If You Want to Feed the Hungry, Don't Give (As Much) to a Radio Station

WAY FTHWAY-FM’s pledge drive is over. I assume they reached their quota of Feed the Hungry pledges ($100) because the ad has now been removed from the front page of the website. Last week, I wrote critically about WAY-FM’s claim that a $100 donation to the station helped a child in South Sudan have food for a month. As far as I can determine, the children will get food no matter what WAY-FM donors do.
After I published my response to the Feed the Hungry radio promotion, I was contacted by an individual who did not want to named but who challenged my understanding of the facts. This person said that a donor at Feed the Hungry donated sufficient money to cover the promise of a month of food for each donation of $100 to WAY-FM for 1000 kids.* However, if WAY-FM listeners did not come through, the Feed the Hungry donor was under no obligation to donate the full amount (about $6000). Thus, if 900 donors gave $100, then the Feed the Hungry donor would only give $5400.
To me, I don’t know which is more troubling. WAY-FM promising something that isn’t happening, or a donor holding food hostage unless American Christians give $100 to a radio station.
Whether it is K-LOVE and a warm coat or WAY-FM and a month of food, I question this means of raising funds. Using cold and hungry children as bait to raise money is disturbing. I would like to see this end as a fund raising practice. Do cross promotion, but don’t make aid to a child contingent on guilt and manipulation.
Thus far, when I have asked questions about whether or not there is a real donor behind either coats or food for a month, I get silence from K-LOVE, Operation Warm, WAY-FM and Feed the Hungry. Sometimes when the programs are described, the language gets tortured and odd. For instance according to this WAY-FM description, the food is given in the “honor” of the WAY-FM donor.

Thanks for your special investment to ensure WAY-FM’s critical year-end funding need is met. And with every $100 you invest in WAY-FM, ministry partner Feed The Hungry will provide a month of food this Christmas season to a child fleeing war-torn South Sudan. Multiples of $100 count too. Your gift of $200 feeds 2 refugee children, and your $500 covers 5 children. 100% of your investment stays with WAY-FM, as Feed The Hungry makes these meals possible in your honor!

How does giving to a radio station warrant a donor being honored for what Feed the Hungry does? Somehow I get to feel special for what someone does? This language is very similar to the K-LOVE/Operation Warm coat promo. Operation Warm’s spokesman told me the coats are given to cold kids in honor of K-LOVE donors who give $40/month.
How Can This Stop?
Donors will have to speak up. I have raised these concerns to both K-LOVE and WAY-FM and they have done nothing. Apparently, it works too well. Christian music artists haven’t spoken up as far as I can tell but they should.
I have spoken to several industry insiders who acknowledge the scandalous deception but are afraid to speak up because of the market power of the big three networks. To say something would compromise their livelihood. I get that.
In addition to voting with our dollars, donors are going to have to speak out for this to change. And donors should stop making contingent challenges.** Just give cheerfully and let your yes be yes.
Still not convinced? Here is another suggestion for those who want to support a radio station and give money to the needy.
Do both.
Let’s take WAY-FM and Feed the Hungry as an example.
You could give $40 to WAY-FM and $60 to Feed the Hungry. You would be helping the station and feeding 10 hungry kids for a month. See how that works?
Personally, I don’t like the deception so I give elsewhere. However, if you aren’t convinced these groups being deceptive, consider another way. Radio executives might have to take a pay freeze but more coats and food will be given.
*According to Feed the Hungry’s website, it takes $6 to feed a refugee child for a month. WAY-FM sent this email announcing the goal to supporters:

There’s still time to help reach your WAY-FM’s $100,000 Pledge Drive Launch Goal and realize the dream of feeding 1,000 hungry refugee kids this Christmas season.
Your gift by midnight tonight will help give your WAY-FM a solid start to the Year-End Pledge Drive – so that together, we can impact even more people who desperately need the hope of Jesus in 2017!
And remember, with your investment of $100 or more, WAY-FM’s ministry partner, Feed The Hungry, will provide a month’s worth of lifesaving meals to a child fleeing war-torn South Sudan.
So I’m praying you’ll invest generously now to encourage listeners and help feed 1,000 hungry kids this Christmas season!

**I do think challenging groups to participate is fine, e.g., I gave $100, now I challenge all guitar players to give at least $100 to the food bank. According to this WAY-FM description, the food is given in “the honor” of the WAY-FM donor.

Thanks for your special investment to ensure WAY-FM’s critical year-end funding need is met. And with every $100 you invest in WAY-FM, ministry partner Feed The Hungry will provide a month of food this Christmas season to a child fleeing war-torn South Sudan. Multiples of $100 count too. Your gift of $200 feeds 2 refugee children, and your $500 covers 5 children. 100% of your investment stays with WAY-FM, as Feed The Hungry makes these meals possible in your honor!

Donor Illusion: Giving Money to The WAY-FM Doesn't Feed a Hungry Sudanese Child for a Month

Listening to The WAY-FM this morning I heard the DJ say that if I gave $100 toward The WAY’s fund drive, a South Sudanese refugee child would get food for a month. The website provided more information:
Clicking through this picture, I found a video about a child named Violet and the claim written in bold print:

It’s the perfect time to partner with Feed the Hungry for WAY-FM’s Year-End Pledge Drive. Every gift of $100 not only keeps the ministry of WAY-FM going, but also provides a month of hot meals to these refugee kids – just in time for the Christmas season!

Just in time for the Christmas season, I wrote to WAY-FM and then called the donor phone number to ask how my $100 could keep WAY-FM on the air and feed a hungry refugee child for a month.  After my second attempt, a wonderful young woman told me that WAY-FM is partnering with Feed the Hungry and that Feed the Hungry’s food would be “unlocked” by my donation. She assured me that 100% of the $100 would stay with WAY-FM to keep them on the air. She told me they call it “unlocking a door” when a listener donated the requisite funds.
All I could envision was a bunch of locked rooms with food inside and hungry children outside waiting for an American Christian to send $100 to WAY-FM. A month of food held hostage waiting for the $100 ransom.
Later I learned that this arrangement between WAY-FM and Feed the Hungry is similar to K-LOVE’s and Operation Warm’s coat donor illusion.
In an email, a representative from WAY-FM very candidly explained that Feed the Hungry wasn’t withholding food while waiting for WAY-FM donors to give $100.  I was informed that the partnership was about mutual benefit and that Feed the Hungry just wanted WAY-FM listeners to feel a part of it.
So bottom line, the $100 helps WAY-FM and doesn’t “provide a month of hot meals to these refugee kids.”
One moral of the story is: If you want to help hungry kids or provide a warm coat, don’t give a donation to a radio station.
Wouldn’t it be really revolutionary if a DJ said during a pledge drive: “Hey, we need money to play music on the radio. If you like what we do, how about donating some cash to help us out?” It would be mind blowing if tomorrow WAY-FM DJs said, “Hey we’re sorry about linking the donation with the month of food for a third world child. Feed the Hungry is going to give that food anyway. We wanted some mutual promotion because both groups are doing really good things for the Kingdom. But we at WAY-FM do need your donations to keep playing music and we encourage you to give to us and Feed the Hungry.”
I would probably give to a station like that. I think a lot of people would because they would just want to reward the honesty — just in time for the Christmas season when we celebrate the birth of the guy we are supposed to be imitating.

#GivingTuesday: Donor Illusions

Although dated, I have found this 2009 article on donor illusions to be helpful.  The article was published on the blog of the Give Well organization, a donor support group. Give Well publishes a recommended charity list each year. Here is 2016’s list.
The Give Well description of donor illusions focuses on international charities but illusions can be found in domestic charities as well (e.g., today’s post on coats for pledges at K-LOVE).

As a result, international charities tend to create “donor illusions” by implying that donations can be attributed more tangibly, reliably and specifically than they really are. Some charities are more purposefully misleading than others, and some have more prominent and clear disclosures than others, but we feel that all of the cases below end up misleading many donors.

The illusions illustrated in the post include loans to third world entrepreneurs, child sponsorship, and giving livestock to needy families.
Livestock Gifts
I have written about these in previous years as being a good example of a compelling illusion. Donors can easily sell the idea of giving an animal to a third world family to Sunday school classes or church groups. The marketing certainly creates that illusion. Check out World Vision’s 2016 catalog.
WorldVision 2016 goat
Here is what World Vision says about the gifts in the new Christmas catalog.
world vision fine print 2016
In other words, your donation will be used where “it is needed most.”
Church Illusions
Other illusions I have covered include Mars Hill Church’s promotion of Ethiopian pastors via Mars Hill Global. In fact, most of the money donated to Mars Hill Global went to expand the Mars Hill Church video locations in the United States.
Gospel for Asia for years told donors that 100% of donations went to “the field.” The illusion was created that poor church planters and Asian children were getting most of the donations. However, we have since learned that Gospel for Asia’s Texas leadership sent millions to Believers’ Church in India, also controlled by GFA founder K.P. Yohannan to build state of the art for profit schools and medical centers. While a small percentage of the money went to evangelism and helping the poor, much of it went to projects designed to make Believers’ church self-sustaining and a large portion went to India and then back to Texas to help build GFA’s state of the art headquarters.
Today, I wrote about K-LOVE’s claim that a $40/month donation to K-LOVE provides a warm winter coat to a needy child. The only reason that claim might technically be true is because K-LOVE and Operation Warm set up an artificial scheme to tie coat distributions to pledges. K-LOVE holds captive coats from Operation Warm and tells prospective donors we will give a coat if you pledge. What K-LOVE doesn’t tell donors is that the coat will be given to a child anyway, pledge or no pledge.
Do Donors Want Illusions?
Tim Ogden at the Philanthropy Action blog says they do:

David Roodman pointed me to a typical reaction post to the Kiva story. In summary, the authors lament the lack of direct connection to a specific person they can give to and wonder why they can’t just dispense with the intermediaries.
I think the post is quite revelatory about why so many charities create the illusion of direct connection. They do so because donors demand it.
The demand for direct connection is baffling to me since most donors absolutely refuse direct connection to the people in need that are closest to them. Consider: how often do you or your friends take advantage of the opportunity to give directly and establish a connection by giving $20 to the guy standing at the corner with the cardboard sign saying, “Will Work for Food”?
I’ll bet the answer is “never.“ And there’s a very good reason for that. You believe that to actually help that person you should give the money to a knowledgeable intermediary like a homeless shelter that will do the research to understand this person’s situation, and ensure the money you give is actually used in a responsible way.
So if you would only give to an intermediary in order to help someone on the street outside your home, why do you want to do away with intermediaries between you and a person on the other side of the world whose circumstances you don’t understand at all?
I just don’t get it.
In the end I guess the donor demand really is for an illusion. They don’t just want connection—what they want is the illusion of connection where they can feel directly connected but not actually have to be directly connected—with all the messiness that such connections would entail—to people in need.

This somewhat cynical explanation for the persistence of illusions doesn’t quite fit for me. As I have learned that charities are using subterfuge to raise money, my reaction has been anger. I want the nuance. I want to know what they are doing with the money.
Guilt Illusions
I am sad and angry that K-LOVE artificially creates guilt in their listeners. I know people who agonize over how much to give to K-LOVE “to keep them on the air.” When K-LOVE’s well-paid on-air personalities top off their appeals with the promise that the $40/month will trigger a coat for a needy kid, that tips the scale toward a pledge, even though the family income really can’t absorb that level of giving. It should keep K-LOVE executives up at night that their Christian brothers and sisters are denying their children and themselves basics so that they can get a quarter of a million per year (the CEO made nearly $600,000 in FY 2015).
On this #GivingTuesday, give to those you have investigated. Give locally. By all means, give a needy person a coat, but do it yourself, or through a local group who is locally accountable.

#GivingTuesday: Your $40/Month EZ Gift to K-LOVE/AIR1 Does Not Provide a Child with a Warm Winter Coat

For years, K-LOVE* has been telling people during the pledge drives that a qualifying pledge (this year $40/month via automatic bank withdrawal) will not only keep K-LOVE on the air but also provides a warm coat for a needy child.  The ad below gives the basic pitch:
Operation Warm 40 coat

The video promotion below makes it clear that K-LOVE claims that a $40/month gift is the reason why a child gets a warm coat.

In fact, there is reason to doubt the linkage promoted by K-LOVE. After looking into it, I think this promise is a kind of donor illusion.  For instance, buying a goat or other livestock for a family is mostly an illusion. Likewise, child sponsorships often do not benefit just one child. In this case, it doesn’t appear that there is a donor at Operation Warm waiting for a K-LOVE donor to give $40/month. The pitch creates an illusion that a K-LOVE donation prompts a coat to be given that otherwise wouldn’t be given. In fact, here’s what I think is happening:

1. K-LOVE listeners are told in many different ways that if they give $40 monthly to K-LOVE, a child will get a coat through an Operation Warm donor just because they called to give.

2. Although the information from K-LOVE and OW conflicts, I don’t believe that there are OW donors who base their gifts to OW on K-LOVE donors giving to K-LOVE. OW donors are asked by OW to give to pay for coats that will be given away even if K-LOVE doesn’t promote OW.

3. In exchange for publicity during the pledge drives, OW allows K-LOVE to take credit for a coat giveaway. K-LOVE attends an OW coat giveaway event and credits K-LOVE and its listeners for providing the coats, even though the donations to OW were not made on the basis of K-LOVE pledges.

In this way, K-LOVE and OW set up a dramatic illusion. Even though the two organizations agree before the pledge drive even starts how many coats they will give away (in exchange for the advertising), the K-LOVE on-air personalities pretend that the pledges matter. The coat for a needy child is held over the heads of donors. Will a needy child get a new coat? It’s all up to you, K-LOVE donor.

Some Former Employees Were Alarmed about the Illusion
Former employees I contacted confirmed that listeners are definitely under the impression that a $40 monthly gift to KLOVE/Air1 will cause an ‘anonymous donor’ to buy a coat for a child through Operation Warm.

They say many K-LOVE employees believe every new, qualifying K-LOVE/Air1 listener causes this ‘anonymous donor’ to buy another new coat. “For those of us behind the scenes, it was alarming to find out it wasn’t true,” one told me.

Straight Answers Are Hard to Get
Before I explain more, I want to say that K-LOVE and OW were initially responsive to requests. However, as I pressed for more information, I stopped receiving replies from both K-LOVE and OW. Specifically, I asked directly if coats would go to needy children even if K-LOVE wasn’t involved. This question was never directly answered.

Initially I asked OW three questions:

1. How many coats are given to children because of KLOVE new donors? In other words, how many coats go to children that wouldn’t be given to children if KLOVE donors didn’t donate?
2. Is there an Operation Warm donor that waits to see how many KLOVE donors give $40/month and then that donor funds coats corresponding to the number of new KLOVE donors?
3. If nobody donated $40/month to KLOVE, would Operation Warm give out the same number of coats to children per year?

Here is what Brock with OW told me in reply.

KLOVE and Operation Warm are partnering to celebrate and honor KLOVE listeners who support KLOVE’s mission through their Fall Pledge Drive. For every KLOVE listener who makes an EZ Pledge of $40 per month to enable KLOVE to continue its operations, a child will receive a new winter coat in honor of that listener. All of the EZ Pledge donations will be kept by KLOVE to support its operations and mission. Funding for the Operation Warm coats that are given to children will be made by Operation Warm’s donors.

The donations to Operation Warm were not made in honor of KLOVE listeners, but we provided the coats in honor of them, thanks to the funding by our donors.

Please note the final sentence. The donations were not made because (“in honor of”) K-LOVE listener pledges. However, in exchange for lots of advertising during K-LOVE’s pledge drive, OW gives a coat to a child to commemorate the donation. Does this mean that OW is holding on to coats waiting on K-LOVE donors to pledge? I don’t believe so, but if it does then I think donors should rethink giving to OW.

I also wrote K-LOVE with similar questions and received a reply from attorney Stacie Ford, General Counsel at K-LOVE:

Addressing your questions, our partnership with Operation Warm provides significant value to them and to us.  Our contract with OW makes clear that OW is providing the coats, and the consideration is the value of the promotion they receive from K-LOVE and Air1.  We are unambiguous regarding this agreement, and repeatedly inform listeners on-air and on our website that “100% of your gift stays with K-LOVE/Air1. When you give, a generous donor comes along side of your donation and supplies a winter coat to a child through Operation Warm.”

Specifically, OW secures donors with intention to allocate coats for the Pledge Drive.  Donors provide resources to OW based on the impact OW’s participation with K-LOVE and Air1 will have on OW’s mission.  In turn, K-LOVE and Air1’s inclusion of OW during the Pledge Drive increases the visibility and promotion of the non-profit. Notwithstanding, if any of the coats allocated for K-LOVE and AIR1 would have been donated to those in need regardless of the Pledge Drive, the Pledge Drive provided huge promotional value to OW that arguably multiplied the number of donors and donations they otherwise would have received.

In a follow up email, I asked Ms. Ford about Brock’s statement that money wasn’t given to OW because of K-LOVE donors. However, she did not answer.

OW and K-LOVE appear to be at odds over OW’s donations. Ms. Ford told me “When you give, a generous donor comes along side of your donation and supplies a winter coat to a child through Operation Warm.” However, Brock at OW told me “The donations to Operation Warm were not made in honor of KLOVE listeners…” One explanation makes it seem that a donor at OW is waiting for a K-LOVE pledge to make the donation of a coat. The other implies that donors simply give to OW independent of the pledge drive. Based on OW’s input and that of former K-LOVE employees, I don’t think there is direct linkage between K-LOVE pledges and an OW donation.

I received one more response from OW. This response is enlightening because it shows that K-LOVE and OW agree before the pledge drive how many coats OW is willing to part with in exchange for the advertising given by K-LOVE. OW’s Brock wrote:

Throughout their promotions, KLOVE clearly states that the EZ Pledge donations stay with KLOVE. Also, Operation Warm pays no fee to KLOVE; rather, KLOVE provides Operation Warm with very valuable promotional support which results in more support for OW and therefore more children receiving new winter coats.

Prior to our campaign with KLOVE, we mutually agreed on the number of coats that would be provided in coordination with the pledge drive, up to a certain number of coats.  If KLOVE met that number, that same number of coats would be provided to children through Operation Warm this season. KLOVE’s promotional support has allowed us to spread our mission and receive support we would not have received without them. We’re happy to report that KLOVE met their pledge numbers and 27,000 children throughout the country will receive a new coat that did not have one before!

I asked both Stacie and Brock what happens to those coats if K-LOVE’s donors don’t come through with the number of pledges agreed to by the two organizations. Neither organization answered. I believe those coats would go to children in the name of some other media partner or no media partner at all (OW gave away over 300,000 coats last year). In other words, if OW donors give money for coats, a child will get a coat, pledge drive or not. If that is not true, then something is wrong at OW.

So What’s Happening?
Putting all of these statements together, it appears to me that OW gets donations from their donors to give away coats. K-LOVE offers advertising to OW in exchange for the right to say that existing OW coats are being given in honor of K-LOVE donors. OW and K-LOVE agree in advance how many coats K-LOVE gets to leverage to listeners. At the end of the pledge drive, K-LOVE tells OW how many qualifying pledges were made and then OW allows K-LOVE to do a publicity giveaway event with coats which would have been given to children anyway.

I sent the paragraph above to K-LOVE and OW and asked them to correct any factual errors. I did not get a response from either organization.

If it is true that OW would withhold coats provided with OW donor dollars because K-LOVE donors didn’t make a qualifying pledge, then I think donors should question why OW would do that. According to Brock at OW, donors didn’t give money in honor of K-LOVE pledges and so the coats purchased/created with those donations should not be held back.

Does K-LOVE Need Your Money?
Remember, K-LOVE’s CEO made nearly $600,000/year in FY 2015, with eight executives earning over $200k.  Some of the on-air personalities make well over $100k.  In FY 2015, K-LOVE/Air1 took in over $150 million and had a surplus of $64 million. Think about that the next time a single mother working two jobs calls K-LOVE to offer her sacrificial donation.

Even if one rationalizes the pitch, please understand that a donation to OW instead of K-LOVE will actually provide coats to children that won’t happen otherwise. I am disappointed by this deception and call on donors to reconsider rewarding it with their funds. This Christmas there are real needs in our communities which can be directly met. Join me in giving to food pantries or some other local charity (or even Operation Warm which seems to be a pretty good group other than colluding with this donor illusion) which will get resources to needy children.

*Air 1 also uses the same promotion. Air 1 is a sister network also owned by Educational Media Foundation. Many of those stations play less praise and worship and more Christian rock than K-LOVE. When I say K-LOVE, I mean both networks.

K-LOVE Wants You to Pull Over and Pledge

KLOVE CarThe national Christian radio station is droning through their Fall pledge drive right now and the begging is fierce.

Just today a DJ was heard imploring drivers to pull over and pledge to keep K-LOVE on the air. That was a new one on me. The DJ actually wanted people driving to pull off the road and get that pledge in.  I hope nobody got hurt.

Just a reminder, K-LOVE’s CEO Mike Novak makes over $550,000 per year and K-LOVE’s net revenue over expenses for 2014 was over $64-million. That’s a lot of easy gifts.

My advice is to find a good local charity and bless it with anything extra you have over what you give to your church.

For more on K-LOVE, click here and scroll down the page.