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Public Radio's
Sense of Community

We’ve all experienced a sense of community about public radio.  Remember the times you were on a plane – or maybe at a party somewhere – and a guy you just met asks you what you do for a living?  And you say “public radio” and he smiles and says “How’s it going in Lake Wobegon?”

Suddenly you and this stranger have a lot in common because you both wake up in different beds with Bob Edwards… You do the numbers with David Brancaccio… You visit Michael Feldman’s Town of the Week… You cannot believe how much Click & Clack laugh at their own jokes…and you both love the way she says “Sylvia Poggioli.”

He probably thinks you know Scott Simon personally. And you know something, you do.  And so does he. 

These people are part of our lives, and that connects us together into a community.  It’s not an actual place.  It’s situated in a state of mind.  But it’s very real to our listeners, and because they already believe in it, it’s an idea that can motivate them.  

Sense of Community is part of why listeners consider public radio personally important. And, as AUDIENCE 98 documents, personal importance is one of the principal reasons listeners give to public radio.

AUDIENCE 98 discovered Sense of Community in listeners’ responses to our survey questions.  They tell us that public radio resonates with their social and cultural values, and they seek it out whenever they travel or move.

It’s not just the familiar names and voices.  What underlies Sense of Community are shared values, beliefs and interests. It’s not only the fact that public radio’s listeners are among the most highly educated in America, but that we have a similar way of looking at the world.  And just like other human beings, we have a built-in need to belong.

Many years ago the developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of human needs that’s since become part of Psych 101 at every college in the country.  It’s also the basis of the VALS™2 psychographics system that describes public radio’s dominant listener types, Actualizers and Fulfilleds.

It was Maslow’s idea that human beings have a strong instinct to satisfy six different kinds of needs to reach a level of fulfillment in life that he called “self-actualization.”  Only after satisfying lower level needs could a person move up to the next level.

Maslow’s hierarchy includes the basic needs for sleep, shelter, food and sex, and for stability, in a predictable, safe, fair world.  The growth needs begin with belonging – the psychological basis for a Sense of Community.

Belonging, in Maslow’s hierarchy, is not so much joining the Elks Club as validating one’s place in the world by sharing values, beliefs and interests with others.  

Only after we satisfy the need for belonging, said Maslow, can we progress to esteem and self-respect, understanding and knowledge, beauty in our surroundings, and self-actualization.  So belonging is a very powerful force in human motivation – and that’s why we think tapping into it has so much potential for public radio fundraising.

For years various people in our industry have alluded to the phenomenal connection among public radio listeners. We all feel it but – for the first time –  AUDIENCE 98 supports it statistically in our Givers report, published in January 1998. 

AUDIENCE 98 findings show us that, to some degree, nearly all of our listeners have a sense of community about public radio, and that makes this concept ideal as a theme for a fundraising campaign.

Since Sense of Community is an unexpected discovery of AUDIENCE 98, there are no budgetary provisions for the Sense of Community campaign.  Thanks to the project’s funder, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, we were able to reassign a few resources to create it.  To get the rest, we did the community kind of thing – we passed the hat.

It’s our great pleasure to thank publicly the members of the Sense of Community Partnership:

The Development Exchange 
New Hampshire Public Radio 
Public Radio International  
John Sutton & Associates 

The Sense of Community materials are free to everybody.  Use them any way you want, and please be sure to let us know how they work.

– Leslie Peters   
UDIENCE 98 Core Team   


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For More Information

AUDIENCE 98's Sense of Community campaign includes Planning Tools for your on-air fund drive, including tips on how to use our spots and scripts. We have 25 of them for you, in customizable Sense of Community Case Messages, Fundraising Spots and Promos.

To support your off-air fundraising efforts, check out our Direct Mail letters. While they're geared to a news and information format, you can easily use the basic copy and substitute the format and programs you want to emphasize.


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navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes)     Sense of Community
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) Planning Tools
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) Case Messages
navblue.jpg (647 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) transpxl.gif (67 bytes) Fundraising Spots
  Direct Mail letters

Audience Research Analysis
Copyright ARA and CPB.  All rights reserved.
Revised: September 01, 2000 12:38 PM.