Fund Raising Week at NPR

It’s the last week of the semi-annual NPR pledge drive, and one thing I’ve noticed is that, over the years, the asked for pledge amounts have increased drastically. I remember when NPR or PBS would ask for $20 pledges as a first level. Granted, this was many years ago and inflation would have increased this amount, but the local NPR here more or less starts off by asking for “dollar a day” pledges, i.e., $365. All conveniently drawn on monthly installments off the credit card. Gone are the days when the NPR coffee mug or PBS umbrella was touted first; now it’s barely mentioned. The $365 pledge gets you a Radio Shark, which is sort of like Tivo for the radio, at least in a time-shifting sense. A $500 pledge gets a Tivoli Radio. These are clever gifts, aimed at enhancing the radio-listening experience.

Quite possibly, NPR and its affiliate stations did market research on their audience and realized that with a relatively wealth listener base, it’s more effective to go after the big fish for a lot of money — compare the pledge amounts to how much you pay for broadband or your daily Starbuck’s consumption and you’ll see how much of a bargain the necessity of NPR is — than to cast a wider net with smaller pledge amounts. I can’t argue with this thinking, though it appears to make an assumption that the audience can’t really be grown from its relatively narrow base. Fund-raising strategies may also change with different NPR affiliates: a station based out of a college town may aim for poor students and smaller pledge amounts rather than wealthier suburbanites and their fatter wallets.

Micky Kaus, in a short piece on the MOMA vs. NPR fight, has included a few links on NPR’s financing and compensation structure. Our pledge dollars at work! Though the amounts probably aren’t out of line for an organization with $120M in revenues, one always had the impression of relative poverty in public radio. Perhaps it was the semi-annual begging. WCPN has about $17M a year in revenue, but is running a small deficit.

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