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Last year I did a post about charitable giving in the spirit of the holidays, and how we try to incorporate it into our traditions. At the risk of spitting in the face of that spirit, I’ve decided to forgo that post this year, and replace it with this one.

We will still be doing our standard charity-drawing on Christmas this year. One charity that we have donated to in the past will no longer be on the list, for multiple reasons. That charity, is NPR (specifically WETA 90.9FM). They weren’t on the list last year, either.

The main reason we no longer donate (or even consider donating) to WETA is simple. Shortly after we made a donation to WETA, they stopped broadcasting the type of programming we were interested in (NPR talk shows like Car Talk, This American Life, Fresh Air, etc.). Fair enough?

We continue to receive “please donate” letters from WETA, which is fine. I don’t begrudge them the opportunity to ask former members to make contributions. I absolutely understand that WETA is dependent on donations in order to continue their operations. What I object to is the tone of the letter I received from their marketing department. Here is an excerpt from the letter, with the language I dislike bolded (emphasis mine):

The fact is that too many people continue to “let someone else do it.” They leave the support of WETA to the few of us whose sense of fair play won’t allow us to enjoy WETA’s great programs without sharing fairly in the cost to present them.

You used to be one of us. We counted on you. And you never let us down. But recently you let your membership lapse.

That’s terrible news for us since WETA is a “community licensed” public broadcast station. That means we don’t have a financial safety net of an institutional parent to fall back upon.

We have members like you to sustain us. We count on you to replace the institutional funding that we do not get. But recently, you left the family.

Inevitably we have members who don’t renew because they have moved out of our signal area. But you didn’t move. You’re still in the neighborhood.

I really don’t know why you left us. But I do know that we very much need to have you back.

This is just a small portion of the letter, but it is the critical part that strikes the tone that I object to. I’m not questioning NPR’s value or need to raise funds. What I AM questioning, is the method with which they do so. I do not respond well to guilt trips. “Accusatory” is generally not the tone you want to strike if you’re trying to get me to make a donation.

I wonder if they might find a more effective way of marketing themselves and gaining contributions. Here’s a thought: maybe NPR stations could coordinate with each other to help each other out. Maybe something like this: “If you donated because of the excellent talk content that we no longer provide, please consider donating to another local NPR affiliate such as WAMU, 88.5FM.”

I have always thought that WETA was a bit heavy-handed with their fund raising techniques. I don’t know if that is typical of other NPR stations, but I hope not. I know that raising money in the non-profit world is extremely difficult, but I think WETA could stand to revisit their message and refine the way in which they look for monetary support.

2 Responses to “How NOT to get my money.”

  • shepdc
    12/27/2008
    11:00 PM
    Gravatar

    i SO KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN! i got this letter (well, a similar one) from them a few years ago after i stopped contributing b/c i decided i liked WAMU better. the letter basically said “if you’re not donating, you’re stealing and you have no conscience!” Grrrrrrr. seriously. okay not exactly, but pretty darn close.

    one point of clarification, though – i don’t think WETA is affiliated with NPR anymore. they’re still public radio, but they cut the NPR cord.

  • Gravatar

    good point. Pretty much substitute “public radio” for all the occurrences of “NPR” in the post, and we should be good. 🙂

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