Expanded budget buoys plans for PBS’s revamped development division

By Dru Sefton

Betsy Gerdeman, who took over as senior vice president of PBS Development in February, is busy rebuilding that staff while focusing on three priorities for stations: planned giving, local corporate support and on-air fundraising.

“I still have my station hat firmly on my head, and I hope I always will,” said Gerdeman, who has worked at KLRU and KLRN in San Antonio and WETA in Arlington, Va. “The success in this department comes from walking in the shoes of the stations we serve.”

Gerdeman discusses development at the PBS Annual Meeting in May in San Francisco. (Photo: Les Kamens of The Photo Group)

Gerdeman discusses development at the PBS Annual Meeting in May in San Francisco. (Photo: Les Kamens of The Photo Group)

PBS trimmed its fundraising staff in June 2010, eliminating four staffers who specialized in station fundraising. Director of Station Development Services Valerie Pletcher joined in November 2010 to focus on informational and training needs and best practices; she left in April 2014.

But development is now on an upswing. Development services gets its own $1.1 million budget in fiscal 2015, an increase of $500,000 over last year. Previously, that figure wasn’t broken out from the larger station services outlay. The final PBS budget was approved June 12 by the PBS Board at its meeting in St. Paul, Minn.

Also at that meeting, Gerdeman laid out her plans for the revamp. She told Current she anticipates adding several new staffers, including one to help stations optimize digital fundraising. She’s already hired Karen Chong to oversee local corporate sponsorship efforts; previously, Chong directed PBS program underwriting policy.

Chong’s approach will mirror work already underway on planned giving. PBS is focusing on 20 stations of various licensee types and market sizes, Gerdeman said, with training, tools and consultations to determine what fundraisers need most. Planned giving “is critical to stations’ long-term survival,” she noted. She said PBS wanted to “work deeply with a smaller group of stations that represent the system,” then share results with all pubcasters.

Gerdeman also hopes to expand the planned-giving work before the next fiscal year to include larger philanthropic donations such as major giving.

For on-air fundraising, Gerdeman is collaborating with Joe Campbell, v.p. of fundraising programs. The two will select a group of stations to follow for three years to measure audience and donor behavior, particularly around pledging the core PBS schedule. At the PBS Annual Meeting in May, Campbell announced plans for December fundraising content from icon shows. “There are some assumptions around donors who give during pledge and those who give in other ways,” Gerdeman said. “It’s pretty important that we measure that.”

Gerdeman has also been working with the PBS Development Advisory Committee, which has revamped the PBS Development Awards, presented annually for unique approaches to fundraising. A streamlined one-page narrative form brought in three times the nominations of years past, she said; the DAC is halfway through judging them.

Questions, comments, tips? sefton@current.org
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