The reform that NPR needs: pledge drives

First, let me say that last week’s NCPR pledge drive was pretty great.  For all the jokes about coffee mugs and tote bags, these fundraisers are an essential part of public radio.

They are an opportunity to connect directly with the people who use and care for the work North Country Public Radio does, and it also allows us to talk and think out loud about our mission.

(We’re also incredibly grateful, by the way.  These are hard times for a lot of folks, and we exceeded our goal by crazy amounts…)

But the news of late at NPR hasn’t been quite so happy.

After the recent spate of scandals and kerfuffles, NPR is in the process of hiring its two most important executives, the CEO who will drive the whole ship and the top manager for the news division.

My hope is that the NPR board will hire these folks from inside the public broadcasting culture.  They should be people who know the ethics, the mission, and (yes) the business model of public radio.

Regardless of where they come from, I have a wildly idealistic vision that these new executives will implement an important reform:  requiring that NPR staff take part in pledge drives.

I don’t mean that the network itself should hold on-air pledge drives, swapping swag for $40 or $80 pledges.

I mean that NPR executives, editors and reporters should each spend a week out of every year “on assignment” at public radio stations around the country helping out during membership drives.

A lot of the network’s brilliant reporters come to NPR from outside public radio.  They’re newspaper folks, or former magazine writers.

Joining in a drive like the one we had last week would allow them to learn first hand about the intimate, intense connection between our audiences, our stories, our music, and our programs.

This partnership would also re-enforce the important relationship between far-flung public radio stations, like NCPR, and the network based in Washington DC that shapes so much of our programming.

It is especially important for NPR’s new top-shelf executives to have a chance, every year, to listen to the voices of listeners on the telephones, praising, complaining, demanding and inspiring.

They should fill out pledge forms for $10 and $20 gifts.  Because that’s where the deep muscle and endurance of public radio resides.

NPR’s leaders should also have the experience — yes, again, every year — of going on the air and articulating what it is that is different, powerful, and necessary about public media.

The truth is that pledge drives are humbling.  They are exercises in brutal honesty.  They are a major source of revenue.  And finally, most importantly, they are a direct tap-root into the spirit of what we do.

Tags: ,

7 Responses to “The reform that NPR needs: pledge drives”

Leave a response
  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Seems like good advice in general for any top level executive to spend time on a regular basis doing the nuts and bolts of any business.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. newt says:

    Amen to post and to above comment.

    On a practical level, since, I believe, most fundraisers take place about the same time, would it be a good idea to have so many top people out of the office and off the news beat at the same time? But even an imperfect version of your idea makes a lot of sense. It would probably help head off the screw-ups we’ve seen at NPR lately.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Hank says:

    “It is especially important for NPR’s new top-shelf executives to have a chance, every year, to listen to the voices of listeners on the telephones, praising, complaining, demanding and inspiring.

    They should fill out pledge forms for $10 and $20 gifts. Because that’s where the deep muscle and endurance of public radio resides.”

    Excellent idea! We can always use more folks in the phone room during fundraisers!

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    I’m forwarding your article to the folks I know at NPR. You articulated perfectly what I have said to NPR leaders for years: we know the public media audience on a mundane–and meaningful–level. (“Mundane” here is not meant pejoratively.) In the early decades of NPR’s life, much of the staff was drawn from people who started their careers out in the field, at stations. This is largely no longer true. The thread is lost.

    We have relationships with the people who use our service–through emails, letters, blog posts, fundraiser calls…and random meetings in local grocery stores. It is the personal relationship that builds trust–in both directions. It is not abstract. I may not know what “knuckleheadedliberal” looks like, but I know he/she is someone following our work closely. We answer directly to each of you.

    I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. PNElba says:

    It would be especially important for them to visit NPR stations in rural areas where other news coverage is light or non-existent.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. RWilmington says:

    I like the idea a lot. It’s probably more feasible than my idea, to move the headquarters out of Washington to the Heartland ( Iowa? Kansas?) to deal with the fact the leadership is out of touch with reality. There are some details as mentioned in the above posts to overcome. Give these people a prominent role and celebrate their participation at the local level, put them up in local homes with people with common interests, do a trial in a few markets, get Ellen to promote the idea (she’s got the muscle). Somethings got to happen to change the direction we are headed. Go for it!

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. oa says:

    Whomever the lords of NPR appoint, it would be nice if said lords got a spine injection so things like this don’t happen:
    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201104060009

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0