Outside consultant says WDET fundraising spots weren’t unethical

By Andrew Lapin

Pitch spots requesting donations for an audio preservation project at Detroit’s WDET did not violate fundraising ethics, according to an accredited fundraising consultant who reviewed the campaign at the station’s request.

The spots, which simulated tape decay of recorded music in the station’s library to solicit donations for the preservation project, prompted an internal complaint that WDET had misled listeners about the state of its collection (Current, Sept. 10). WDET General Manager J. Mikel Ellcessor, who approved the spots, apologized to staff and to listeners who donated to the campaign, and pledged to have an independent consultant evaluate the matter.

Rick Kress, a credentialed advanced certified fundraising executive retained by WDET, reviewed an audio sample from the spots and other materials generated by the fundraiser — including the letters of apology. In a Sept. 14 letter to Ellcessor, he wrote that the station had not violated its “implied donor contract (what was promised in the solicitation in exchange for a charitable gift).”

“I do not feel there was misrepresentation with the donors,” Kress wrote, though he added that WDET could have done a better job explaining the simulation to listeners.

The spots aired during a three-day campaign in late July and prompted an anonymous station employee to complain to Wayne State University, WDET’s licensee. In his Aug. 3 letter to the 150 listeners who donated to the station since the spots aired, Ellcessor gave contributors the option to withdraw their gifts, but none did.

Read Kress’s full letter to Ellcessor.

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