This is a concept the average person has a hard time understanding. So here’s an explanation.
WHY ISN’T IT ADVERTISING?
It’s not advertising because no prices are listed. No comparisons to other businesses and products (including superlatives like ‘best’, biggest’ or newest’) or their prices are included. No ‘calls to action’ such as ‘buy now’ or ‘come see our…’ or anything else that asks people to do something are included. Imagine an ad that has none of that. Underwriting is about businesses supporting public broadcasting, not about public broadcasting selling them the chance to promote their businesses. *
BUT WHAT’S WRONG WITH ADVERTISING?
That’s easy, nothing. Advertising is how for-profit media, radio, TV and newspapers, make their money. Even if it’s something the user pays a subscription for, most of the time, the majority of expenses are paid by advertising revenues. To use an old-fashioned comparison, newspaper subscriptions don’t pay for anything but delivering your paper. The cost of running it and printing it and every other cost involved, is paid for by advertising. So don’t complain about the ads. Without them, there’d be no paper.
SO WHY DOESN’T PUBLIC BROADCASTING SELL ADVERTISING?
The short answer is because we’re not allowed to. But there’s a reason for that. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a nonprofit itself, includes this as a requirement in their grants, which are a major portion of any public broadcaster’s budget. Also, 501(c)3** Nonprofits are not permitted to promote for profit businesses. That’s an Internal Revenue Service rule. The reason for not taking money to promote for profit businesses is that it helps to ensure that advertisers are not influencing programming decisions. Public broadcasting is meant to be run by its membership, not it’s underwriters. We’re not actually allowed to sell anything. Whatever your public radio station gives you, premiums, underwriting spots, etc. is a token, a gift to you for showing your support. To qualify, the monetary value of whatever it is has to be less (usually a lot less) than the amount donated. This includes underwriting.