I have been listening to the pledge drive for the statewide public radio network the last couple weeks and been thinking nostalgically about my time living in Hawaii when I was a regular guest during the semi-annual drives. It was a minor point of pride feeling that I had worked my way up from being a guest an a 4:00 pm Saturday show to a midweek lunch time slot. I can’t say for sure if my clever patter as responsible for being asked to guest at seemingly more “visible” time slots, but there were times when I would finish up one slot and be asked to move to another room to appear on the second program stream.
But it doesn’t seem like public radio stations do this sort of thing any more. Having worked for organizations that depended heavily on volunteer labor, I can completely understand that it can take a lot of staff hours to schedule guests in dozens of slots across a two week period. That is in addition to the numbers you need to cover phones. With the increased move to online donating, I am not even sure if many stations need volunteers to cover phones any more. It used to be that you would hear acknowledgements of restaurants that donated food for the volunteers. I haven’t heard those in many year which means either there aren’t a lot of volunteers to feed or the stations are paying for the food directly now.
In any case, what I think has been lost by eliminating community guests from fundraising is the opportunity to provide social proof.
For the last few years, theaters like mine have worked to increase the number of audience photos on our websites and publications to show who is attending performances and the enjoyable experience they are having. I have frequently mentioned that people feel more comfortable participating in a cultural experience when they see themselves and their stories depicted.
There is a pretty distinct impression of who public radio is for. Even though the names of correspondents represent some pretty diverse backgrounds as do the stories being told, the voices telling the stories continue to cleave rather closely to the stereotypical “public radio voice.” Some of the podcasts associated with public radio diverge a little from the “voice,” but not many and few podcasts are part of the main programming stream.
In addition to adding some vocal variety in the programming, returning to having community guests on the pledge drives can provide the social proof about who values the stations and their programming. Obviously, choosing who the guests will be requires some strategy. My recollection from the past was that there were always a lot of lawyers on. That might not be the image of who the stations are for that they want to project. As much as I enjoyed the experience, maybe I am no longer the right person to be a guest any longer.
As much as I am citing the example of public radio here, I am basically using this particular situation to approach the importance of all cultural organizations providing visible social proof from a different angle.