Thursday, August 14, 2008

3rd Email: Jeanne to Torey

From: Jeanne Marie Olson
Subject: Re: FW: Cancelling my pledge to WBEZ
To: "Malatia, Torey"
Date: Monday, July 28, 2008, 12:29 AM

Torey, thanks for your response.

Yes, you are correct. None of us have to give at all as the station relies on voluntary donations from listeners.


Since you are relying on voluntary donations from listeners, the station has more responsibility to its donors than, say, a lemonade stand would have to its patrons. At a lemonade stand, I put down 50 cents. I receive my cup. I drink it and leave. If the lemonade stand owner decides to invest his profit into selling clown hats on the side, it doesn't matter to me. I paid for my lemonade, received it, and that is that.

Public radio is not a lemonade stand.

When you go on the air at a pledge drive and ask for listener support, you cite the many expenses that go into making a public radio station work. As a benefit, you mention--specifically by name--the programs that we receive as listeners of the station. When we voluntarily give to the station, especially if our donation is pledged to continue over a period of time, we are entering into a donor agreement with you. We give money and you spend that money on what you have represented as the not-for-profit that is worthy of funding. In this case, that is WBEZ.

If you want to cancel programming or add staff in the newsroom, that is well within the donor agreement that we have made to support the station. Some of us may not like a specific decision and will voice those opinions, but at the end of the day, since it is all under the umbrella of WBEZ, we feel that the good outweighs some of the occasional disappointments.

In the meantime, the station functions as part of a large social network that ties different individuals, groups, topics, and locations together. This relationship is interdependent. The listeners rely on the social network for many things and so does the station. Listeners reinforce brand identity, engage in a certain amount of participation beyond financial donations, are willing to carry and display items with logos on them as part of a larger marketing plan, provide support in public elections that keeps politicians aware of constituents' ties to public radio, link to the WBEZ website in on-line forums and conversations, mention the site in classrooms, conversation and in casual media, etc.

Donors contribute to not-for-profits that they can trust. The trust that, if I give to the station, the station will spend my donation on WBEZ business since that was the agreement presented during the fund raising period. The trust that when you call us WBEZ members you really believe that we are members and not just consumers completing a transaction. Because as the station reaps the benefits of community members behaving like members (and not just consumers), it is required to treat them like members and not consumers.

We could go into the mechanics of temporarily restricted, permanently restricted and unrestricted donations and assets. I'm sure you have already consulted your financial advisors and have found that classifying funds as reserves from previous years provides a handy loophole for presenting the use of previous donations and monies on non-WBEZ projects as relatively easy to defend because it would be extremely difficult to trace the money and interest from reserves to different projects.

So I'm not going to pursue that.

Reframing how you are covering Vocalo's shortfall doesn't hide the fact that you are changing the rules in the middle of the game to benefit your personally desired outcome at the expense of the trust that the station has built over decades with the community that sustains it.

Torey, let me make it simpler for you.

If you had added new programming to WBEZ's schedule that I didn't care for and cut something that I enjoyed, I would still support WBEZ. That is the station I pledged to this year. And the year before that. And many years before that.

To tell me, after you have secured my pledge, that you will be diverting money to a completely different station, a station that I would not have known about had I not read the Chicago Reader, that makes me believe that I cannot trust you to be a responsible steward of my donation.

It isn't the FACT that you are doing it, Torey. It is HOW you have gone about it. It is how this whole thing is playing out. If there are any reserves from past years and WBEZ is coming up short in 2008, that is where the reserves should go. Period. Because of donors like me who believed that our donations and any interest on those donations would support WBEZ which was the station presented to us in the pledge drives.

Should Vocalo succeed or fail? Frankly, I don't really care one way or the other. I'll judge it separately and decide whether or not to pledge to it during a VOCALO pledge drive. Which they should be running with their own fundraising staff. On computers supported by their own IT department. An IT department funded through the donations specific to Vocalo. Should you as the general manager be prevented from trying something new or different? Torey, please, be my guest. Either create that new project with WBEZ funds within the programming schedule of WBEZ, or create something entirely new outside of WBEZ with assets not connected to WBEZ.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a firewall that keeps members from asking what you are doing with assets that we directly and indirectly obtained for the station and at the same time breach that firewall to pull whatever you like (money, staff, time, equipment) in a completely separate venture.

So, Torey, never apologize. Either unapologetically launch Vocalo as part of WBEZ and come clean with WBEZ members in a very direct way that is presented in pledge drives, marketing materials, online identity, member communications and the rest about what is happening. Or unapologetically decide to truly separate the two and keep everything--ALL of the money, staff, people and equipment--separate so that Vocalo can thrive or die on its own.

Once you choose, send me an email. I'd love to consider donating again as long as I know what I'm donating to. Unapologetically, of course.


Jeanne Marie Olson

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