WDUQ, Pittsburgh’s June “share the gift with NPR” pledge drive in Pittsburgh for WDUQ is over — how’d we do?
June is the month when high school kids are graduating, summer comes in full force to Pittsburgh, Kennywood is open and all is right with the world.
Oh – and I neglected to mention — the Pittsburgh Penguins made it to the Stanley Cup Finals — second year in a row. All the games — in June, during the drive. It went to Game Seven, and, if you haven’t heard, they won.
In a sports-happy place like Pittsburgh, having one of our teams in the playoffs is a really bad time to do a pledge drive. Even pledge drive hours during regular season Steelers’ games are quite disappointing. Scheduling the pledge drive around bye weeks becomes a major priority.
So, June is one of the worst months for WDUQ to do a pledge drive. But it was the last month of a distressing fiscal year, so we had no choice.
But this year was different. As noted in a previous post, WDUQ is facing a year-end deficit situation at the same time NPR is staring at a much larger (as a percentage of budget) deficit.
In adding a June drive, we felt it wasn’t right to just plead for our own station’s well being. All the best planning, projections, investments and budgeting in the world couldn’t have seen the multiple levels of fallout from the bad financial and business activity for our station and especially for NPR.
So, we invited listeners to forgo a thank you gift (mug, totebag, CD) and WDUQ would send the 10% of the pledge that usually pays for these “premiums” to NPR.
Since most of WDUQ’s listeners don’t take a thank you gift, we knew we would forgo some revenue that we might have kept if we had just made it all about WDUQ. We’ll never know if it was the right choice financially. But it still seemed like the right thing to do.
Our listeners wanted to hear from me, the General Manager, more than usual. I was on the NPR board for six years, and I’ve been at WDUQ for 14 plus years during times of great change and growth. The high-level perspective, earnestness and transparency seemed to make the pledging more palatable.
Despite all of the business plans and moneymaking ideas that were going to make pledge drives and maybe even federal support less important or even irrelevant, it was clear from this pledge drive that we are not in the “media business” the way our commercially driven colleagues are. It is about service, in the most sincere sense of that word.
Those of us who work in public radio should stop saying that we don’t like pledge drives. We perform a valuable service, and, while proud of our work, should always be humbled by the support of our listeners and communities. Pledge is where we get to make the case.
Back in 1995, when the future of public radio, public TV and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was put into doubt, many of us (myself included) searched for new ways to pay for what we do.
Building a huge endowment
A large endowment could, perhaps making national programming free for stations. Of course, no one foresaw the fairly noteworthy NPR endowment falling in value so much as to make it untouchable until the markets are revived.
Major donors and foundations
If wealthy people and foundations would support us in a way commensurate to our good works, we’d need much less money from the less well off. But the very wealthy and foundations are also subject to downturns in the economy. And our good works, while valued, are not always at the top of the priority list.
Mostly on-air underwriting, but also monetizing of web content, re-purposing programming for other uses, display advertising on the Internet and more. There is a role in public media for this kind of creative revenue, but some of the best and brightest in commercial media are facing massive challenges in making these concepts consistently successful. There is also the idea of monetizing the value of our database of listeners and members – but balancing ethics and our mission with creating monetary value is a challenge.
All the above strategies have a place or, at the very least, deserve testing by public radio as revenue streams. But there is no single “sliver bullet” that will make public radio sustainable or more reliable than the diverse base of funding that voluntary listener support provides.
Most of WDUQ’s membership support comes from donations that are solicited by mail, e-newsletter or telemarketing. But pledge drives or something like them will always be a part of the public radio “model.”
Those of us in or closely related to public radio, please get used to it.
To our listeners and supporters, please understand that this humble appeal is a remarkable way to keep us transparent and honest in what we say and what we do as we ask for the help of you and others to sustain what we are and what we aspire to be.
So, how’d ya do?
In a pledge drive of less than seven days, more than 2,600 people committed more than $205,000. For WDUQ, a very good total. We are still tallying our other June web and mail gifts to add to that total and share a portion with NPR.
The dollar amount of our average gift dropped, but we have more new donors, and many extra gifts from current donors who recognized the need. The less than seven day pledge drive raised more than an 8 1/2 day drive in April and has gotten WDUQ very close to closing our budget gap for the fiscal year.
We didn’t fundraise on three nights (due to the Penguins/Red Wings Stanley Cup Finals) or at all for one weekend.
Less than 3% of our donors this month chose to take thank you gifts, instead of a more typical 40%.
The economy will turn around. NPR’s finances will level out. Sponsorship and foundation gifts will rise, again. After June, WDUQ’s support of NPR will return to the formula for stations like ours. Since our audience has grown, those fees are rising.
As we added an extra, major fundraising effort in a time when NPR was in even greater need, giving back while our listeners were giving more just seemed to be the right thing to do.