The other day, I did something new. I volunteered at KUOW-FM, our local NPR station, during its latest pledge drive (which we always call begathons at our house, but I promise I was good and did not use that word at the station). I’ve been a big supporter of KUOW for years, donating money, and listening way too much. KUOW pretty much kept me sane during Lily’s first few months when I spent most of my time sitting in a glider rocker, nursing Lily, and pretending that I was still in touch with the outside adult world because people like Carl Kasell, Bob Edwards, and Nina Totenberg spoke to me through the radio.
I’m not sure why, but I had never volunteered to help take phone calls during a pledge drive before last week. And you know what? I’m so glad I finally did it. I had a blast. It’s a total nerd-fest, as you can imagine — a bunch of smart, over-educated people who don’t have something better to do at that time. I volunteered for a four and a half hour shift while Lily was at school one day and I wasn’t scheduled to work at the library. The time flew by, even though the phones weren’t exactly ringing off the hook. I took plenty of calls, but there were definitely lulls.
I can’t speak highly enough of how well KUOW managed the whole experience. They clearly have their systems down after hosting so many pledge drives over the years. They communicated well before the event — when to arrive, where to park, etc. Directions inside the station were clear, because it can seem like a maze to a first-timer like me. The training info was brief but helpful. Even the special challenges held during my shift (“first ten callers at the $100 level get a copy of Sarah Vowell’s new book,” e.g.) were expertly explained and executed. And, there was a kitchen full of food and beverages the whole time. We were treated like adults — you can take breaks when you want/need for as long as you need, with a request that you try to stay available during the on-air pledge breaks.
The set-up is basically a room filled with tables, chairs, and phones. You walk in, pick a chair and hope that you’re not sitting next to freaks. I ended up sitting near fascinating people, most of whom had volunteered before. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not great at meeting new people, but I always have my fallback — talk about books! And we did, for hours. And, because we were all NPR nerds, we talked about our favorite NPR shows and announcers. The 6 foot 8 artist sitting next to me shared my love of all things Warren Olney (host of To the Point). Another person was reading Setting Free the Bears, so we had a long talk about John Irving and about his upcoming visit to Third Place Books, which Lori and I will definitely be attending. The woman across from me loved Wallace Stegner. Hooray! I’ve read Angle of Repose twice.
And, then, in-between chatting about our crushes on NPR hosts and authors, we actually took phone calls from listeners who wanted to give money to the station — thousands and thousands of dollars. Talk about a quick way to improve your possibly cynical impression of people these days. I spoke to some people who were clearly not wealthy, but felt compelled to help support something they believe in. Most of my callers weren’t interested in the thank you gifts at all, which surprised me (especially since I was quite fond of the robot t-shirts at the $100 level). They wanted all of their donation money to go directly to programming.
At the end of my shift, I felt exhilarated. I loved listening to and talking to the callers, my fellow volunteers, and the staff. It’s a feeling I get whenever I get a chance to hang out with other like-minded people on a volunteer effort. I will definitely volunteer again during the next begathon pledge drive. Let me know if you want to join me and we can do it together!