December Pledge Drive

NPRWhile traveling has found me in some odd places, I’ve  gravitated towards National Public Radio (NPR) or the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for timely news.  During the nighttime allure of moonlight, clutching covers, I listen to the BBC for new-found news from the surrounding world.

Being a news junkie, balanced information is important.  Accordingly, over the years I’ve contributed to many local NPR stations. Whether I sojourned upon California beaches or trekked heavily wooded hiking trails in upstate New York or Vermont. In my line of work, timely news information is critical.

However, there are NPR pledge drives that completely baffle me.  Need an example? Vermont National Public Radio (VPR) is conducting an eight day December pledge drive, just a mere two months after completing the September pledge drive. The VPR website states:

… our schedule will be September, December, and March. We also sometimes partner with a community non-profit and conduct a 3-4 day “mini-drive,” that also benefits the partnering organization. If and when we hold a mini-drive, it’s typically during the summer months.”

And why specifically December?

In our research, we found that December ranks as the best month of the year for charitable giving. In fact, a certain group of folks only make charitable gifts in December. Many other public radio stations across the country also report that December drives are generally well received and successful. VPR is also looking into the possibility of offering gift memberships, and so timing this opportunity around the holidays makes sense.”

I raise all this because several months ago I left Vermont for a month break. Before leaving, I anonymously pledged to the local VPR station in Vermont during their September pledge. On the west coast, I also pledged to my local station in Washington during their pledge drive.  Six weeks later, I received a call from professional fundraisers on behalf of NPR requesting an immediate demand for more donations. Coming back to Vermont for the holidays, I came face-to-face with the VPR’s December pledge drive.

Each pledge drive lasts eight to ten days. Over the last 90 days, I’ve had to listen to twenty-eight days of pledge drives.

I presume most who work in public broadcasting earn decent, middle-class wages; similar to those who support them. In truth, most key radio NPR hosts and administrators earn several hundred thousand dollars annually. Before being released in 2004, Bob Edwards made over $500,000 annually; Carl Kassel made well over $100,000 prior to retiring; former CEO Vivian Schiller had a base salary of $450,000; former NPR Ron Schiller (no relationship to Ms. Schiller) made close to $500,000 and Ken Stern received over $1,200,000 in bonus, salary and compensation.

Program wise, Robert Siegel (All Things Considered) takes in a mere $375,000; Melissa Block (All Things Considered) receives a cool $300,000; Steve Inskeep (Morning Edition) only made $373,000 and poor Renee Montagne (Morning Edition) made a paltry $405,000.  NPR Saturday host Scott Simon (Weekend Edition) has to live on a paltry $364,000 while Terry Gross (Fresh Air) can still smell roses at $256,000.

In prior years, the network’s managing editor Barbara Rehm cleared over $400,000 while Chief financial officer James Elder was paid $431,861 and the Vice President of Diversity, Keith Woods received $205,989. In a 2008 salary survey, Lynne Rossetto Casper (The Splendid Table) gobbled up only $173,500 for a weekly one-hour show.

In 2003, McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc bequeathed over 200 million to NPR. NPR described Ms. Kroc’s contribution as “the largest monetary gift ever received by an American cultural institution.” The funds were intended to go straight into the NPR’s endowment, generating “at least” $10 million a year in interest income, in perpetuity. So where’s that donation?

The average salary at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, including custodial and clerical staff, is $99,000, as of Sept. 13, 2013. The president grossed over $400,000 while the CEO of PBS received about $800,000.

When I first left college, I worked for a non-profit. I was paid $10,000 a year and loved it. But working for non-for-profit is a calling, a commitment from both management and employees. Money was not our sole purpose every three-to-four months of the year.

Playing the devil’s advocate, this is season for giving. But Vermont NPR plays those heart strings and tugs at the emotional appeal. Thus, the next time NPR goes into pledge-drive mode and begs listeners to chip in $100 for the the Nina Totin’-Bag, it would be wonderful if, in the spirit of balance and fairness, they would read off some salary for NPR stars.

But there are people in need. One in six children will be underfed this holiday season. There are many aunts and uncles who need a job. A local food bank needs donations to help the community at large.

This is where your contributions need to go.



Categories: Life Lessons

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