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Home » Culture and Criticism

Pledge-driving me nuts

Submitted by on May 15, 2007 – 2:01 PM32 Comments

I wish had some sort of code that let me skip the pledge-period haranguing now that I've already donated. Every time I have to restart the audio stream, Brian What'shisnuts is giving me guilt in his vaguely disappointed "you get the station for free, you can't spare us twenty bucks?" voice, which is fine, but I did spare them twenty bucks. More than that, actually. I have enough goddamn WNYC totebags to make a quilt, because I'm a good public-radio citizen or whatever, so it would really rule if they could give me an entry code with my donation, so when I log on, I can put in the code, and I won't have to listen to the "if you listen and don't donate, you're a puppy-killing radio hog" rhetoric. Just put on some Dave Brubeck for five minutes instead. I did my part, get up offa me already.

That won't happen, so all y'all in the WNYC catchment area who listen to the station, could you please please go through the couch and send them whatever you find as a pledge so they'll stop asking? Because I was just listening to an awesome segment with Vincent Bugliosi about his new JFK book, and I think extremely highly of Bugliosi, as a writer and as a guy who doesn't pull his punches when it comes to his opinions; Helter Skelter is in the true-crime pantheon, and the OJ book should be. I can't wait to read the new one, and I was really enjoying listening to V. Bug talking about it, but then the program gets interrupted so that Leonard Lopate can tell me some shit about how everyone listening to him right now who doesn't cough up some money is basically going to hell, like, 1) don't mess up the flow of a perfectly good segment, and 2) I GAVE YOU THE MONEY ALREADY.

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  • Angie says:

    Hey Sars, what show were you listening to with Bugliosi? I'm a big fan of his as well and would love to try and catch it online.

  • Sars says:

    Angie: The Leonard Lopate Show (on the AM stream, if that makes a difference; I don't think it does, as it usually airs on both stations), today's edition. Bugliosi was in the second half, but the first-half guests, who wrote some boy-manual-type thing, were good too.

  • Beth says:

    It would be difficult to implement with radio, but one thing I love about the Fringe Festival in my town is that if you donate $10 at one show, they give you a button you can wear to all the other shows that week that tells the fund raisers to leave you alone. Sweet.

  • Shotrock says:

    Y'know, I give Channel 13 money every year. $50 to be exact. And to other types of organizations that will brook me no love from the Fox News viewers.

    The difference is, I give the Nature Conservancy money, they send me a receipt and that. Is. It. Until twelve months later, when they send me a renewal.

    And there is Channel 13, which continues to call me like a freaking telemarketer during the dinner hour, 6-8 times a year – to ask me for MORE money. This isn't a case of "Oops, we didn't note your $50 membership in our records." It's a blatant "We *know* you already gave and *thank* you for your membership, but we need more, like another $500 would be a good start" sort of thing.

    They're the only non-profit I give to who does this. And it ticks me off no end, almost more than the Beg-A-Thons do. It's borderline harrassment.

  • GJR says:

    And the new book is called Reclaiming History! Don't drop it on your coffee table, you might break the table.

  • LAN3 says:

    I find that the semi-annual public radio Begathon is slightly more tolerable after I've given, but then again, my local pubradio station will do something at least 2 out of 3 years tha tmakes me never want to give them money ever again.

    Anyway, if you had a code, how would you enter it?

  • Steve says:

    You can catch video of Bugliosi speaking about the new book here:

  • Kate says:

    I have been telling everyone for as long as I know that there should be a special channel they only tell pledge-rs about during your pledge call. Yes, I know this isn't feasible, but it cracked me up to read your first line. I've had the same response for years.

    In defense of our local NPR (not PBS, mind you), they only ask twice a year and they do TRY to make it exciting with pledge goals and stuff.

    I guess only a true NPR dork would even think, much less write, the above sentence.

  • Sars says:

    He's speaking somewhere this evening; the Lopate page on the website will have more info.

    LAN: I only listen online. I assume some sort of pop-up window could be rigged to let donors enter the code.

  • Sasha says:

    since you only listen online, why not look for another streaming NPR station that doesn't have a pledge drive going on? I guess it wouldn't work for the leonard lopate show since that's not necessarily on anywhere else, but there are enough good public radio shows out there that you could find something.

    one thing my local (DC) station has done along the lines of your idea is to cut short the campaign if the goal is met. Traditionally, one week was just "fundraising week" and they raised as much as they could during it. now they have a big overarching goal for the week and if they reach it by Thursday, they'll return to regular programming on Friday.

  • Jenny says:

    I love Vincent Bugliosi……I have been wondering when his JFK book was coming out. One of my favorite books of all time is And the See Will Tell. Seriously, that is one interesting story.

  • LAN3 says:

    Ah, online listening without begs should be possible– at least they could give you a cookie that would chop off the 30-seconds-grovel that many streams have at startup.

    Sasha has the right strategy, and the best way to find the show (assuming it's distributed by NPR, APM/MPR, PRI, etc.) is to head to, look up the show that's being rudely interrupted, and find a stream from a non-local station that's playing what you want, or something else you can tolerate. WNYC has the added benefit of having some of its better shows heard on remote stations; I look forward to Studio 360 and On the Media every weekend, m'self. Take a few minutes at to customize your settings and favorite stations and shows. It'll save you a ton of time when WNYC's transmitter fails and you're halfway through "On the Media."

  • Stephanie says:

    At the risk of becoming the target of much ire … chiming in as the fund drive manager for a nameless major-market public radio station. While I really do love (and yes, I do mean LOVE) what I do, that isn't to say I wouldn't gladly embrace another way to raise money, if it (a) reached new members as efficiently as on-air drives do and (b) didn't force us to spend a boatload of listener dollars on fundraising costs. And one thing is for sure — there isn't a station that wouldn't gladly cut back on on-air fundraising if it could be done without meaning budget cuts … which on the lean shoestrings most stations operate on, would mean programming and staffing cutbacks. We don't want to harangue you any more than you want to be nagged. :)

    And the idea of creating a password-protected online streaming channel is one we've been batting around for the last couple of years, for exactly the purpose y'all are suggesting. Don't give up hope. Because listeners like you really do make a difference. /cheesy but true pitch

  • Melanie says:

    Hmm…my local public radio stations do a fund drive for exactly one week, three times per year. Usually I can stand it, and I do give them $10 a month. They don't do the harassing phone calls until the pledge lapses a year later, and even then, they don't call too much or too often. In case you or anyone else is interested, they stream all three channels online:
    Another place I've donated does the annoying calling every time they need extra money thing, and it drives me batty. Must get on their do not call list.

  • kate says:

    TOTALLY unrelated (though I agree)… I saw this and thought immediately of you:

  • Jenn C. says:

    My current pet peeve is that my preferred local NPR station has started adding to the twice a year begathons with special "holiday" fundraisers – donate X dollars and we'll send your sweetie, mom, dad, cat lovely flowers/chocolates/catnip.

    Whie they're happily telling us how they've cut the amount of time they do begathons, instead we get mini begathons practically once a month (valentine's, easter, mother's day, father's day, thanksgiving and Christmas at least.) That drives me so nuts that I don't give them money – I support the other smaller stations in my area that aren't so obnoxious.

    I would probably happily pledge upwards of $365 (that dollar a day they're always harping on) to never have to hear a good damned fundraising drive for a year's period.

  • Rebecca says:

    Our local station has recently started setting a target goal of members and explaining "as soon as we get x many, we'll end the pledge drive!" I don't know how much it's lowered pledge drives because they all seem endless, but I bet it takes less time because people know that they can actively contribute to ending the drive sooner (as opposed to before, when you just had to grit your teeth and wait out the two weeks of puppy-killer rhetoric).

  • Stephanie says:

    One of the issues with ending fundraising as soon as the goal is met — whether it's dollars or members — is that the pledge fulfillment rate drops radically. People pledge to end the drive and then never send in the check — and we're not talking a drop from, say, 95% payoff to 90%; it's more like from 95% fulfillment down to 70-75%.

    The other impact the "hit and quit" type of drives have is that they tend to appeal to renewing members more than new ones — so if you're looking to on-air drives to help build a donor base (which is generally essential to help meet rising costs, even those for NPR dues alone), this approach generally doesn't help much with that.

  • Tink says:

    Man, that sucks. I hate telemarketers as much as the next guy, but I know you guys over there in America have it much worse than the rest of us. Adding pledge portions during radio shows is just cruel. Over here in Denmark they solved that little problem with free web radio in a slightly different way. The state has always made us pay a certain amount for public radio and tv access and now they've just added an extra 50% to that price covering basic internet access! That's on top of your monthly fee to your provider. Problem solved. So I don't get asked. I just get robbed.

  • Teresa W says:

    My public radio station (KQED, SF) is trying out a way of starting their pledge drives "quietly." For a few weeks before they start interrupting programming they briefly ask people to pledge early on the website just in the minute of so between shows and at traffic breaks and such. This time I think they were able to cut like 4 days off, and I appreciate it very much. I hate missing the answer to The World's geo-quiz and the movie/music reviews at the end of Fresh Air. They cut an All Things Considered story on the Eurovision Song Contest to ask for money the other day. Argh!

  • songbird says:

    Funny, I always listen to the "puppy killer rhetoric" and get to feel all self-righteous because I already gave. I will admit, though, that some stations are better than others. We have two NPR stations around here and one is significantly more whiny and annoying than the other during fundraising time.

  • Betsy says:

    No one seems to understand that these stations have pledge drives to raise money to stay on the air. Pledge drives are the best way to raise money for these stations. And most station's have one drive per station (if they have a radio station and tv) per quarter. It's annoying for you to have to listen to, but it's kind of how they are able to buy the programs you enjoy. Just request that they take you off all their mailing lists and flip the channel for a few minutes when they start to pitch. No one likes asking for money, but it's how these stations have to operate until a really good alternative revenue source can be established.

  • Sars says:

    I can't speak for anyone else here, but I do in fact understand that, not only because they have now told me so umpteen times during the drive, but also because I…live in the world. I think the general objection here is to the methodology, namely that it isn't more tailored. The pledge drive cuts into programming time (thanks for the tip upthread on how to find the programming stream elsewhere, by the way), and it would be nice if 1) those who have already donated could circumvent that somehow, and 2) WNYC in particular didn't *also* elect to spend a portion of my donation dunning me for *more* money by mail. I hate it when institutions do this; the Brooklyn Museum burned through my membership fee paying for postage in like two months.

    I used to work a million years ago in the records department of a college, and this was before the internet was as prevalent as it is now, so there weren't as many options for fund-raising convenience (never mind our database, which was like three steps evolved from a Cray punch-card system), so donors got called and mailed *constantly*, and this was the number-one comment we were getting, that people were put off enough by the dunning that they wanted to donate less, and when they found out we could code them in the system according to their contact wishes — do not call, do not mail, etc. — they were *thrilled*. People who are, say, retired, and have a limited budget, do not want to give $25 to their alma mater and then feel like it's all getting spent on mailings.

    This is why Donors Choose is such a great model, in my view. You know exactly where the money's going; you have the option of contributing to the DC operations budget, but you don't have to; it's efficient, and you don't feel like your donation gets lost in a sea of vague overhead line items. And I for one do not get pestered by them by mail or phone, ever, unless they're sending me an update package. (Although it's possible that having shaved my head for them gets me off the hook for that shit, and if that's the case, someone call WNET 13 while I fire up the clippers again.)

    I'm not saying it's easy for non-profits to make their nut; my mother is probably at her desk right now, writing her umpteenth grant proposal of the week for a local outfit because everyone in my hometown was like, "Oh, someone else will give a big chunk and cover the action." But if your end user is like, "I'd be more inclined to give, and to give more, if you tailored it so X and Y didn't irritate me," I think you have to look into that.

  • RJ says:

    I don't know if this qualifies, but I wish that the Humane Society and the ASPCA would stop sending me address labels, umbrellas, blankets, notepads, mugs (with my name on it!), keychains etc. that I never asked for. They then send me additional notes saying, "Did you receive your (insert free gift here)?" along with the message "give us money for the free gift you didn't ask for and never wanted in the first place."

    I have nothing against the Human Society or the ASPCA. In fact, I donate money when I can spare it to both, and will do so again. I just wish they'd stop wasting money on all these "free gifts" and just send me a note saying, "Hey, can you spare another $20 or so?"

  • sam says:

    2) WNYC in particular didn't *also* elect to spend a portion of my donation dunning me for *more* money by mail. I hate it when institutions do this; the Brooklyn Museum burned through my membership fee paying for postage in like two months.

    this is my biggest pet peeve about the whole thing. I've given to WNYC every year during their fall pledge drive since I moved to NY. And I give way more than the "minimum". Yet, I get umpteen mailers and phone calls at all times of the year asking for more money. One reminder mailer when my subscription is about to end in October is great. Seventeen, in April, saying the same thing, is just annoying. I finally told one caller that if they called me again, I would stop giving.

    Haven't gotten a phone call since. (Still get the paper though, but that's easier to toss in the mailroom recycling bin).

  • Dan says:

    While this isn't exactly the same, my complaint is along the same lines. My problem is with the Red Cross.

    I started donated blood back when I was in the Marines. There would be periodic blood drives and considering the danger of our jobs, the reality is that we might as well have been setting aside blood for ourselves because sometimes it's not a matter of IF I'll need it, but WHEN I'll need it. But anyway, I've been out for a few years, but I still try to donate as often as possible. The problem, though, is twofold. The local Red Cross location now has my cell phone number AND they have The. Most. Bizarre. Hours. Ever.

    I get calls at like 8:00 PM on a Tuesday asking if I want to come in and donate. If I'm free, the lady will then inform me that I have roughly 7 minutes to get down there or they'll be closed. …WELL WTF DID YOU EVEN CALL ME FOR?

    So then I'll ask when they're open again and I'll get a schedule based loosely around the vernal equinox cross-referenced with a stoner's projected Munchie attacks for the next month.

    I don't get it, but my wife and I have just started calling them the Pookie Vampires because they're always asking for our blood, but they're obviously also crackheads.

  • MizShrew says:

    RJ, I stopped donating to the Humane Society for that very reason. I don't need or want another cutesy tote bag, umbrella, etc., and they all got sent to Goodwill. I don't have all that much money to donate, and I resent what little I can send being frittered away on "premiums" and guilt trips. So now I donate to a local animal shelter directly, who doesn't pester me twice a month and who I know puts the money to use feeding and caring for the critters.

    As far as the on-air fund drives go, the local NPR affiliate in my area does a pretty good job of keeping the drives only moderately annoying… it's the local PBS station that drives me bazoo. They're always bumping my fave cooking shows with their interminable fund drives, and "Mystery" with endless "Three Tenors/Peter, Paul & Mary/whatever" fund-drive specials. Makes me want to drive over to the studio and slap someone.

  • Jesse says:

    I've been noticing this week on WNYC that they keep saying, "You must REALLY be a fan of public radio if you're listening now. This is the worst time ever to listen to us! So, seriously, call now." It kind of makes me laugh. And then in the mornings it reminds me to switch from Soterios to Pat Kiernan.

  • Moonloon says:

    That sounds almost as annoying as the way legit, mass market DVDs have this huge, long, BORING intro with some guy ranting on about not buying pirate copies.

    Why they punish the people who have actually bought a legitimate copy escapes me – and on most DVDs, at least here in the UK, you can't skip or avoid the cussed things.

    And I don't know if you have "chuggers" in the States – it's short for "charity muggers" aka, charity fundraisers (all paid quite a good hourly rate, mind you) who flag you down in the street asking if you can spare 2 minutes for (insert needy cause)? We have them on almost every high street here, every day of the week.

    What they actually mean is, they'll try to guilt you into giving them your bank deets for a direct debit each month. They work a different charity each day if needed, and most have no connection to it except it pays their wages.

    I have some serious ups and downs with my income, being self-employed, and these chirpy fresh outta-college types drive me nuts trying to liberate my bank details when they're on a steadier, and sometimes higher, hourly rate than me! Plus, I don't impulse buy compassion, I do my research first, they really are the limit. /grouch!

  • Jessica says:

    Far and away the most effective beg that I have heard is WCPE's (non-NPR all-classical station out of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). I don't remember exactly how they phrased it, but they essentially talked $50 out of my wallet easily. They are good with the mailings: a newsletter every quarter with info about programming, the occasional letter detailing how much money they need, and that's it.

    Of course, the other day on 'CPE I heard them say, "If you can't give us money right now, consider donating your used car." Which made me wince.

    For those of y'all looking for charities that don't pester, Sars is right about Donors Choose. Mercy Corps also is easy to work with: once a month they email me a receipt for my donation, and that's about it.

  • Jess says:


    could it be that you moved and they never updated your timezone? T

    he only time the Red Cross calls me to donate is when they are running low on my type and suspect it will be an urgent need. I moved from the city (close to a bank) to the country (not close) they didn't update my records and thus I was called at times when it would have been faster for me to take the blood out myself and drive it to them.

    If they are calling from a calling centre, your records might be screwed. If they are calling from the bank…well…then you might be right on your crackheads theory.

  • We always support WBUR (Boston NPR news) and WGBH (Boston NPR arts), but I make it a point not to donate during campaigns. For one thing, I don't really need more tote bags — for another thing, I never end up listening once the begathons start.

    It always reminds me, though, of the spot-on parody of NPR done in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. "Call us. Pledge your money. Give 10% of your income. That's all we ask! . . . Only members, or people with radios, can listen to this radio station. . . . If you don't give money, liberals will be set on fire in the streets! . . . Here's a $10 pledge from Fran in Little Havana. Wow, you think she could've given more than that."

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