Recently, my local NPR affiliate, KPBS, held their annual Spring pledge drive. For about a week, the station’s regular programming was preempted by pleas for money and promises of chincy trinkets as a reward for my pledge. Among the solicitors for my money were Alec Baldwin and you, who aired a phone conversation wherein you attempted to shame (in a gentle sort of way) a guy who listened to NPR without pledging. After listening to that conversation and other spots you did to chide listeners who weren’t donating, it occurred to me that not only is your argument ineffective (nobody responds well to being chided), there is a much better way to encourage people to give. In the Internet age, the pledge drive model is out-of-date, and until something is done about it, I will continue to enjoy NPR for free.
Specifically, the issue with the current model is two-fold.
First, if you think of the pledge drive as the proverbial stick, under normal circumstances the application of said stick to the individual should cease once that person acquiesces to your demand. However, under the NPR model, a person who gives money still has to sit through the pledge drive. You have gotten nothing for your money but some stupid tote bag and maybe some small sense of satisfaction for contributing. You still have to endure being chided by NPR personalities despite the fact that you’ve done your part. If you’re going to be on the receiving end of an Ira Glass admonishment regardless of whether or not you give, why bother giving?
Second, what happens if you don’t give? The pledge drive goes on and then the station returns to its normal broadcast schedule. In other words, you continue to receive the NPR goodies you want without paying for them so why bother paying for it? What we have here is a case of dual-deincentivization where NPR stations are actually discouraging listeners to pledge money.
Fortunately, there’s something that can be done about it:
- Reward listeners who pledge not with stupid gifts but with access to a member’s only internet stream of the station’s broadcast without the pledge drive. It would be a simple matter to create two broadcast streams (one with the pledge drive and the other without), and to setup a system whereby a member could log in and access their member-only content. This way, when you donate money, you are rewarded for your generosity and not continually punished by a pledge drive that no longer applies to you.
- Member stations should be more transparent about their quarterly operating costs and display that information online. Most (if not all) NPR affiliates already have the means to accept donations online, but when you donate you have no way of knowing how much money is needed by the station and how it’s being used. Again, it’s a simple matter to display that kind of information in real-time on the affiliate’s donation page, and given the fact that these stations are marketed as community-owned, it makes sense for the community to have some idea of what the financial needs of the station are and how that money is being used.
- 99% of the time, the trinkets given to people who donate are garbage. $50 for some ugly tote bag? A flashlight radio? A ball cap? Fail. Give people things they will actually use and want, or don’t bother. The people who post projects on kickstarter.com generally do a good job of encouraging donations with clever rewards, and there’s no reason why you cats can’t do the same.
I enjoy NPR and would very much like to support your organization. It is for the reasons above that I chose to cancel my WBEZ High Fidelity membership, and until NPR member stations change their pledge-model, I and many others will continue to listen for free.