I love KPBS TV and radio.
OK, pledge drives not so much, but otherwise? True love.
And I put my money where my mouth is – I’m a donor, and glad to be.
Or I was.
I’d gone online to donate and when I got to the part where they offer a gift, I was going to decline as I always do. But a nice-looking coffee mug caught my eye.
I drink lots of coffee, so why not from a KPBS mug?
It was after – and only after – my donation was complete, that I learned from my receipt that $8 was deducted from my donation, identified as a “Value of Premium.”
Yes, there it was – I was being charged for what KPBS calls a “gift.” Now, having given and received gifts over the years, I’m pretty clear on what a gift is:
“Something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation” (Merriman-Webster); “a thing given willingly to someone without payment” (Oxford Dictionary); something given voluntarily without payment in return” (dictionary.com).
Where, in there, does it say, “A gift is something you pay for?”
Annoyed? Oh, yes.
My annoyance doubled – no, quadrupled – when the mug arrived. For there on the bottom was a sticker that read, “Made in China.”
Now I was really ticked. Not only was I not advised ahead of time that my donation amount would be reduced to pay for this “gift,” but it’s made in China? Hello? KPBS couldn’t find a mug maker in San Diego? The entire U.S.?
So I went online and shared these thoughts with KPBS. I was polite, but firm. I advised that I expected a prompt response to my issues, otherwise my continued financial support was doubtful.
To their credit, the next day I received a response from a gentleman in KPBS’ Audience and Member Services Department. He said, in part,
“For any donation made to a charitable organization where a gift item is chosen, U.S. tax law dictates that the gift’s Fair Market Value be deducted from the total donation. The amount that is left after the Fair Market Value of a gift is deducted, is the amount that the donor can deduct on their taxes.
“We are not charging you the $8. In your case, you made a donation of $60 to KPBS, a non-profit organization, and as your gift you had chosen the KPBS Black Ceramic mug with the red interior. The Fair Market Value of that item is $8. Based on U.S tax law, the Fair Market Value of a gift is to be subtracted from the total donation. In this case, your total of $60 – $8 (FMV) would equal out to $52.00. That is the amount that you would be able to deduct on your taxes.”
Oh, now get it. KPBS isn’t charging me $8 for the mug – the federal government is.
There was no response to my question about why I wasn’t advised about the FMV prior to completing my donation. There was a response as to why the coffee mug was bought from in China:
“While I work on getting an answer for you regarding where the gift item is made, I at least wanted to reply to you regarding where the $8 Fair Market Value of the coffee mug comes from.”
So I fired back a reply, asking how much information he needed about where the mug, excuse me, “gift item” was made, when it’s clearly marked “Made in China”?
I also asked him to verify that the online donation system does not advise of the FMV deduction until after the donation is complete.
At this point I’m wondering, Am I the first person in the history of KPBS online donations to question this don’t-tell-until-the-donation-is-done policy?
Am I the first person to question why this so-called “gift” was not purchased from a U.S. company?
Here’s why the latter issue especially ticks me off. In addition to KPBS receiving local U.S. dollars from you and me in donations, it also receives money from the federal government. That’s right – our tax dollars. And I have no problem with my tax dollars going to support public broadcasting.
According to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) website, in 2016 the CPB asked for, and received, $445,000,000 of our tax dollars. CPB is asking for the same amount in 2017. The “Formula for Allocating CPB’s Federal Appropriation” indicates “Not less than 89%…to grants to stations or program producers.” “Stations” includes KPBS, both TV and radio. “Program producers” means many of the shows we watch or listen to are funded by the CPB.
With local and federal tax dollars coming in, I think KPBS should spend those dollars in the U.S. and buy their “gifts” here, not over there.
Anywhere over there.
The member services gentleman got back to me about the mug:
“The actual cost of the mug is $4.95, with tax and S&H costs it’s approximately $6.06. Our cost is less than the Fair Market Value because it is a bulk cost, since orders from our vendor come in large quantities.
“Though the mugs are made in China, our vendor, Made to Order, is a local company. When possible, we do prefer to use USA made gift items and definitely local vendors.”
Do you know what “when possible” and “we do prefer” sound like to me?
They sound like, “We try.”
Do you know what Star Wars’ Yoda said about “try”?
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
The gentleman did not address my issue with their don’t-tell policy, so I emailed again. And while I was at it, I added that I’d never heard the FMV deduction mentioned during TV or radio pledge drives either.
Apparently at this point, KPBS decided it time to bring out the Big Guns: I received a lengthy reply from the supervisor of the Audience and Member Services Department. He was very polite, and very professional.
He did not address the mug-made-in-China issue, but he did discuss asking about “the technological feasibility” of providing the FMV information ahead of time to online donors. He indicated that he could bring up the idea with his “superiors for their consideration.”
I’m hearing that word try again.
He also discussed a number of other things, and I did the same in my even-more-lengthy reply.
These were my bottom-line suggestions:
Stop and rethink the whole “gift” thing. Many charities/non-profits don’t give gifts – they give sincere thanks for your donation and leave it at that. I found a 2012 article in Forbes magazine, Charities: Don’t Thank Your Donors With a Gift, that talks about a paper in the Journal of Economic Psychology and “a series of experiments that show that, contrary to expectations, rewarding contributors cuts donations in most circumstances.” The article goes on to suggest, in part, that “promising donors a thank-you gift can be hazardous to a non-profit’s income!”
Stop telling donors after the fact that the amount of their donation may or will be reduced due to the FMV. This means online and on TV and on the radio. Tell us ahead of time so we can make an informed decision about choosing or not choosing the “gift.”
Stop buying “gifts” from other countries when comparably priced American-made items can be purchased (and you know they can).
And please, please…
Stop calling them “gifts.”
Or at least…