by Manager Ken Baker
Facts and figures are real, opinions are my own.
Radio Kansas has three scheduled fundraisers each year. There are the traditional “programming” fundraisers in spring and fall inviting you to vote for specific programs, then there is our December drive, asking others to help us set the stage for the coming year! When necessary we will sometimes offer a “second chance” drive in June for certain programs that have not yet garnered the support necessary to purchase them for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The programming fundraisers cover the presentation costs of each particular show. Choosing Marketplace, for instance, involves both the station’s costs for a half-hour of broadcasting, plus the subscription fee for the show – a cost we would not have without Marketplace. The goal for our on-air drive is simply these costs minus any pledges already designated toward the show. This is why we encourage you to be an ongoing month-to-month donor or to pledge in advance – it shortens our drive!
The December drive covers other costs we have regardless of what you want to hear. We owe music royalties in the coming year, for instance, regardless of what music genres (and shows!) we play. The reason we set these costs aside for December is that so many people say they can’t even consider helping until the end of the year. We’re told that one-third of all charitable giving – four months’ worth, takes place in the final weeks of the year. It wouldn’t be fair for us not to have any bills left for these December givers, so we just wait until they’re ready to address these station-wide costs!
Occasionally listeners will perceive that our fundraisers are longer than other stations elsewhere and they’ll ask why that is. It’s actually pretty simple: Our programming is not chosen to make the most money as fast as possible. Our programming is chosen with the intent of serving as many people as possible each year.
You’ve heard stations elsewhere – even in Kansas – simply give up on presenting the rich variety of programs you hear on Radio Kansas. We believe that both the letter and the spirit of the Public Broadcasting Act require that we at least try to offer the community every type of radio programming that we can offer sustainably. This station is the last in the area for classical music, jazz, folk, contemporary instrumental and a diverse selection of shows found only on public broadcasting.(We’ve offered many more favorites right up until the network cancelled them!)
If we were just News, for instance, we know we might get more money in donations, but we’re pretty sure we’d serve fewer people. Right or wrong, we base our success on how many different Kansans use us each week. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other entities pass through tax dollars – about 20% of our budget – as seed money to help ensure that there’s a public station on your radio dial. Given this modest tax support, we think as many taxpayers as possible should benefit. You may have a different philosophy.
It’s easy to think that your favorite shows are really all we need to do, and all of those other people’s shows are holding us back. We can guarantee you that there are other listeners who feel that YOUR favorite shows are wrong for the community and keep us from serving THEM better. Some fans of some shows listen every day but refuse to contribute because they can’t listen ALL day. Please do not be one of these folks! This selfishness is what has forced so many stations – even in Kansas – to offer just one type of show. Thankfully, WE are blessed with hundreds of listeners who recognize that our service to others is morally appropriate, even if it results in some personal inconvenience.
So, at fundraiser we give every program…every audience…every possible opportunity to indicate that it’s barely important-enough to be on the FM dial. When you listen at fundraiser and it sounds like some shows can scarcely get enough support – you’re right! Should we not even try to offer these shows because we can think of something more “popular?” That’s the commercial model and there are plenty of those stations on your radio already. The fact that you’re even aware of us is proof that we have a role to play!
Our fundraisers are longer than some places because we simply need individual contributors more than other stations! We’re flattered to be compared to stations sponsored by 4-year universities, but it’s a community college that had the vision to put public radio on in your neighborhood! Yes, in some states public radio stations get enough support from their universities that they’re essentially a gift to the community. So, it’s not completely unreasonable of you to have mis-judged how badly we need you! Now you know.
We’re operating in an environment with less grant potential than just a few years ago. We used to get $50,000 or so per year, on average, from a federal infrastructure program that has since been eliminated. A state infrastructure program was cancelled for a loss of $60,000 per year. The state cut operational support by 80% (from $129,000 per year to $24,000 per year. That’s 17 cents per capita in Kansas, compared to $5.71 per capita in Nebraska, for instance.) A federal operational grant is about $10,000 less, and a special grant for rural stations is $12,000 less. Adjusted by inflation, we’re running this place on a quarter of a million dollars less grant potential each year than 8 years ago. We’ve cut 25% of our staff, but these losses are too great to address with cuts alone, so our fundraising need in the same period has increased by $45,000 per drive.
Several people have contacted us to say they’ve recently retired and will no longer be contributing, but they wish us well and expect to keep listening to their favorite shows. As helpful as it is to know why someone has stopped giving, calls like this basically say that there’s no service we can provide, no need we might have, that could convince them to find $10 or $15 per month to help. Almost all of the program changes you’ve heard recently are the direct result of this conscious generational handoff of financial responsibility.
Our fundraisers have become longer just recently because of uncertainty over the deductibility of pledges. The standard deduction became “doubly-generous” under the Trump administration but was expected by some to drop the number of people itemizing from about a third of taxpayers to 5 or 10% of taxpayers. Other estimates concur, and suggest this will reduce charitable giving by $20 billion (with a ‘b’) each year. So – we were already doing the hard stuff, and it got harder. We’d be foolish to believe our fundraisers won’t be longer!
You’ll note that none of these changes in potential suggest any drop in the number of people we serve! These funding changes come from external, structural changes in funding or with the nature of charitable giving. Our service to the community has been consistent and strong. Longer fundraisers are not the result of local mismanagement or poor programming choices, but fundamental changes in the world we’re serving. If your favorite type of show is still on the air, we have fully succeeded, and we further that success each day.
Finally, the main reason our drives get long is because our listeners are the most generous Kansans. You’re probably among them! You have more opportunities to give than you have funds available. Although public radio is a priority for some, others wait to see if we really need them this year. If not, they’ll use those funds to support other causes. Some of our listeners are VERY patient and can listen through DAYS of fundraiser without helping because they’re still sure someone else will take their place. This is why our discussion on air eventually must focus on the consequences if too few vote for a given show. The first week of our drive is, “your pledge makes this possible,” and the second week is, “so without your pledge, it’s impossible.” Sometimes listeners take this potential loss as an indication that we somehow don’t share their values and so don’t earn their trust and their pledge. Don’t you believe it. We know your favorite show makes Kansas better. We do the hard stuff, and we really appreciate your help!
So, when our fundraiser starts to get long, don’t ask yourself how many days we should give someone else’s favorite show before just giving up and cancelling it. Ask yourself how many days we should give your favorite show before giving up? Be patient with other listeners and with our staff. The only motivation of the people you hear on the air is to continue to serve you if at all possible. By the time fundraiser feels long to you at home, we’re exhausted. We make mistakes. Please see beyond our human failings and simply support the programs you hope to continue to hear. We’ll do our best to find other folks who share your preferences, and with some luck, you’ll continue to be among those Kansans who benefit.
Call me with questions or if you’re ready to pledge! 1-800-723-4657.