IPR receives new Innovation Fund



Iowa Public Radio's new Innovation Fund, established through the Heartland Mitzvah Fund from an anonymous Iowa donor, will foster new projects and programs.


Iowa Public Radio (IPR) recently received a $250,000 commitment from the Heartland Mitzvah Fund, which will be used to establish an Innovation Fund to support IPR over the next five years.

“With big goals ahead of us, this is a very special gift and I am eager to see where this takes us,” said Myrna Johnson, Executive Director of IPR, in a Sept. 24 press release.

According to Gretchen Kasperbauer, IPR’s Marketing Manager, the Heartland Mitzvah Fund commitment came from an anonymous Iowa donor. The money will be equally disbursed over five years, with $50,000 being released each year to support research and development of new IPR projects.

“It’s the creation or improvement of the content delivery channel or the development of new programming,” Kasperbauer said.

She cited IPR’s new 2019 podcast, “Caucusland,” as an example of this kind of new programming, which provides a new avenue to spotlight the political process in Iowa.

“What this fund is going to do is really kind of help us think about ways we can start testing new avenues, especially in the digital space,” she said. “[The] staff has really had a lot of creative ideas over the past couple years, so this fund…will give them time to strategize and help put some of those creative ideas in motion.”

IPR is based in Des Moines and has three main studios on the campuses of the state universities: University of Iowa, Iowa State and UNI. The UNI studio houses IPR’s Studio One program, which airs talk programming and adult alternative music. IPR’s other programs include News and Classical.

The Innovation Fund will benefit IPR as a whole, Kasperbauer said, but the Studio One UNI office will feel concrete benefits almost immediately.

“We’re going to kick this off here in the next couple weeks,” she said. “We don’t have a first project identified yet, so once we do, hopefully everyone will start noticing that in our social and digital efforts. This will be something that we start this year.”

The senior leadership team of IPR— which includes Johnson as well as members from all three state universities—will meet to bring their project ideas to the table. Staff members across the state are being encouraged to present ideas.

“We’re really looking for staff to kind of help us determine what that need is and making sure that that aligns with our strategic plan, and overall goal for IPR,” Kasperbauer said.

No matter what projects are ultimately selected, the Innovation Fund’s goal is to move IPR forward in a digital environment where media trends are constantly changing and legacy media like radio are forced to adapt.

  “The media landscape is rapidly evolving,” said Johnson, “and this is an opportunity fund that will allow us to test and develop new ideas and projects that have the potential to make a big impact for our listeners.”

“Our biggest listenership is still on air,” Kasperbauer said. “We serve 220,000 listeners weekly on radio. However, we [also] have 24-hour streams between our news, classical and Studio One online. All three have a growing audience, which is just further proving that our audience is […] in other places as well. We’re trying to be proactive about reaching an audience in a different way, which is just another thing that this Innovation Fund helps us support. It’s setting aside the time to think about new ways that we can play in some of those areas and also be successful.”

Even as the digital news landscape continues to evolve, Kasperbauer envisions that there will always be a place for public radio.

“Iowa Public Radio […] gives a perspective of unbiased news,” she said. “I think it’s really important to have that source that supports both sides, in addition to having that cultural aspect as well, like our Studio One team.”

Since public broadcasting programs don’t rely on commercial advertisements to generate revenue, commitments like this one from the Heartland Mitzvah Fund are critical to the continued vitality of IPR.

75 percent of IPR’s funding comes from private gifts, grants, and underwriting sponsorships, according to Kasperbauer.

“Something like this is always welcome and super exciting for the team,” she said. “The $250,000 was a surprise to everybody. I think it’s going to be an incredibly exciting opportunity for Iowa Public Radio and it’s going to help our sustainability long-term.”