It's Not a Bake Sale Anymore
I presented the results of the study at this year’s DEI and PRPD conferences. You can see slides and notes from those sessions here.
The project found that there are many stations raising a great deal of money while maintaining a high level of accountability to listeners, licensees, and other stakeholders. They are good models for all stations. The project also found considerable room for improvement, some sample findings:
> 90% of the survey respondents using challenge grants said their challenge grant programs had a high level of integrity, but fewer than half said they had the documentation to prove it.
> About one-third of the survey respondents using challenge grants put challenge money in the unrestricted operating budget as soon as the money comes in the door, even if the challenge has yet to be offered on-air.
> 61% of respondents using sweepstakes said their contest rules had been approved by legal counsel. We identified instances where stations were simply copying rules from other stations in other states, and updating them with the station’s local information. That’s a risky practice, at best.
> 30% of respondents using sweepstakes said they never announced their contest rules on-air even though the law requires such announcements.
It also came to our attention that stations with Internet streams that also use sweepstakes during pledge drives might be subject to the sweepstakes rules of every state since the station can be heard in every state. E-mail and direct mail sweepstakes appeals that cross state lines present similar issues. The inter-state sweepstakes issue is just another good reason for stations to invest the time and money in good legal advice. Legal counsel on sweepstakes should be considered part of the cost of fundraising.
I came away from this project with the sense that most stations are handling most challenge grants and sweepstakes with a high level of integrity, but they are not thoroughly researching, planning, and documenting their activities in these areas.
Rather than treating public radio fundraising as a business where there are serious consequences if something goes wrong (like fines, lawsuits, the public loss of credibility, and challenges to the station’s license), these stations are operating like the local PTA selling cupcakes and cookies outside the voting area on Election Day. They couldn’t tell you who did what when after the fact.
We don’t know why stations are operating this way. Our project didn’t go that deep. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to station management to operate any other way. Perhaps station managers just don’t think they will ever have to be accountable to others. Or maybe they think the good that their station does will outweigh any fundraising infraction that might occur.
What we do know is that the entire public radio industry would be better off if all stations took stock of their fundraising practices and made sure they aligned with the station’s core values and the public’s perceptions about the station’s credibility. Toward that end, JSA and the DEI/PRPD Fundraising Partnership will be developing guides and resources to help stations identify opportunities for improvement. More on that part of the project in a week or two.