Ah, the NPR pledge drive!
The only time I listen to NPR is when I’m driving. And since I hate driving and don’t own a car, I don’t often listen to NPR. And I’m glad, because it always annoys me. It is a parade of typical, biased, American media. If the reporting is on an official US enemy, the reporting will be distinctly negative. And so on. Today, I heard a report on the US military bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. And it was just taken as given that the US military was totally without any culpability and they were simply duped by those cunning Afghani forces. Really: it was that bad.
But it seems that every time I am forced to drive and end up listening to NPR, there is a pledge drive going on. One thing that’s interesting about this is how much NPR (and PBS, of course) are like the American government itself. The lower and middle classes pay for the vast majority of the operating costs. But both the US government and NPR do the bidding of their wealthiest members. I am given a guilt trip in the pledge drive to give money, but the rich actually get return on their investments.
The Challenge Grant Scam
There is an illustration of this that really bugs me because it offends my sense of math: the pledge drive “Challenge Grant.” This is when we are told that if there are (usually) $1,000 in pledges during the current break, that amount will be matched by some business. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t add up. Let’s assume that there are two pledge breaks per hour for 12 hours of each day. That’s 24 pledge breaks per day.
And the pledge drives are generally two weeks long. So that’s a total of 336 pledge breaks. (I’m certain that it’s less than that, so this gives NPR the benefit of the doubt.) There are also a lot of $500 Challenge Grants, and almost none above $1000. So the $336,000 in Challenge Grants is probably way high. It’s probably less than half of that.
But the KQED pledge drives generally raise about $2 million. Or at least that’s what they used to raise when I listened to the network more regularly. If that’s the case, then Challenge Grants make up at most 17%. Now that’s interesting, because that is suspiciously close to the 19% of NPR corporate funding. So I wonder if these are just contributions that would be given regardless.
Pledge Drive Math Doesn’t Add Up
The bigger issue, however, is that at 17% (At most!) of pledges, the Challenge Grants are always met. If even half of them failed, NPR wouldn’t come close to reaching its goals. So the Challenge Grants are just a lie to get people to pledge right now. But clearly, they would work a whole lot better if they were $10,000 instead of $1,000 — or the every more pathetic $500. So why aren’t they?
Well, KQED tells you why in its webpage, Pledge Challenge Grants, “Challenge Grants offer your company valuable exposure on KQED.” Indeed they do. The company name is mentioned at least three times and it is often accompanied by extra verbiage about how the company has been supplying fine whatever to the Bay Area since whenever. It is, in other words, straight advertising to a relatively affluent audience. And it doesn’t sound like an advertisement; it sounds like the company is just socially responsible.
The Big Lie
I find it really annoying because the hosts lie about it. They talk about how they will have to send the money back if the challenge isn’t met. And that’s true; it’s just that the challenge isn’t ever not met during the pledge drive. In fact, I assume that during a 10 minute pledge drive, the challenge is met within two minutes tops.
I know a lot about NPR pledge drives. If you want to know more, check out June Thomas’ article, Let’s Get Those Phones Ringing! The Cunning Genius of the Public Radio Fundraising Drive. But they are still effective. Yesterday, I decided that I really should send them some money. And then I stopped myself because that is crazy!
Instead, I went over to Democracy Now! and donated the money to them. There are two reasons. First, they need it a lot more. Second, it’s a really important news outlet whereas NPR provides better but not qualitatively different news coverage than CNN. And that reminds me, I need to give to FAIR too!
Remember: the Koch brothers don’t give to Democracy Now! and Fair. But you know who they do give to, right?