The power of ten, as in $10.

I had the great privilege of spending time yesterday with a colleague who also runs a small public radio station. We have different situations – his station is licensed to a public school system; ours is licensed to the “community.” Both have advantages and dis’s (although yesterday, it was clear that at least for that moment, I do not want to trade) but more similarities than differences.

Conversations always turn to fund-raising and we hit on the huge problem – challenge, really, – for public media that stems from the fact that our product appears to be without cost to the public.  That is also a fulcrum for the mission, so it shouldn’t change.  You turn on the radio, you get to walk away with the product. But funding the production and distribution of a product that is essentially free to consumers is a unique and interesting place to live.

We talked a lot about connecting in a more meaningful way to those in our community who have the capacity to give significant gifts, about getting our current members to perhaps give incrementally more, about positioning our organizations as not just radio stations, but essential community resources.  We talked about how we make certain those who are giving now know how much it means and how much they are appreciated. These are all directions that have great impact to our sustainability and must be talked about and examined on a continuing basis – and examined with intelligence, insight, and a real sense for who truly cares about us.

But the segment of the population that really always captures my interest is that big, BIG group of people who listen, many every day, but never make a contribution.  They don’t have to, it’s so true. But I always wonder why they don’t. And more importantly, I wonder (and by wonder, I mean agonize over, dissect, drive staff crazy, and just can’t give up on) what we might do to encourage that giving.

If you have spent any time with me, like fifteen minutes, in the last two years, you have most likely heard me say that if everyone who listens to WBOI for any time at all during the week made a gift of $10, we could pay off our old operating debt and begin to run this station on top of the ground rather than from our current, rather discouraging “in a hole” position. $10.  It would change, in a way I cannot even begin to describe, the way we serve this community. Mostly, and I think you will understand the importance of this, it would change the level of bravery with which we are able to innovate, create, and move forward.

So how would we do that, get those listener, non-member folks, whom we love and who love us, I think, to pass over the debit card for a $10 gift?  Seriously, I think about this way too much. Because it seems like such a logical answer to a weighty problem.  If everybody did a small part, we’d solve this. (Selling 94.1 is an enormous problem, but there are some doable, if not altogether glorious, solutions. The operating debt, a leftover, doesn’t seem to have so many possibilities.)

We can’t send everybody a text or a letter or an email, because until a listener self-identifies, we don’t know who they are.  People get to use our product, for free, in stealth mode.

What about a $10 drive?  A couple of days, pretty low-key, but the ask is that everybody, EVERYBODY listening shares $10 with a station that must have some value to them, because they are listening.  Write a check, give us your card number, stop by the station with a ten.  I wonder how we’d do . . .

Do not be surprised to hear something like this someday.  As I said, this plagues me.  If you have solutions, I would love to add your brilliance to my “wonderings” on this subject.

$10. Every listener.  And maybe a few people would throw in a $20 to cover listeners that simply can’t do it right now. I think we could get it done.

What do you think?


“- “I’ve been thinking Hobbes –”
– “On a weekend?”
– “Well, it wasn’t on purpose…”” Calvin & Hobbes


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