Fund Drive Blues
I volunteered this weekend at Oregon Public Broadcasting. I was one of the people you would talk to if you called to make a pledge for radio. I also volunteer at KBOO in Portland, a community radio station that isn’t public radio, but is listener funded like public radio.
I just learned that KBOO ended its drive but did not hit its fund drive goal of $85,000. The drive began on or about February 2 and was scheduled to go for two weeks. When I checked drive progress last night, KBOO was at about $47,000. KBOO has had problems in the past hitting its goal and it has led to ocassional speculation that the station has financial problems.
But OPB’s fund drive began on February 5. I volunteered for the current drive three separate times; on the first day, somewhere in the middle and at the scheduled end of the drive, which was supposed to be Saturday, February 14h. OPB’s goal was around $600,000 but as of 5 p.m. Saturday, it had only raised about 2/3s of that amount.
Both stations are careful however about how they express that shortfall. OPB stock phrase is “We’re not quite done yet”, while on KBOO’s site, there is a banner that reads, “We came up a bit short of our goal, so please donate online if you can”. And if you listen closely, you can hear them blaming themselves even though the fact that people didn’t give enough money isn’t their fault.
People take the programming even though they hate fund drives. And although stations emphasize all of the people that like them, love them or want more of them, these numbers say people either don’t have the money, or for some reason, don’t want to part with it. And it certainly isn’t because they don’t know the goals or the deadlines or the phone numbers. What that tells me is that the fund drive model isn’t working and we need to be doing something different. Even if the intent is to support excellent programming, pitchers often say they don’t like holding programs hostage and listeners don’t like being extorted.
From what I understand, fund drive goals are set through a combination of what the stations need and what they were able to get at the last fund drive. Although, as I said earlier, KBOO ended its drive, OPB will grind on until it hits its goal, if it hits its goal. But neither case is cause for celebration because as pitchers often say, the money stations ask for during a particular hour pays the cost the station pays the producer of that particular program. And if they don’t come up with enough money, they can’t pay for the program next time, which often means programming changes listeners don’t like. For both outlets, KBOO and OPB to be so far off from such a carefully calculated goal speaks volumes to the alchemy of both misses.
And it affects every operation, including news which is where my interest most lies. Less money can mean less reporting, less conversations, less exposure of what needs to be seen and heard. Although a boon for the shady, it’s frustrating for staff and listeners.
It’s a lousy system all around. It’s got to go. But the problem is what to replace it with?
*UPDATE: OPB ended its drive at 6 p.m. on February 17th. It was $33,000 short. It probably could’ve hit that goal if the drive had lasted one more day since it seemed to be raising about $40K per day. But because Governor Kitzhaber resigns tomorrow, I am guessing they probably didn’t want to risk fundraising competing with such an important and historical news event.