…you mean it’s free?

Posted: March 19, 2011 by Leanne Osmond in #5 Not for Profit

One morning every week, usually a Wednesday, I get up and while I’m getting ready for the day I have the sweet sound of Ira Glass’ voice coming through my headphones.

This American Life is hands down one of my favourite podcasts and I wouldn’t have the same kind of access to it if it wasn’t for NPR’s not for profit business model. I would consider NPR to be one of the most successful not-for-profit media organizations out there and to have achieved that definitely deserves a high-five at the very least.

NPR relies on the donations of their members to keep operating. They’re known for producing high quality content, and the fact that they’re able to do this without charging their members a dime goes to show that when people really like something, they’re willing to pay for it. While the quality of the content they produce both online and over the airways is pretty exceptional, I think a big contributing factor to NPR’s success is their size — their radio programs air on stations all across the United States which allows them to build quite a large membership base. Everything they cover goes up on their website, and their radio programs downloadable as free podcasts from either the website itself or the iTunes store.

NPR  has also been utilizing social media to broaden their membership base. They’ve got several Facebook pages and twitter accounts where stories can be linked to, and members can comment and have conversations. I follow NPR News on Twitter and I have read several stories linked in tweets that I probably never would have come across otherwise — instead of finding the stories, the stories find you.

Very Similar to NPR, ProPublica is a non-profit news organization that produces investigative journalism for, what they say, is in the public interest.  The work they produce is very in-depth and informative, and like NPR their content is free and available online. They too depend on the donations of their members to continue operating, and they’re also another non-profit success story.

I couldn’t find a ProPublica group on Facebook, but they do use Twitter to link to their stories which would undoubtedly entice a few other people — not just their members — to go to their site and indulge in some not-so-light reading.

Generally speaking I’m not so sure how well a not-for-profit news organization can last in a society like ours where most of us feel a sense of entitlement to things. One would think a business model dependent on the voluntary donations from average people would crash and burn, but obviously NPR and ProPublica are doing something right to be thriving the way they are. I am of the belief that if you like something, you should support it. Thats why even though I’m a poor student I buy my songs on iTunes, albeit that doesn’t happen as much now as it did when I had an income. That is also why I have donated to NPR — I love This American Life, so I support them…it’s also an added incentive when Ira Glass asks you donate money himself as you listen to the show.

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