Letting NPR raise money is a “no brainer”

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This American Life raises money directly from its listeners, so why can’t NPR? Pubradio marketing and research consultant John Sutton says the field is forgoing millions in listener contributions by prohibiting NPR from asking for direct support, and he makes a case for lifting the ban. NPR can play an effective role in soliciting donations from lapsed donors and in making appeals for additional gifts, he writes:

“NPR can leverage its brand and economies of scale to conduct direct mail and email acquisition campaigns. What seems cost-prohibitive to many local stations is very affordable on a national level. All that’s needed is a model for making sure that all boats rise together.”

“And that’s the crux of the matter. Public radio has the wrong discussion when it talks about who should be asking for money. That’s a no-brainer. Everyone who can ask efficiently and effectively should be asking. This American Life is proof of the power in national fundraising.”

As Sutton points out, Public Radio International, American Public Media and any number of independent producers (here and here) already solicit direct listener contributions. When Barbara Appleby, NPR director of new revenue strategies, looked into how many public radio entities were raising money online last year, she counted “well over 50,” she told Current. The appeals varied from requests for donations from podcast listeners to e-mail blasts to supporters, she said.

In focus groups, some listeners talk about supporting their local station as well as a podcast. “They say, ‘I pay for that, too,'” Appleby said. “There’s some level of sophistication with listeners in understanding the difference.”

A story in the latest edition of Current reports that NPR and six stations are moving forward with one national fundraiser that Appleby first proposed last fall. The three-month test of online fundraising websites is scheduled to begin next month.