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How Does Your Donated Car Help Public Radio

It might not seem like it, but your donated vehicle supports public radio stations in your city and all over the country.

The Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program returns 70% of gross donation proceeds to partner stations.
The Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program returns 70% of gross donation proceeds to partner stations.

Public radio stations across the country need your support to function. One of the ways public radio stations are increasingly being funded by listeners is through vehicle donation. Some stats:

  • 120,000 vehicles have been donated through the Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program
  • Over $40 million dollars have gone to support stations in the NPR family
  • The average vehicle represents $XXX sent directly to your favorite NPR station

How Public Radio Works

It’s probably good to get an understanding of just how your local NPR station gets its funding.

NPR is “a privately and publicly funded American non-profit membership media organization.” There are other non-profit media organizations like the Associated Press, for example, but none of those have been established by an act of Congress. The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and eventually, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act on November 7, 1967, he described the Act’s purpose:

It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a 'chicken in every pot.' We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man's spirit. That is the purpose of this act.

It will give a wider and, I think, stronger voice to educational radio and television by providing new funds for broadcast facilities. It will launch a major study of television's use in the Nation's classrooms and its potential use throughout the world. Finally — and most important — it builds a new institution: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

NPR aired its first broadcast on April 20, 1971, with 90 charter member stations. Since those humble beginnings, the network of NPR member stations has grown to over 1,000, spread all over the country, from major cities to tiny towns.

That’s the key, and it’s what makes public radio “public.” NPR member stations aren’t owned by NPR. Think about the media in your area today. From the television station to the radio station to your local newspaper, the vast majority is owned outright by a major media corporation. Companies like Gannett Media, Sinclair Broadcasting and iHeartRadio collectively own the media in your city or town.

Each is an independent, locally owned and operated broadcasting company. That’s an increasingly rare commodity in today’s media landscape. Each member station determines its own format and schedule. Stations can choose to broadcast the NPR-produced radio shows you’ve come to know and love like All Things Considered, Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me! and Morning Edition, or they can broadcast shows developed by other radio producers, or they can create their own content, based on the interest of their local listeners, whether that’s a news format, or almost completely music.

The deeper benefit, though, is that NPR news stations are all feeders for NPR’s national shows. If significant news is happening in New Hampshire, for example, there’s a network of New Hampshire Public Radio stations with reporters and producers that are there to feed reporting to the national NPR broadcasts.

How NPR Member Stations are Funded

NPR is an independent, non-profit media organization. NPR is also a membership organization of separately licensed and operated public radio stations across the United States -- all of which are 501c3 non-profit organizations. A large portion of NPR's revenue -- approximately 35 percent -- comes from dues and fees paid by member stations. Another 15 percent of NPR’s revenue comes from donations -- including vehicle donations.

But if you go one step deeper in the chain, member donations are what supports the local stations, and what allows those locally operated member stations to pay their dues and fees to NPR.

Whatever your local public radio station is, you can find their financial information, because it’s a matter of public record. We’ll use WYSO in Ohio as an example. In the station’s latest published financial statement, WYSO listed the following revenues:

Public broadcasting grants $164,704 State grants $53,737 Private grants and gifts $1,156,106 Underwriting $513,948 Donated professional service $1,120 Administrative support $423,043 Ohio Broadcast Educational Media Commission $60,840 Trade $172,715 Other income $72,188 Total revenues, gains and other support $2,618,401

In WYSO’s case, funding from CPB grants -- the money that comes from the Federal Government every year -- only amounts to 6.2% of its revenues every year. On the other hand, individual giving, makes up over 44% of its revenues.

How Do Vehicle Donations Help?

We’ll continue with our WYSO example to show how vehicle donations help these stations in a major way. According to WYSO’s annual Community Report, the station pushed its goal of 5,000 active members to 6,000 last year. That makes the average annual gift to the station approximately $193.

It’s a familiar refrain in fundraising. Every dollar makes a difference. Some listeners can afford to give $500 or $1000 in cash donations, while others can manage a $5 donation. It all counts. And it’s the same for donating a car. You might think “My car isn’t running and it can’t be worth $400, so what’s the point?

Let’s run the math: Say your non-running 1999 Honda Accord gets auctioned and manages to generate $400. The Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program has costs like towing and administration to cover, but it guarantees that 70% of those proceeds go directly to the station you’ve chosen to support. That’s a $280 donation to the member station, which -- in WYSO’s case -- is $87 more than the average cash donation.

And it gets even better. The AVERAGE vehicle donated through the program was able to generate $421.80 in funds directly to public radio stations, more than double the average cash donation.

Collectively, your old, unwanted vehicles -- cars, trucks, trailers, boats and tractors -- have generated over $40 million worth of donations that support these stations.


Q: What kind of car can I donate? A: It doesn’t matter in the least, and it doesn’t have to be a car. It can be an SUV, a van, a pickup, an RV, or even a boat or a tractor. As long as it can be sold, we can use it and use those proceeds to support the stations you love.

Q: My vehicle isn’t running. Does that matter? A: Nope. We’ll send a wrecker to have it picked up. All vehicles have some sort of value, whether it’s for parts or recycled value. Naturally, if it can be driven, that vehicle is going to be worth more, but we’re open to helping you clear out your driveway and garage with your old non-running vehicle, too.

Q: What happens to my car when it’s donated? A: Most often, those vehicles are sent to auction where they’re sold to the highest bidder. The value your vehicle obtains is what you’ll be able to write off of your taxes the next year.

Q: How do I know that my donated car goes to support my local NPR member station? A: The Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program was established by the hosts, producers and staff of one of the most popular programs ever to be broadcast on public radio. We are committed to seeing those stations survive. When a station signs on with the Car Talk Vehicle Donation Program as a partner, we commit to provide 70% the revenue generated directly to support the station.

Q: What other benefits of donating a vehicle are there? A: Aside from the tax benefit and the benefit to your neighbors of getting your old rusty heap out of the driveway, there are some side benefits that definitely matter. 80 percent of any given car is made up of steel, and most of that steel is recycled. So is the aluminum. You’re helping to reduce the amount of natural resources required to build new vehicles.

Further Reading