NPR Board approves donations from overseas NPR One listeners

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Some NPR One users outside the U.S. will be able to donate to NPR starting next year, marking the first time the network will solicit contributions directly from listeners.

Until recently, the policies of NPR’s board prohibited the network from asking for individual donations through its website. Written before the launch of NPR One, the regulations didn’t specifically mention fundraising through apps or other digital platforms. But the NPR Board approved a change Nov. 17 to allow overseas listeners to donate to the network through NPR One if they have not already linked the app to a member station.

The change comes as NPR also plans to enable NPR One users to contribute to stations within the app. NPR expects to introduce the new functionality as of April 1, 2017, according to Chief Digital Officer Thomas Hjelm, who briefed the NPR Board’s membership committee on the proposed policy change at a Nov. 16 meeting.

NPR One users who want to donate to stations are now sent to station websites through a browser. The network is working with Google and Apple on incorporating their payment gateways into the app, Hjelm said.

With capability for in-app donations taking effect, the question arose of how to handle the international NPR One users. For new domestic users, the app geolocates upon its first use, prompting selection of a nearby station. Users can pick a station elsewhere in the country, an option also available to international users. But some overseas listeners, who make up 12 percent of the app’s user base, haven’t selected a station. (NPR does not disclose how many people use NPR One.)

“The purpose of this experiment with international users is not to unlock a huge source of revenue for NPR, but to give us a test bed for experimentation that will benefit our efforts to raise money domestically on behalf of stations,” said NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara in an email.

The prospect of public media consumers donating directly to program producers and bypassing stations has been a source of tension within the system, and some NPR board members expressed concern about the extent of the experiment with international donors. “We need some sort of a box around it,” said Kerry Swanson, station manager of Northwest Public Radio in Pullman, Wash., and membership committee chair.

But Joyce Slocum, president of Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and a member of the committee, argued against putting any more limitations on the effort. “The likely population is so narrow that it seems to me that putting constrictions on the time period is likely to end up with us … not having enough data to judge anything,” she said.

“It’s not like this is forever,” said Slocum, also a former chief administrative officer at NPR.

“The whole idea behind this is there’s money being left on the table, and it doesn’t matter how much,” said Mike Savage, g.m. of WBAA in West Lafayette, Ind. “This will determine how well we can capture whatever we capture.”

NPR’s full board unanimously approved the change to the policy the next day.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that the NPR Board changed the network’s bylaws. The board changed its own policies.