Partner up, get local for best shot at funding, execs advise

By Debra E. Blum

Officials and advocates rally Feb. 29 at New York City Hall to support police reform bills combating the NYPD’s far-reaching stop-and-frisk practices. The impact of WNYC’s reporting on the topic inspired the pubradio station to seek funding for an investigative-reporting unit. (Photo: WNYC/Ailsa Chang)

Grantmakers at foundations increasingly look for public radio and television stations to move beyond traditional broadcasting and serve their communities in new ways — as conveners of public dialogue, as innovators testing new approaches for producing and funding digital journalism, and as partners in helping their communities tackle social problems.

Station execs who are veterans at foundation fundraising say pubcasting projects that touch on these key themes have a good shot at capturing the attention of grantmakers:

Emphasis on community engagement

Nine Network/KETC in St. Louis received a three-year $450,000 foundation grant backing its participation in CPB’s American Graduate initiative. The JSM Charitable Trust, a private foundation in St. Louis, awarded the grant last month to help support a series of events, programs and community-engagement activities aimed at improving high-school graduation rates. The station will sponsor town-hall meetings for teachers and students, for example, and is working with a youth-literacy group on a poetry project for kids.

“We’re going into the community, learning the issue, convening partners and creating awareness,” says Jack Galmiche, president. “We went to the foundation because we know they have education as a priority, and this is all about advancing the issue and engaging the community around it.”

More local and investigative journalism

WNYC Radio received grants from several foundations, including the Ford, Geraldine R. Dodge, and Charles H. Revson Foundations, for a service expansion that included a new multiplatform digital-journalism initiative, the purchase of classical WQXR, and enhanced local news and public-affairs coverage for New York and New Jersey. Following the success of its months-long reporting project on police work, “Stop & Frisk,” WNYC is seeking additional funding to establish an investigative-journalism unit.

“This project had a huge impact on the thinking on the criminal justice system, on how people consider the issues,” says Laura Walker, president. “But we can’t necessarily say how it moved our bottom line or correlates to increased member support. That’s why it’s an important role for foundations — supporting something worthwhile that might not find immediate support elsewhere.”

Partnerships with other media ventures

The California Endowment last year awarded $315,000 to San Diego’s KPBS and three area media nonprofits to launch a local news collaborative producing news coverage for an underserved city neighborhood. For Speak City Heights the partners will identify a single topic, such as access to healthy food, that each news organization will report on for six months. The coverage will culminate with a public event, such as a community forum, and use both multimedia and crowdsourcing tactics — such as a photography education program — to identify critical community issues.

“Part of [Speak City’s] strength is in the mix of media outlets,” says Mary Lou Fulton, a senior program manager at the Endowment. “When public broadcasters reach out to other media, that’s something to cultivate, since we are all looking for the innovations that will be the most beneficial and sustainable.”

KPBS’s partners in Speak City Heights are Voice of San Diego, the Media Arts Center San Diego, and AJA Project, a nonprofit group providing photography-based education programming to youth.

New fundraising messages

WFYI in Indianapolis is embarking on a new, $14.5 million capital campaign, and its officials have developed a new pitch for potential funders. Instead of talking up the pubcaster’s facility, technology and equipment needs — which had been the focus of its $20.5 million capital campaign completed in 2008 — WFYI fundraisers are describing how WFYI will put the resources to work for the community.

“Our case is centered around what we will do with our facility and how we will employ technology to better reach out to the community, to be a storyteller,” says Lloyd Wright, president. “It’s still about raising money for the building or the equipment, but we are careful now to make the connection to our work, the impact of our work, and not just say, ‘This is our capital need.’”

Copyright 2012 American University

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