(Warning: below is a rant directed at my local public radio station)
To Whom It May Concern at WHYY:
I am a big fan of WHYY and NPR, and have supported your station many times over the past ten years with gifts (usually over the suggested minimum level) made in response to your regular pledge drives. But not this year. I will likely continue to support WHYY – I can’t imagine having KYW 1060 as my only radio news source – but I will not reward the pathetic efforts of your pledge drive with my gift.
Why do I resent your pledge drive so much?
First, your hosts are lousy. Just because they’re on the board or management of the radio station doesn’t mean they can sit behind a microphone and inspire people to give to WHYY. They often make bad jokes and even worse segues to overly dramatic tales of public radio’s financial woes. Which gets me to point #2 . . .
Second, the rhetoric is misleading. Listening to your hosts’ desperate dialog, I start to worry that public radio in the nation’s fifth largest media market is teetering on the brink of insolvency. "If we don’t reach our goal of 250 pledges during Morning Edition, we’ll have to go back to management and make some decisions about programming." Please, don’t insult your listeners with such ominous but hollow threats – listeners who you describe as "Well-educated, Influential, Culturally active, Decision-makers, Technology savvy, Affluent professionals." I’m technologically savvy enough to surf over to your website and find (the buried) financial report showing that WHYY had a $2.2M surplus last year. And, because I listen to your station, I know that Joan Kroc gave $225M to NPR in 2003. I know this doesn’t eliminate the need for listener support, but please, you have some explaining to do about this misleading rhetoric.
Third, the thank-you gifts/incentives/bribes are cheezy and make the whole act of giving somewhat misleading. How many coffee mugs can a public radio listener really need? And a shower radio? Puh-leez. Futhermore, once you deduct the cost of the coffee mugs (and shipping) from my donation to the financially strapped public radio station that serves my community like no other, I realize that a significant portion of what I thought was an altruistic gift to my community non-profit radio station is really paying for the thank-you crap that you’re sending me. Please keep the crap to yourselves.
A few suggestions:
Get your executive staff and board members off the air during the pledge drive or, at least, reduce their airtime. In stead, ask your "loyal," "enlightened," "engaged" listeners to share their testimonials of why they listen to and support WHYY. I’m more inclined to give to NPR if a peer is asking me than if a WHYY staffer is asking me. Furthermore, some of NPR’s most popular efforts of recent years are listener-created – I think of both This I Believe and of SoundClips. This approach could probably work for you.
Be honest with us. Tell us how Joan Kroc’s money is being used at NPR, and why our smaller gifts are just as needed. Ask us to support WHYY out of loyalty, community service and dedication to quality journalism, not out of an unfounded fear that our favorite programs might be cut even though your radio station has a $2.2M surplus from last year. Use the pledge drive as a celebration and showcase for public radio, not a poorly-produced beg-a-thon. And make a better effort to raise money outside of the pledge drive – through direct mailings, peer giving campaigns, online giving, and pre-pledge drive efforts.
Flush the crap. Ask for listener support without any incentives. However, if you must offer thank-you gifts, make it clear that the "thank you gift" is not a "gift" from the radio station to the listener, but rather a purchase by the listener. Make it clear that my $100 donation to public radio will be turned into a $78 donation after you send me two coffee mugs. And after you do that, make the case that public radio needs the whole $100, not the $78 that remains after receiving two unnecessary mugs.
I will continue to support public radio in Philadelphia with my financial gifts. But it is my hope that you will make the act of giving less painful and more gratifying – and you can start by changing the on-air pledge drives.
Your loyal listener (except during pledge week),