I Want to Believe… in KPFK


KPFK is a listener-sponsored public radio station on the Pacifica network in Los Angeles.  Because they are 100% listener-sponsored (the amounts granted from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting being a pittance), and because they don’t take corporate donations (unlike NPR), and because they don’t run commercials, they are refreshingly unbeholden (yeah, I made up another word, what of it [how about all these ellipses!]) to anyone’s point of view except that of the parent organization.

Also, because of the all the above reasons, they have to run fund drives almost 5 times a year for up to three weeks each time.  It’s exhausting to even listen to.  And it’s incredibly disheartening.  And you can hear the desperation – especially recently, as times are really tough for everyone.  And that exhaustion and desperation is a turn-off.  And it makes me not want to donate.

Presently, the way the fund drives go is like this:  the hosts of the most popular shows plead for you to call in and pledge x amount of dollars in exchange for a great thank-you gift.  Later in the hour of any given show (excepting a few), some extra gift will be announced.  And they tell you all these dollar amounts that you can pledge at.  Plus another dollar amount that will get you another great gift.  TOO MANY NUMBERS, MAN!!!  And they beg and plead for money.  And they end up broadcasting reruns of the pledge drive from a couple days before.  And there’s 500,000 different packages and prizes and things and stuff and such-like.  And all that changes from day-to-day.  Meu Deus e ai ai ai…

My Enlightened Suggestions

1. Stop calling it a fund drive; call it a membership drive.  When you shift the emphasis from money to membership, people breathe a collective sigh.  It will trickle down in many ways; for instance, instead of wildly exhorting your listeners to help raise $3000 by the end of the hour, cheerfully invite them to become a member, and emphasize how many memberships you’d like to raise by the end of the hour.  Not how many basic memberships, not how many upper-level memberships, just memberships – be vague.  The main reason I cringe when the fund drives gear up is because of how much time is spent on trying to get the big-buck donations rolling in, which disenfranchises us who don’t have much money to give but would like to.  We can feel included.  If the words you use didn’t matter, then Frank Luntz wouldn’t have a job.

2.  Have ONE set pool of gifts, NO ADD ONS.  It is waaaayyyy confusing when listening to the different shows through the day, trying to keep up with what everyone is offering.  Before the drive begins, secure a pool of gifts that will be offered throughout the drive.  Have two categories, the first one corresponding to lower-level pledges (newspaper subscriptions, DVDs, books, other media, tickets to plays, etc.), and the second one corresponding to higher-level pledges (the iPad with radio archives pre-loaded, tickets to high-profile events, museum memberships, dinner with Amy Goodman, etc.).  Each show host could offer their own gift that corresponds to the subject matter that they cover, and during their hour, they could feature their gift while emphasizing all membership levels, and encouraging listeners to visit the website for more information.  Have this clearly spelled out on the website.

3. Establish yearly membership levels with catchy names.  There’s a reason why other organizations do it.  That reason is because it works.  It takes out a lot of the math and thinking, and gives the potential donor something to positively identify with.  Based on all the pledge drives I’ve listened to, here’s my enlightened sub-suggestion on this (these names are only suggestions):

  • $25+ Basic Membership – comes with bumper sticker/keychain/license plate frame/some other like gift
  • $50+ “True Progressive” Membership – comes with a Basic gift + their choice of one of the thank you gifts being currently offered in the lower category
  • $100+ “Leftist” Membership – comes with Basic gift + their choice of two of the thank you gifts being currently offered in the lower category
  • $150+ Film Club Membership – comes with Basic gift, one DVD of their choice that’s currently being offered as a thank you gift, and tickets to film screenings
  • $150+ “Activist” Membership – comes with Basic gift + their choice of a lower category gift and their choice of a upper category gift
  • $200+ “Freedom Fighter” Membership – comes with Basic gift + their choice of two upper category gifts
  • $250+ “Pacifica Friend” Membership – comes with Basic gift + their choice of any three gifts, regardless of category
  • $300 and beyond “Pacifica Angel” Membership – comes with their choice of any four gifts regardless of category plus a tour of the station and the privilege of watching a show of their choice being produced live (must make appointment)

I’d say tweak the dollar amounts as needed because I’m not an economist, but you get the gist.

4. REVAMP YOUR WEBSITE!!!!!  I listen in my car and on the internet at home.  There are thousands of internet listeners.  And yet, right now, as I click visit the site, it looks so 2004, and it’s built that way too.  There’s text everywhere in patchwork, no unifying color scheme, and five different kinds of fonts.  This is unacceptable and it matters.  Just because KPFK is a no-frills, listener-sponsored station doesn’t mean the website has to be unattractive and unorganized.  The parent Pacifica site is quite nice, and easy on the eyes.  If money is an issue, and I suspect it is, set up an internship program where college students studying web design and site development can earn college credit while working for you a few hours a week for spring/summer/fall term.  They have to have a bit of a portfolio, and present at least one idea that would help the site during their interview.  This would be profitable for the station indirectly, but profitable nonetheless.

5. Encourage listeners to become a member at the top of every hour, every time a show ends, whether or not there’s a fund drive on.  When I first began listening to KPFK, I didn’t even know that this was an option until that summer’s fund drive.

6. Throw fun events throughout the year where people only have to donate to get in.  No minimum donations, either.  Because I’ve found in several fundraising situations that when you ask for a donation and you don’t give a dollar amount, you get more than what you’d expect.  All proceeds benefit the station directly.  And there are plenty of entertainers here in LA who love KPFK and would graciously perform/do whatever for no fee, and organizations willing to donate their time in event production because it would be a tax write-off, and teenagers who could get involved and help out while getting their required volunteer hours.


Okay, I’m spent, but this has been burning inside me for quite some time.  KPFK has been in dire financial straits recently, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Not if we work smarter and hold on to methods that are effective.  If current methods were already effective, the station would not be in the situation that it’s in so severely.  Yes, I know we’re in a recession:  my pocketbook says so, and so does the fact that I have 3 jobs and I’m about to start another.  But surely extending every fund drive by an extra week will not cut it; that isn’t a true adaptation to changing needs.  Times have changed, and Pacifica’s methods in fundraising must change as well.  I don’t know what I would do if KPFK went off the air, and if you suggest I listen to NPR, I will punch you in your tricep.  Hard.  I doubt that the people who need to see this will – my readership is all of 10, and that’s on a good day.  But I just wanted to put this out there, because the next membership drive is coming soon, and I hate to skip over 90.7 just because the begging is too excruciating to hear.

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