NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Voluntarily Funding Public Radio, Public Libraries

June 9, 2003

"If museums, orchestras, public broadcasting stations and other cultural institutions in the community can raise substantial portions of their budgets from non-tax revenues," asks Steve Coffman of Library Systems & Services (, "why not the library?"

Fiscally struggling cities are reducing hours and laying off staff in free public libraries. But other institutions have tapped some important non-tax funding sources.

For example, just as libraries circulate books for free, public radio stations provide programs free to anybody who wants to listen. But unlike most public libraries, public radio stations no longer depend on tax revenues for most of their operating budgets.

In 1985, public radio stations faced a loss of federal tax funding and turned to alternative revenue sources:

  • They expanded pledge drives, adopted direct-mail fundraising practices and convinced many people to contribute money to support free programming.
  • They developed millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships, and some stations began selling items through catalogs and other retail operations.
  • While 85 percent of public radio funding came from tax dollars in 1985, today more than 61 percent comes from private sources.

In Seattle, Wash., for example, only 14 percent of the revenues of KUOW now come from taxes; the rest come from individual memberships (51 percent), business sponsorships (31 percent), and retail and other sources (four percent).

Meanwhile, some libraries have begun to experiment with more entrepreneurial approaches. A number have set up foundations; most have Friends of the Library groups that provide modest levels of support and have turned to corporations to help underwrite activities.

For example, the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn., adds $45,000 per year to its revenues by leasing space to Starbucks, and a growing number of libraries are installing cafes and gift shops to improve the ambience and generate revenue.

Source: Steve Coffman, "Changing public library funding," American City & County, May 1, 2003.


Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues