Friday, March 22, 2013

Pledge drive time

After another week-long pledge drive on our local National Public Radio station, I’m ready to stick molten railroad spikes in my ears to make it stop.

Somehow the sound of fundraising on the radio strikes me like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard. I think it could be used in hostage negotiation situations to make hostage-takers give up, at least if they were also public radio fans. I dislike the way it goes on and on. I dislike the way newscasters and personalities who sound so intelligent and insightful when delivering news or conducting interviews start tripping over their words, making meaningless quips and generally sounding like nincompoops when required to ad-lib some banter during pledge drive time. And mostly, I dislike the fact that it introduces skepticism into the otherwise impeccable reliability of National Public Radio. “We need only twelve thousand calls in the next three minutes to reach our goal!” the announcer will say exuberantly at 7:57 a.m. And then at 8:01, “Thanks, everyone! We made it!” Really? I believe NPR when they report on government scandals or papal secrets, but am I really to believe it when my local station claims to have logged twelve thousand phone calls in three minutes?

But yesterday I discovered something that made me feel a little bit sheepish. The station had a great raffle item for which every pledge caller would be eligible within a two-hour window, and that motivated me to call. I didn’t win the raffle, but I discovered to my surprise that the sound of fundraising was a lot less annoying to me for the rest of the day. This made me realize that perhaps it’s not actually the words or tone of the pleading itself but the guilt I feel when I listen to it without pledging. Listening to their supplications in the hours after I pledged, and knowing they were no longer talking to me, made it all so much more bearable.

Charitable giving is always a tricky topic for me. I try to support my alma maters, my church, our independent community newspaper, and National Public Radio, plus any cause for which a friend or family member is running, walking, dancing, jump-roping, or shooting baskets to raise money. But I confess that my chief motivation for sending in a check to my prep school every spring is knowing that the school publishes an annual list of donors by class and I don’t want my name to be missing. I can’t explain why I support my cozy suburban church more than, say, Oxfam, or my college rather than The Nature Conservancy. And I can’t even pretend there’s any direct correlation between where I send money and what matches my core values.

But for today, at least, I can listen to the last day of the NPR pledge drive with a clear conscience. I didn’t win the raffle prize, but I won a day of painless listening as the pledge drive ends. Maybe next time I’ll be lucky enough to get both.

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