Sharing the scraps from VPR’s table

Today is Giving Tuesday, part of our ongoing parade of post-Black Friday “Days” for this or that. Eventually, every day till Christmas will be spoken for.

In honor of the event, our state’s least needy nonprofit is doing its best to cash in. Vermont Public Radio has a special two-fer-Tuesday deal: give your dollars to VPR and another, much needier, charity will get some spare change.

It’s Giving Tuesday, and for every gift to VPR today only, a generous supporter from Shelburne will donate 15 meals to the Vermont Foodbank.

Okay, this bothers me. And I’ll try to explain why.

VPR has an immense advantage over every other nonprofit in the state: a perpetually open direct line to its constituents. It can interrupt service at any time for fundraising messages.

Imagine if a nonprofit called you on the phone and you couldn’t hang up until they let you. Or it could interrupt your mail service until you read its latest pitch.

So here we are on Giving Tuesday, and VPR is generously lending its megaphone to a worthy cause.

Or it’s cashing in on the occasion and borrowing the Vermont Foodbank’s image for its own benefit. After all, who gets the bulk of the proceeds?

VPR does.

How much does it cost for the Vermont Foodbank to provide 15 meals? Let’s turn to Feeding America, a national foodbank network.

The Meal Cost Calculation (formerly known as the Efficiency Claims) is commonly used throughout the network as a way to express the value we provide to our communities through the generosity of donors. The language usually takes the form of “$1 helps provide X meals.”

… Each $1 donated to Feeding America helps us provide 8 meals to those at risk of hunger.

So you give $50 or $100 or $250 to VPR, and the Vermont Foodbank gets a whole two dollars. Great.

So how did this come about? Did the anonymous “supporter from Shelburne” come to VPR with the proposition? Or did the idea originate with VPR? No evidence, but my money’s on the latter. Public radio stations love to leverage major gifts; they provide a sense of immediacy, the most desirable of fundraising currency. Indeed, when a major donor offers a gift, stations will often ask that it be turned into a leveraged proposition like this.

The constant struggle of any nonprofit is to turn good intentions into concrete action. Everybody has good intentions; only a small fraction actually give. This one-day-only offer provides immediacy in spades. The goal for the day is “15,000 meals,” or 1,000 donations to VPR. If the average donation is $100, then VPR stands to gain $150,000 on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday.

The Vermont Foodbank? $2,000.

I’m sure the Foodbank appreciates every dollar, and will use them wisely. I’m sure they jumped at the chance when VPR presented it. But you know, if I were going to write a check for Giving Tuesday, I think I’d just give it all to the Vermont Foodbank.

And if I were VPR, instead of leveraging my position and sharing the scraps with the Foodbank, I’d produce a series of spots asking my audience to give directly to Vermont charities. Something like:

“Vermont Public Radio depends on listener support. But many other Vermont charities depend on your support as well. In honor of Giving Tuesday, we are giving our airtime to those worthy causes. So celebrate this very important day by making a gift to [insert charity’s name here].”

Now, that would be a truly charitable act. VPR’s little publicity stunt, not so much.

9 thoughts on “Sharing the scraps from VPR’s table

  1. Bob Zeliff

    Well said!

    Public Radio is a huge asset, but I feel it has grown out of proportion and is largely in efficient in it’s spending. What are it’s core objectives? An informed populace?
    Could it be as effective while spend 1/2 of the current spend? What would we lose?

  2. NanuqFC

    I had a similar reaction, especially when the on-air ask was a whopping $1,000, or better yet, $1200 ($100 per month), fully interlaced with motivating guilt for the needy who could be helped by the additional meals provided by the Vermont Foodbank.

    I prefer to choose and donate to charities on my own. Big businesses — or those who are simply quite loud — are essentially “poor-washing” their own profit (or, in the case of VPR, which is a nonprofit, their “retained earnings”).

  3. Judy Stermer, Vermont Foodbank Director of Communications and Public Affairs

    John, I wanted to take a minute to share the Vermont Foodbank’s perspective. As one of many non-profits in Vermont, we know that our donors are inundated with requests for support, and we work hard to set ourselves apart in order to attract new support and keep loyal donors interested in our mission. One thing we here over and over from supporters across Vermont is that they want to see us collaborating, pooling recourse, sharing expertise, etc. We do this in so many ways–our longtime partnership with VPR is one of these strategic collaborations. Their partnership over the years has allowed us to leverage new funds and extra gifts and to strengthen relationships with our own donors. Beyond today’s financial exchange, our Giving Tuesday collaboration is providing us with an audience with whom we can share our message, during our most important fundraising time. This opportunity to talk about our mission has a real and quantifiable value to the Foodbank.

    We can’t end hunger alone. We need you, VPR and everyone in Vermont to make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors struggling with hunger.

  4. Matthew Webb

    My thoughts exactly. I was disgusted. As you point out, VPR is flush with cash; it’s one of the wealthiest NPR affiliates out there. Good advice: donate straight to needier groups. Thanks for saying this.

  5. Dave Katz

    After taking in Tom Ashcroft’s mealymouthing on the On Point show today as to whether or not the Planned Parenthood shootings could be tied around the necks of vicious GOP swine (Ashcroft, and his go-tos, a Washington Post pressbot and a truly awful spokesperson from the DAR–I think– gathered in conclusion: Both Sides Do It and All The Facts Haven’t Been Heard Yet) I’m going to ask VPR for all the contributions I’ve made to them back. I’ll keep the mug, though.

  6. Brooke Paige

    Despicable VPR !

    If John is correct here, and I have no reason to believe he is not, this is a new low even for VPR. Now we can literally say that they are stealing the food from the mouths of children !

    Limousine Liberalism riding the Internet Superhighway!

  7. Faith King

    Yeah, it’s the ‘bogus-ity’ of it all. To add one more detail, I was talking with staff at an actual Barre food shelf last year – and they told me that they (the people who hand the food to the hungry) have to “buy” the food from the Foodbank. The food shelves pay for it. Begs the question – you wanna donate money? You could write a check to your neighborhood food shelf and call it good. True, your local church food shelf is not busy making ‘strategic partnerships’ with big-foot community entities like VPR (I imagine all of this strategy/collaboration stuff can be kind of costy, after all) Nor do food shelf staff buy into the notion that alleviating hunger – an important thing to do – is in any way part of a real effort to eliminate hunger. It isn’t. Why? Because, frankly, no one wants to pay for a serious, systemic effort to get at the root causes of food insecurity and poverty. The Foodbank – in their lovely way (and they are lovely) – would lead us to believe we can eliminate the ravages of an unequal economic system and corrupted legislative process on a purely voluntary basis. No nasty demand from the government, here…and you can feel good about yourself to boot. Not ant-Foodbank here! But there are options…….


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