Yes, people really do win pledge drive giveaways at WBEZ

How do giveaways work? Why do people give during pledge drives in the first place? We answer some common questions about membership drives.

Curious City Pledge Drive
WBEZ pledge drive thank you gifts. Images courtesy WBEZ Membership, collage by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Curious City Pledge Drive
WBEZ pledge drive thank you gifts. Images courtesy WBEZ Membership, collage by Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

Yes, people really do win pledge drive giveaways at WBEZ

How do giveaways work? Why do people give during pledge drives in the first place? We answer some common questions about membership drives.

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Pledge drive. It’s the much-anticipated fundraising period (you know you love them!) that happens four times a year at WBEZ. It’s a common practice in public broadcasting — especially public radio — to secure donations from a station’s audience. And it sounds like your favorite hosts, reporters and producers pulling back the curtains a bit and asking for your financial support!

And though they can get a bad rap, pledge drives are a really important part of what keeps public radio stations like WBEZ going. Plus, our membership team actually works really hard to make them as enjoyable as possible for our listeners (even practicing “pitching” for several hours before someone goes on the air for the very first time).

Recently, we received a question from listener Skyler Schrempp who asked: In all my years of listening to WBEZ, I’ve never heard of someone winning a pledge drive prize. Which made me wonder: Is it real?

The short answer is: Yes, it’s true, people really do win pledge drive giveaways. But don’t take our word for it. Below, we teamed up with WBEZ’s membership staff to answer that question and several others about pledge drives.

Curious City pledge archival
WBEZ volunteers and staff answer the phones during pledge drive in 1988 (left) and 1982 (right). WBEZ Archives

What exactly is a membership drive?

Simply put, a membership drive is a fundraising campaign where we ask our audience to support WBEZ. Nearly 70% of the money that keeps WBEZ going comes from members giving what they can.

And while it is perhaps the most public and recognized way we raise funds to support our work, only about 19% of the money raised through our membership program comes from our annual pledge drives.

The reason pledge drives are so important, though, is that about 70% of the new members who start donating to WBEZ in any year make their first ever donation during a pledge drive!

Pledge drives likely began in the late 1970s and really took off in the 1980s, said Valerie Arganbright, former head of member programs at Minnesota Public Radio and current head of fundraising consulting firm Appleby Arganbright.

According to Arganbright it wasn’t necessarily a strategy at first. Public broadcasters likely didn’t expect this model of giving money and getting a gift to be such a revenue driver.

Curious City pledge
Nerdette host Greta Johnsen and WBEZ podcasts executive producer Brendan Banaszak pitching in 2017. Courtesy Tyler Greene

Why doesn’t WBEZ just charge a subscription fee?

We don’t charge a subscription fee because that’s the essence of public radio: it’s accessible to everyone. So instead of charging a subscription fee and only allowing subscribers to listen to or read our stories, we rely on donations, big and small, to fund our work and keep our stories available to all. There can’t be public radio without the public.

Do people really win the giveaways? How do they work?

Yes, in the last two years WBEZ has given away 143 prizes, including 58 iPads and 12 trips.

Christie Billups won the trip to Iceland that we offered during the last pledge drive in December 2021. She’ll be heading to Iceland in July with her friend Carmen, and they’ll be going on several excursions while they’re there. “I am most looking forward to, and I believe this is true of Carmen as well, is the glaciers and waterfalls tour,” she said.

Curious City pledge drive socks
Former WBEZ intern Kyra Mitchell, former Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia and Reset senior producer Meha Ahmad pose with their pledge drive socks. Courtesy Amy Wielunski / WBEZ
Now the process for creating a giveaway is pretty straightforward but has many steps. First, WBEZ membership director Jessica Sigur sits down with a group of staff members to dream up what kinds of things should be offered during a drive, like that trip to Iceland that Christie won.

“We start with the kind of things that might be on someone’s bucket list, something that someone wouldn’t necessarily treat themselves to,” Jessica said.

Then Jessica finalizes the rules around the giveaways (including things like how to enter, when it starts and ends and any restrictions that might apply). Next, data analyst Leslie Simmons uses a randomized computer system to select a winner. Then, member service lead Zahid Khalil reaches out to the winner, letting them know they won. Lastly, once the winner has been chosen, LaToya Smith in accounting buys the prize and sends it to the winner along with the necessary tax forms. (Prizes are considered a form of income, so you have to complete the appropriate tax documents.)

So that’s how the process works. Which means you have a real chance of winning a giveaway. Click here to view a list of our 2021 winners (yep, we publish them!).

Why do people give money during pledge drives?

Supporting WBEZ helps sustain the service. University of Chicago economics professor John List researches what leads regular people to donate money to fundraising campaigns. 

Curious City pledge
WBEZ’s vice president of membership Amy Wielunski poses with reporter Shannon Heffernan during a pledge drive. Courtesy Beth Follenweider / WBEZ
He’s found that while there are some real altruists out there, that’s not the majority of people. Beyond altruism, List said two big motivators when it comes to fundraising are the “warm glow” and “nudging.” Put simply, a lot of people donate because it makes them feel good. “When you give money or give your time … you get this warm and fuzzy feeling inside,” List said. “In the economic literature, this is called the ‘warm glow.’” 

Other people are motivated to donate based on incentives, or “nudging,” List said. This can look like an opportunity to win a prize, or being rewarded with some type of information. That’s why WBEZ’s pledge drive relies on both types of motivators: you can feel good about your donation and if you can get a Curious City anniversary mug in the process? Even better.

How much should I contribute?

No contribution is too small or big. WBEZ Chief Advancement Officer Lucy Kim says all the support we receive is important, no matter the size of the donation.

“Those that can make those really big mega-gifts, that’s absolutely meaningful. But for someone that can make a $5 gift … that is equally meaningful to us. They are saying that you matter and I’m going to do what I can to support you,” Kim said.

So the answer to that question truly is “whatever works for you!” But if it’s helpful to know, the overall average gift for a WBEZ member last fiscal year was $163. And if we look at pledge drives specifically, that average gift can range anywhere from $75 for a new member to around $145 for someone renewing their support.

How can I support WBEZ?

To support WBEZ, click here. You can make a one-time or monthly donation. Either way, you’ll be entered to win a Curious City backstage pass to see how our show is made. One lucky listener will join the Curious City Team as we craft an upcoming episode. And to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Curious City, we’re also offering a special edition anniversary mug when you pledge $10 a month or more!

Erin Kahoa is the audio fundraising specialist for WBEZ’s membership team.