Minnesota Public Radio: Social Purpose Capitalism
Authors: Phills, James A.; Chang, Victoria
Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review
Company Name: Minnesota Public Radio
Number of pages: 10
In 1981, Garrison Keillor, the popular host of Minnesota Public Radio’s satirical "A Prairie Home Companion," offered listeners a free poster of his mythical sponsor’s "Powdermilk Biscuits." To everyone’s surprise, more than 50,000 requests poured in; the station faced a $60,000 printing bill. To avert "financial disaster," as MPR president William Kling later recalled, the station used the back of the poster to advertise products for sale, such as a Powdermilk Biscuits T-shirt. The idea worked. "I think we netted off that poster, which was really our first catalog, $15,000 or $20,000," Kling said. "It instantly became clear that there were things like that you could do."
MPR should have been the poster child for social enterprise and nonprofit sustainability. Instead, its entrepreneurial success made MPR a target for criticism by politicians and the media. MPR and its president were accused of secrecy, conflict of interest, anticompetitive behavior, and inappropriate use of public funds. In 1996, the complex organizational relationships between MPR and its for-profit spin-offs triggered an inquiry by the Minnesota attorney general. Although eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, MPR spent years trying to move beyond negative publicity created by the original allegations.
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