Dear NPR: I don't want your crap (mild, unoriginal)

Be kind; first pitting.

Dear local NPR affiliate, it’s great that you’re in the middle of your membership drive. I would contribute if I had any money. I generally like your station, although the classical music is a bit much.

However, let’s discuss how you go about getting contributions. There’s the guilt-trip; we can’t continue providing you quality programming without your support, because we are member-supported. That seems to work fairly well. But then you try to sweeten the deal. For instance, according to your membership page:

Program-related thank you gifts. Lord only knows what those are. Let’s try to guess:

  • The mug. I don’t want your coffee mug; it probably sucks. It probably chips easier. The text probably wears off after one washing. It probably has a dead mosquito sitting under the plastic wrapping. No thanks.

  • The bumper sticker. Eh, no.

  • The ever-present tote bag. The Simpsons mocked this one to death five years ago, but you keep running it out.

In summary, here’s an idea: Forget the crappy gifts, and save the money. That’s one less contribution you’d need.

Oh, and one more thing. Stating on the air:

is not the most effective way of guilting me into contributing. It tells me there are plenty of other donors out there, so why should I take the initiative?

IOW, get a clue . . .

Ah, don’t sweat it. The gov’t picks up the tab if you don’t. Which, is actually the same thing.

It is an effective fund raising method because many reasonable people don’t like to think of themselves as free loaders.

The mug, or the tote bag, or the cheap baseball hat, like the wedding ring, is a tangible sign that you are not a free loader. To bitch about NPR fund raising is like bitching that the sun rises in the East. It is a fact of life. The local stations that fund the network are not going to survive without private donations. If you don’t value public radio, then don’t give them your money. Don’t use your dislike of the effective guilt trip strategy as an excuse to spend more on coffee in a week that public radio asks of you as a donation for a year.

According to my local station, 40% of their funding comes from private donations. Incidentally, the local station is not classical music heavy–classical music emphasis is the cheap way to go. A mix of news, classic, folk, progressive R&R entertainment, current affairs and live recordings and performances (which is what the local station broadcasts) costs considerably more than just running classical CDS.

Actually, they don’t. Check the NPR website for national numbers, but my local NPR station gets roughly 5% (forgot the exact number) from government funding. The rest comes through listener contributions, underwriting, and other fundraising activities such as online sales.

IIRC, the national number is something like 8%.

So send a check and tell them you would rather the money spent on your “prize” be spent on more programming. A lot of people won’t contribute unless they get something tangible for it - otherwise they wouldn’t offer all that stuff.

Hey, some stations are giving out CDs from This American Life. I specifically chose that over a mug because (1) it is cheap to send and (B) I really, truly, selfishly wanted it and (III) I was hopeful that the CD was not expensive to produce.

I have always liked public radio (and how much of an nitpicking asshole would I be if I pointed out once again that “NPR” is only part of public radio?). The membership drives usually annoy me, but hey, I get why they do it. Actually, as it turns out, this year I’ve truly enjoyed the special “fall pledge drive” editions of some of their shows. This American Life put together a sort of “best of” show, and A Prairie Home Companion ran a hilarious sketch for the Ketchup Advisory Board that had Barb huddled in a corner rocking back and forth worried about her local public radio station.

As Hama said… Just like you can put your first class stamp on non-profit’s business reply envelopes to save them money, so can you tell uour radio station to keep their lovely thank-you.

P.S. I hate tote bags so I never want them or keep them. This summer I almost had to go out and spend money on one because I needed one for my son’s daycare cubby. Go figure. I’m now tote-bag attuned.

I have been listening to the pledge drive for what seems like a month. I have no extra money, or else I really would donate. The guilt trip is a little much.

Heh, they’re talking about it right now but I’m too lazy to change the channel.

Generally speaking the NPR stations don’t pay for the freebies that are given away during pledge drives. They are usually donated by business sponsers who most likely get a write-off, or they are part of a trade for on air mentions.

I pledged to the Dallas PBS station last year just to get the Joesph Campbell Power of Myth DVD. Amazon sells it for $50, so I doubt that PBS was buying them to give away with a $120 pledge.

I like NPR because I like it, it doesn’t make me feel dumb for listening to it. However, my goal some point down the road is to be able to donate enough money that they won’t have to have a pledge drive for 2 or 3 years.


I don’t know about this. I’ve met many people in my lifetime who are more than happy to think of themselves as free loaders. :slight_smile:


I disagree. It’s either:

a) a crappy form of inducement; or
b) a self-conscious form of communication by NPR saying, “Hey, we’re not free loaders.”


Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in the OP. I’m not bitching about NPR fundraising (in general), and I certainly value public radio. If I had any money to give my member station at the moment, I would give it. I have given in the past, in another city. Unfortunately, credit card companies don’t consider my payments “gifts,” and I’m currently in school again, not drawing much of an income.


Believe me, I don’t spend anything on coffee in a week, and I love coffee. And I don’t dislike the guilt trip strategy. I think it’s necessary, because it’s true; my local station couldn’t survive without its listeners. My point (assuming I have one, which may not at all be a safe assumption), from my point of view, is:

a) the station’s gifts are crap, a waste of money to produce for contributors, and are beside the point of “giving a gift” anyway; and

b) it’s counter-productive to stress the urgency of you giving a gift, then adding that, hey, according to our numbers, there’s a lot of you guys out there that could contribute. That tells me that my contribution is potentially not that urgent and encourages me to freeload for a little longer, because someone else will pick up the slack. (Not that I want to freeload, as I’ve said above.)

Now, I understand some people might want a gift in return for their gift, but I confess that doesn’t make any sense to me.

Don’t know if this is generally true, but it’s not true at the radio station where I run the pledge room during the on-air drive. We buy all the standard premiums–mugs, Tshirts, bags, etc.–and give them as gifts to donors who give 10x their value: the logo messenger bag, e.g., costs us $15, and we give it as a gift at the $150 level.

So we always appreciate it when a donor says they don’t want the gift, they want all the money to go to the station.

Much of the other swag (CDs, tickets, etc.) are promotional items given to us by record companies and tour managers, and those bring in at least as much dough as the logo stuff; we got $500 donations for Beck and Bjork tickets during our last drive, and we paid nothing for them.

But despite Stromboli’s cranky OP, the tactics he objects to are the ones that work.

And Indygrrl, when I was too poor to give to the station I listened to, I felt the LEAST I could do was put up with the pledge drive for the duration. It felt like the most blatant fairweatherism to listen to something else while they were just asking me to pay for what I was using.

I’ve given to public radio stations before. Sometimes I’ll take the trinket, and sometimes I won’t – if it’s not something I’d otherwise want, I don’t bother.

But I gave an extra $90.30 to KEXP this fall when they offered a t-shirt designed by Neko Case as the gift at that membership level. (I say extra because I’d already given them $90.30 this spring. Got the t-shirt then, too, but it wasn’t as exciting.) I’m sure the shirt cost them far less than $90 to make ($9, according to lissener), so they came out far, far ahead on that deal.

I think what it comes down to is other public radio stations are cool, and the one in my city really, really sucks.

So I’ll alter my pitting to just this one sucky station . . .

I became a donor last year at the $15/mo. level and decided to forego the “premium” because I wanted them to save the postage. Then they blew it. Less than 6 weeks after I pledged, they sent me a RENEWAL request. I kid you not. The first sentence in the paragraph was “I bet you’re surprised to receive a renewal letter already!”

Guess what? I was. And I was not amused. So now I’m back to “free-loader” status.

Clever rationalization, Lisa; profitable too! Yes, their desperation to keep providing you with a service that you use is entirely unforgivable, and fully justifies your guilt-free freeloading.

During the last pledge drive, a woman called who said she’d donate to us if she didn’t have to listen to the drive on the air. I asked her if she sent in her donation between the pledge drives. She said, “No, I don’t give because you have pledge drives.”

Hmm. Her measly $20 bucks, if she was sincere, which of course she was not, or the $258,000 we raised at the last pledge drive? Tough choice. Which is a better way to raise money: holding a pledge drive, or not holding a pledge drive? That’s a brainteaser.

Can’t find it on the website, but if the national number is 8% then that means NPR’s budget is $4,750,000,000/year.


My local station has a new pitch: “Because of the crappy economy, our old members are too poor to donate this year, so we need new members to make up the slack.” Which is just a little weird.

CPB does not equal NPR.

I think PunditLisa has a point, though – sending a renewal notice so quickly was obviously a bad marketing decision on her station’s part. At least, it was a bad marketing decision if they wanted her money. It would probably be helpful, though, if PunditLisa let them know why she didn’t renew so that they could change their marketing tactics in the future.

(It wouldn’t offend me, although I’d trash it and wait to renew until the next pledge drive.)

It is a sad fact of life that the marketing efforts that people (overall) respond best to are the ones that people (overall) complain the most about. Want money? Be in-your-face, and ask for it over and over. Works like a charm.

Another local NPR station, KUOW, wrapped up their most recent pledge drive in five and a half days. They were scheduled to go from Monday one week to the following Wednesday; instead they met their pledge goal on Saturday morning. (The first time I ever actually heard a pledge drive end, which was cool.) I think it was smart of stations to start declaring their goals and promising to end their drives as soon as they were met – more incentive to pledge now and be done with it.

I like NPR a lot, they have stuff you don’t see (hear) elsewhere (At least I don’t). I send them money sometimes.

I wish someone would start a campaign to get that fucking Clear Channel off the air - I would make a pledge to that.

Making a pledge to public radio is the closest you can come to that, county. We can’t keep them off the air, but we can keep them from appropriating ALL of radio by protecting those stations that are NOT clear channel from predation.

We’ve considered the “end it early” type of drive, but our support is so rabid that many listener’s literally can’t wait till the next pledge drive, so there’s not a lot of incentive to cut it short. Plus, any amount we make over our goal goes right into the budget and reduces a little of the burden on the following drive. Ending the drive early would be to reject that windfall. Not that much incentive there either.

Finally, we do a seven-day drive, and each day has something unique about its programming. Many of the specialty show listeners would feel left out if they didn’t get to pledge during their show to show support for that particular segment of programming.