The annual Audio-Reader volunteer appreciation event earlier this month was a little more spartan than in years past.
Brunch instead of dinner — light food, no bar. Paper certificates instead of gifts for volunteers reaching milestone years of service.
That’s one of the ways the University of Kansas-based program is trying to accommodate its $125,000 share of state budget cuts to the university without cutting staff or programming for listeners, said Audio-Reader development director Beth McKenzie.
Audio-Reader also is doing its first-ever online crowdsourcing fund drive, through the KU Endowment Association’s Launch KU program.
The monthlong “Audio-Reader: 45 Years of Service” campaign, online at www.launchku.org, has a goal of raising $4,500 by Nov. 21. McKenzie said an anonymous donor agreed to match donations to the campaign dollar-for-dollar.
There’s also “small changes” internally, such as having people supply their own Kleenex and putting off some training that had been planned, she said.
“We’re trying new avenues,” McKenzie said. “We have very loyal volunteers and donors, but we need to suddenly fill this hole.”
Audio Reader, part of KU-based Kansas Public Radio, serves blind and visually impaired people in Kansas and western Missouri with volunteers reading daily newspapers, magazines and best-selling books on the radio and over the internet.
The $125,000 budget reduction comes from a $25,000 cut this spring for fiscal year 2016 and a $100,000 cut for the current fiscal year, which ends June 2017. Audio-Reader’s total budget for this year is $802,000, with more than half of its funding coming from KU, McKenzie said. KU pays for operating expenses including Audio-Reader staff salaries and its on-campus facility, the Baehr Audio-Reader Center at 1120 W. 11th St.
In addition to grant requests for things like new equipment, McKenzie said Audio-Reader’s normal annual fundraisers would continue. Those include the For Your Ears Only audio-visual equipment sale, which she said raised $36,000 this year, and a golf tournament in June that typically brings in about $25,000.
Looking to the future Audio-Reader aims to increase donor contributions and build a structured plan to become less reliant on state funding, McKenzie said. Donating now will help Audio-Reader’s immediate costs as well as interest accounts to help support the program in the future, she said.
As for the volunteer appreciation event, McKenzie said Audio-Reader doesn’t want to omit that.
“They donate so much of their time that we want to do something and have some fellowship,” she said. “That’s part of what makes Audio-Reader special, not only do we do this service for people that are blind or visually impaired, but we have so many volunteers that are elderly, and this is something they can do to give back and stay involved in the community.”