NPR postpones test of station-network online fundraising

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To make time for talks with concerned stations, NPR has put on hold a proposed trial of online giving on NPR.org. The experiment, previously slated to begin in the spring, is one of several fundraising initiatives proposed during station talks that began this summer.

The online giving tryout would invite web visitors to donate to a station or to NPR for use “where most needed.” It sought to learn how donations through NPR.org would affect giving patterns for various categories of users.

“The consensus is that we not proceed in any aggressive way with online fundraising right now,” said Ellen Rocco, manager of North Country Public Radio in Canton, N.Y., and chair of the NPR Board’s Membership Committee, during a Nov. 12 meeting in Washington, D.C. “We all know that money is being left on the table,” she said, but there isn’t sufficient support among stations to move forward.

The committee reacted in part to a Western States Public Radio resolution calling on NPR to keep its agreement giving stations the exclusive right to raise money from their local listeners.

WSPR President Paul Stankavich, g.m. of KPLU in Tacoma, Wash., told the committee that heads of some WSPR stations backed away from the resolution after NPR execs were given time to explain their fundraising plans in more detail.

NPR’s staff will continue to talk to station execs about the pilot to “see if we can gain support for it and find a way to put some safeguards in place” that alleviate their concerns, said Dana Davis Rehm, senior v.p. of strategy and partnerships, in an interview.

Rehm acknowledged conflicts over proposed joint solicitations and direct donations to NPR, but many stations support the proposals, Rehm said “We believe it is necessary to get into this question and to work through it,” she said, citing the weak economy. NPR.org reaches over 8 million web users per month, “and it’s very important that we make those folks aware of the need for listener support,” Rehm said.

Though NPR programs have a cumulative weekly audience of 28 million listeners, and the stations have 30 million overall, only 2.5 million households are contributing members of stations, Rehm said. “We need to reach out to people with every tool we have.”

Meanwhile, 25 stations are participating with NPR in soliciting new station donors via direct mail, Rehm said, and NPR is proposing experiments with text solicitation to NPR Mobile users and direct-mail appeals to stations’ lapsed members.