One young Catholic family on a Journey towards Intentional and Communal Sustainability. One Artist, one full time Mama and two babies, we'll tell you about all our successes, and failures, as we try to make it in our overly Consumeristic society on just the bare necessities.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Public Radio Fund Drive Philosophy

Our local Public Radio just finished up their semi-annual fund drive.  It's a week of them talking my ear off about why I should give them money instead of feeding my kids or feeding other, possibly starving, people.  Yup, I like public radio, especially the "ad free" part, but it's pretty low on my priorities list for charities.

But here's what really gets me. Throughout the week, the radio announcers were bleeding my ear constantly about how all they need is "the same amount as that cup of coffee you buy every day".  First, I don't buy a cup of coffee every day.  I don't need to, especially now that I figured out how to make my own FauxBucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. Also, that would mean leaving the house, which would require clothes, I hear.  And finally, if I bought a latte every day for $5, I would not have that $5 to spend on, say, meat, or butter, or other, delicious and nutritious foods to feed my whole family. 

But the radio announcer isn't asking me to give up my non-FauxBucks latte.  He's just explaining that the money he wants me to give is the same as that coffee.  Which implies that he wants me to buy the coffee and give him the money for the coffee.

I'm sorry- does this sound an awful lot like "have your cake and eat it too"

(By the way, that saying never made sense to me until I moved out of the south.  Of COURSE I'm going to have my cake.  Isn't that the same thing as eat my cake?)

So, here's Mr. Radio Announcer telling me, Mrs. Housewife to double my budget in order to give him money so he can provide me a service that is a) free and b) is not necessary to sustain my life or lifestyle.  If NPR went off the air, I wouldn't faint.  I might be sad for a day or 2, but then I'd finally get a new CD player so that we could listen to music in the morning.  Sure, that might cost me a couple of bucks, but considering the one we have works for about 10 minutes at a time and we paid all of $10 at Goodwill for it, it might be worth the investment.

But back to Mr. R.A.'s budget sense. 

He later told me that if I were to become a "Network Member" (read- big spender) and gave him $100 a month, it would be "less than what you're spending on internet and cable combined- and you get more out of it!"  Ok, I'll grant you that public radio is WAY more entertaining that Cable.  But that's why we don't have cable.  And public radio is still free, by the way. 

In short, the American mentality is seeping through on this- if it's worth the same as _____ then it'll cost the same as ______.  But cost and worth are not the same thing.  Is Public Radio worth something to me?  Yes.  Is it worth $100/month.  Oh heck no.  It's not worth money at all!  It's worth my time, and that is what I give it.  Money doesn't factor into that equation at all.

Am I saying you should never give money to NPR?  No.  I don't know your personal situation, but I do know mine.  I know that the homeless guys downtown deserve my extra dollar not spent of non-FauxBucks a lot more than a radio tower, no matter how awesome the programing.  And I also know that if I have a dollar to spend, that doesn't mean I have two.  And I learned all that even WITH a public school education.  See, our government can do math sometimes!


  1. Wrong. Public radio is not free. The station I listen to, for instance, pays a full staff including reporters. It pays fees for programming from PRX, PRI, NPR, West Virgina Public Radio, Sirius, and other distributors. It pays FCC fees. It pays for utilities.

    Many people *can* afford to spend quite a bit supporting public radio. Others cannot. The fund drives are pretty clear that they want you to spend within your means. And yes, they also say that you ought to spend what you think public radio is worth to you. If that's nothing, then fine. Don't support the station. But don't write screed about how they're somehow bad for asking people to donate. They're making a living and providing a service.

    And saying, " It's not worth money at all! It's worth my time, and that is what I give it" is a little ridiculous. You aren't doing anything for the station just by listening. You are giving it your time unless you're volunteering for them. You're just listening to the radio.

  2. Joel,
    This post isn't saying that public radio is any way bad- it isn't and I don't think it is wrong or bad to support public radio. What I do believe is that first, if the radio announcer says "it's the same as a cup of coffee a week" then the implication is that 1)I'm paying that for my coffee 2)I can afford to buy 2 cups of coffee instead of just the one and 3) I should spend the same amount on the radio station. This is a part of our very consumeristic society leeching through to our non-profit world! Instead of telling me to spend the same amount of money twice, the announcer, IMHO, should be telling me to skip my weekly cup of starbucks and spend the money on him instead. If you asked me if Public Radio is worth more than Starbucks I would answer a resounding YES!

    Secondly, I believe that unfortunately, until we can say that nobody in my community is starving, sleeping outside against their will, going without proper education, unable to pay their medical bills, then paying for community radio is not a priority. And while, yes, I agree that those who have the means should be the ones supporting them, I first believe that the means need to go to the "least of these" not to an unnecessary part of our community. IF community radio was filling a great public service (which sometimes it can, like with impartial interviews of political candidates) THEN it is a place where donating money could be a priority in my opinion.

    All of this is my opinion, and I am open to suggestions and discussion. But having worked with the homeless and underprivileged for too long, I know that they go without donations they need much more, and deserve much more, every day. So maybe if the announcer was saying "After you spend that $10 you would have bought starbucks with on the homeless shelter down the road, could you see if you can find a couple extra bucks so we can keep up our service to the community?" I would be more apt to give.

    Finally, giving my time IS giving them something beyond just listening. Because for every person that listens, they gain support from corporate sponsors (which is have NO problem with because it is their business to support their business- it is the individual's business to support the Church). And every time I hear "This program is brought to you by...." I think "Isn't that nice that that small company supports NPR. I think I'll go check them out". And that is how it's supposed to work.

  3. Yea, Joel, I tend to agree with you that donating to public radio (providing its good, which ours is) is a way to perpetuate a legitimate community service.

    One thing that I am reminded of (which is a bit less didactic than the above conversation) is those ads where someone says, "boy, with the economic down turn it sure is hard to make ends meet sometimes." and then an ominous announcer replies, "well, your prayers are answered, you can switch from X cable company to Y satelite company and save on your T.V. bill!"

    My response is always, "if you are having a hard time buying groceries, you should probably forgoe the T.V. budget for a month or two"

    I could be wrong, but I think that Britt's thoughts about the fundraiser on radio was a precursor to her more developed thoughts on priorities.

    Though I must confess that the notion put forth by the fund drive to give what you can/what you deem the value of the service is, is a wonderful idea and actually a surprisingly good business model.