PRI launches crowdfunding campaign to fund global stories, entice new donors

By Andrew Lapin

A crowdfunding campaign launched April 15 by Public Radio International seeks $25,000 for a Global Stories Fund that will support 11 international stories to be presented on PRI’s The World and other news programs.

The campaign was timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of PRI’s founding and will conclude May 10. Three days after going live on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, the campaign had raised more than $1,500.

Recent crowdfunding successes of other public radio producers inspired PRI’s fundraising team to create the campaign, said Julia Yager, v.p. of brand management and marketing strategy. She pointed to Latitude News, which raised more than $46,000 on Kickstarter in February to launch a monthly, Public Radio Exchange–distributed podcast about global issues, as a model for PRI’s effort.

PRI isn’t relying on the campaign to fund its international news coverage, she said, and will turn to other revenue sources, such as underwriting, if the crowdfunding trial falls flat. The number of global stories to be produced will not change, she said, emphasizing that the primary goal of the campaign is to encourage online listeners to become regular donors.

“We knew that activity like that was out there and seemed to be working for public media, so we wanted to give it a try,” Yager said. Another goal of the campaign is to gauge whether those who primarily listen to PRI’s programs via web streams or podcasts will donate.

Coverage backed by the fund falls under various beats, such as gender rights, disease, immigration, religion and regional interests, according to the campaign description. Stories produced may air on The Takeaway, a midday show produced at New York’s WNYC, and other PRI series in addition to PRI’s The World.

News staff were not involved in planning the campaign and will not be asked to promote it, according to Yager, but Marco Werman, host of The World, has agreed to make personalized playlists for donors who contribute $1,000 or more to the campaign.

Unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo allows campaign organizers to keep the money that’s been pledged even if they fail to meet their goal by the funding deadline, making the crowdfunding platform a better model for institutional nonprofits such as PRI, according to Yager.

Though PRI’s The World is produced in conjunction with the BBC World Service, funds raised through Indiegogo won’t be spent on stories produced by the BBC.

PRI’s Resource Development team is relying on social media, not on-air messages, to promote the campaign via PRI’s Twitter and Facebook pages, according to Yager. PRI wants to avoid stepping on the toes of its affiliate stations. “We are very cognizant of not overloading messages,” she said.

The campaign’s April 15 launch suffered from unfortunate timing and some ill-considered social-media messaging. PRI unveiled the campaign on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, when social media and news outlets were tracking developments in the terrorist attack that killed three people and injured hundreds. PRI’s Resource Development team posted a tweet linking the bombings to the need for increased global reporting and directing its 160 followers to the Indiegogo campaign page.

After some followers complained that the tweet seemed opportunistic, PRI deleted it. Yager described the message as “a mistake.”

The tweet had been intended to connect support for the campaign with helping PRI “bring coverage to light,” Yager said. The team had been aiming for a tone similar to that of the American Red Cross’s technique for requesting financial assistance during natural disasters and other emergencies. After the botched tweet, PRI tightened its process for reviewing social-media messages.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org
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