Philosophy Talk faces fundraising woes

July 20, 2016, 1:00 a.m.

Philosophy Talk, a one-hour weekly radio show hosted by Stanford philosophy professors John Perry and Kenneth Taylor, ended its first crowd fundraiser July 8 far short of its goal in a bid to close budget gaps, two years after Stanford began decreasing the program’s funding.

The show held its campaign on Indiegogo’s Generosity site — a specific platform of the popular crowdfunder — over the course of two months. The campaign raised about $5,500 of its $150,000 goal as part of an initial effort to continue production.

Director of Marketing Dave McAllister —who joined Philosophy Talk a month ago due to the show’s growing need for self-sufficiency—said that though Philosophy Talk did not reach its fundraising goal, the Generosity campaign was a success in that it allowed the marketing team to “review what worked and what didn’t.”

Philosophy Talk, which first aired 12 years ago, is broadcasted live on San Francisco’s KALW Sundays at 10 a.m. and rebroadcasted on over 430 stations across the country throughout the week. Each week a new guest joins the hosts as an expert on a particular topic. Notable guests include the infamous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the show hosted via video-conference in its “Ethics of Whistleblowing” show last year.

At the show’s inception, Stanford gave Philosophy Talk significant financial support. The University increased that funding five years ago to create new positions, such as Director of Marketing and Head of Research, and to expand the program’s reach to more stations. Since then, Stanford has decreased funding to move Philosophy Talk towards becoming more independent, likely due to competition within the University for funds, said the show’s Head of Research Laura Maguire, Philosophy Ph.D. ’06.

Maguire, who has worked at Philosophy Talk for five years, wishes the University would fund the show again, even if only partially.

“We would all be a lot less anxious about the future of Philosophy Talk if that happened,” Maguire said.

With decreased funding from Stanford, the radio show has struggled to make up the difference. McAllister attributes difficulties in marketing Philosophy Talk to an overall lack of public awareness about philosophy.

“[People] think of [philosophy] as something that doesn’t apply to them in general, whereas philosophy does impact just about every single thing in some way,” McAllister said. “Philosophy Talk allows people to question things in way that they don’t get to think about in everyday life.”

Maguire agreed with McAllister that the show is a good way for people to learn about philosophy and philosophical thinking. Maguire said that the topics she suggests for the show are inspired by what is happening in the world at the time and discussed philosophically at length. For instance, one of the programs addressed white privilege by questioning the definition of privilege.

Maguire also said that fundraising through listeners is only one aspect of the program’s efforts to match its budget of half a million a year, which includes the costs of its three full-time staff members and other part-time staff. Other fundraising methods include grants, merchandise and membership of the online Community of Thinkers that offers bonus content to donating listeners who have partial ownership of the show.

McAllister believes audience expansion and better online presence are necessary if Philosophy Talk is to continue producing at the same quality every week. In his plan for audience expansion, McAllister foresees growing Philosophy Talk’s social reach by 20 percent and its newsletter subscribers by 50 percent by the end of the year. The show also hopes to add 25 to 50 new stations by then. Finally, McAllister plans on “reinventing” the show’s website for mobile devices and focusing more on social media platforms.

Producer Devon Strolovitch, who has been at Philosophy Talk for over 10 years, said the show’s campaign difficulties are not new.

“What we find is that people aren’t going to donate without us asking them to,” Strolovitch said. “It’s a weird dance you have to do, but people aren’t just sitting around thinking ‘how can I donate to you today.’”

The non-profit program also cannot explicitly fundraise on the radio during the show. In addition, many people wrongly believe the show is Stanford-supported in addition to Stanford-based, Strolovitch said.

With new marketing strategies and possible continuation of crowd fundraising planned, McAllister believes Philosophy Talk will continue for the foreseeable future to provide an often underappreciated but vital perspective.

“Philosophy doesn’t necessarily reach conclusions; it ponders questions of which we don’t have answers,” McAllister said. “However, what it does is it provides you with a basis for you to choose which direction you believe the answer should lie. We don’t try to tell you how to think.”

Contact Caitlin Ju at ju.caitlin ‘at’

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