to donate and they said they immediately went online. Not only that, but there was a general preference to receive e-mail communication from PBS and stations. Respondents generally felt that monthly e-mail communication was acceptable, whereas postal mail communication was only acceptable quarterly.

Expectation of Appeals for Donations
The focus group participants were comfortable with us being much more overt in our appeal for donations on our sites (on both station sites and  The donors and prospective donors that participated understood that PBS and its stations need donations to exist. They expect that there will be appeals for donations on the sites.  But, universally, respondents felt that both and the station sites they looked at were too subtle in the donation placement. That said, there is a limit to how overt the appeal can be. We still have to respect the essence of the brand.  Clearly there is room for experimentation and testing of donation appeals.

Next Steps
Amy anticipates having a final report on the Prosper research project findings by the end of summer, which will help to shape Prosper as if moves forward and will be shared with all stations.

If your station is interested in conducting their own audience-facing research, Amy suggests low-cost usability testing services to test key functionality on your site, such as and or conducting free surveys on your site using Additionally, she has already designed a template for station use that will collect demographics and user satisfaction data in a short online survey.

To request Amy’s online survey template or more information on conducting research, send us an email. Comments or questions? Please post below.


  1. This sounds very promising.
    It would be useful to see examples of what fundraising appeals respondents found to be "too subtle." I understand that future research will test different approaches but we'd like to know the starting point.

  2. Nice to see validation that people prefer online giving. The more online shopping we do, the more we want the freedom to do everything online at our convenience. Just returned from NFCB - community radio broadcasters - where several stations are now seeing more than 50% of their donations online. One station even reduced their pledge to once a year because the audience met the online giving goal. It was a promise from station to audience to cut back on pledge if they reached a donation goal online (over a longer period of time).

  3. What people say they will do and what they'll actually do are not always the same thing. While focus groups can provide interesting insight, good fundraising is based on how people actually behave, not on how they say they'll behave. It will be interesting to see how the testing on this proceeds.