NPR aims to stay in
hunt for major gifts
Who should go after future big donations to public radio?
On May 13 , the NPR Board’s Membership Committee recommended clarifying board policy on the matter, giving leeway to the NPR Foundation, recipient of most of Joan Kroc’s bequest, to continue seeking major gifts through direct contact with prospective donors.
The language updates the 1983 Cahill Amendment to NPR Board policy, which barred the network from conducting any “direct public solicitation for contributions” [see story below].
The new policy gets more specific, banning solicitation only “through means of mass direct mail, on-air fundraising, or telemarketing, except in direct collaboration with member stations.” It doesn’t stop NPR from talking directly with donors.
Some station managers, worried that NPR will cherry-pick donors from their backyards, have argued that the Cahill Amendment was intended to keep NPR out of fundraising from individuals.
The new guidelines also favor development of fundraising practices that benefit both NPR and member stations.
The Membership Committee is seeking comments on the proposed guidelines before completing them in July.
Was Kroc gift a one-time stroke of luck?
Stations, NPR aim to look past turf in shared pursuit of major gifts
Patty Cahill chauffeured Kevin Klose through her station's hometown of Kansas City, Mo., last year. While the NPR president met with a major donor to NPR, she waited in her car, playing a game on her laptop.
Being excluded didn't faze Cahill, g.m. of KCUR-FM: "I didn't even think about it — I just assumed, 'These are their people.'" But today she wonders: Should she have been at the table?
Nagging questions like that one have been bubbling up since Joan Kroc gave $200 million to NPR last fall. The landmark donation focused talk within public radio on how NPR and its stations might reap additional major gifts through collaboration.
But tapping major giving's potential has focused attention on turf issues left unresolved for years. Some station managers, galled that the network's endowment-building NPR Foundation woos major donors in their backyards, say such efforts violate NPR's own policies. But opinions vary on closer collaboration. Will it boost net revenue for both parties or divert more money to NPR?
The talks aim to nail down formerly ad hoc approaches to getting major gifts, says Barbara Hall, NPR's v.p. of development. In coming months, a task force of trustees, board members and station leaders will create a "more formalized process with clear guidelines," she says, with a target of launching a pilot program in the fall.
Kroc's path to NPR's doorstep suggests one model. Development execs at KPBS in San Diego, Kroc's station of choice at her home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., brought the station more than $3 million in donations from the widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc by cultivating a friendship over many years. She left an additional $5 million to KPBS when she bequeathed her nine-figure gift to NPR.
Stephanie Bergsma, KPBS's associate g.m. for development, opened the door to NPR's bounty when she alerted Klose to Kroc's generosity and love for the network's news.
Bergsma stresses the importance of tight collaboration. "Let's face it—beyond a certain point, people don't make $15 million gifts to local stations," she says. "I think most donors have a vision that they want to support, and that's what captured [Kroc's] attention."
"Where we go from here is to see, is this a one-time lark? Or is this replicable?" says Mark Handley, president of New Hampshire Public Radio and chairman of the NPR Board.
Sharing names and leverage
The attention to major giving coincides with public TV's rising interest in the subject. Last week CPB began a series of regional workshops on major giving for public TV stations.
Retiring baby boomers will donate and leave in their estates "billions, if not trillions, of dollars" to nonprofits in coming years, Hall says.
"Knowing that, I think public radio has the potential to be the beneficiary of very sizeable contributions," she says. "We have a large and growing audience. We have the right demographics. And most importantly, public radio is a continual presence in people's lives."
NPR has already beefed up its in-house solicitation of major gifts, hiring former PBS major giving director John Bittrick in a new, equivalent position and retaining consultants Brakeley/Briscoe.
Stations excel at getting smaller annual gifts, says Jon Schwartz, g.m. of Wyoming Public Radio and a former NPR Board chairman, but the talent for landing major gifts lies with the NPR Foundation.
Major gifts have so far been "over-the-transom money," he says, and the door to more funds has been locked. If opened, money would be "right there—it's low pickings," he says. But NPR and stations must cooperate to open that door.
"I've got names," he says of his donors. "But [NPR's] got leverage and the appeal of the brand and influence that some donors would like. So we both bring something to the table. We both risk something, and we both can gain."
Until now, NPR has fattened its endowment through its foundation, with infrequent help from stations. Each of the foundation's 50 trustees gives NPR $15,000 a year for the first three years of their terms, then $25,000 annually. In November, NPR began requiring trustees to donate unspecified amounts each year to local stations.
Trustees invite deep-pocketed friends to meet NPR brass and hosts at about a half-dozen small events a year, Hall says. The gatherings are private, but Hall says trustees often tap station execs.
"If they have not engaged the stations, or if they've done it at the last minute, it's probably just been an oversight on their part," she says.
Cahill: "hands off" to NPR?
Stakeholders are asking whether they're playing a "zero-sum game," in Handley's words. Are they competing for shares of an unknown but finite amount of money? Or can they bring even more donations out of the woodwork?
"I think that that's, at this point, an unresolved" question, Handley says. "There are people who have strong beliefs on both sides of that."
The network's board already has tried mediating such turf issues.
In 1983, a committee led by KCUR's Cahill studied ways to pull NPR from
the financial crisis it then faced.
The possibility of NPR saving itself with a national on-air fundraiser raised fears that the network could become "no longer a membership organization of stations but rather a national radio organization with members being the listeners themselves," said the committee's report.
The resulting policy, still known as the Cahill amendment, said "NPR will not conduct direct public solicitation for contributions, such activity to remain a station prerogative."
Sides disagree over whether the Cahill amendment should limit the NPR Foundation from pursuing big gifts. The NPR Board's Membership Committee has worked in recent months toward clarifying the policy for network management.
"When I came to NPR [in 1992], I was told Cahill did not preclude major gift solicitation," Hall says. Handley agrees that creating the NPR Foundation, which member stations supported, superseded the policy.
Cahill acknowledges that the committee members worried mostly about NPR soliciting funds via on-air campaigns and direct mail: "We weren't thinking about individual rich people." But the NPR Foundation's activities do appear to violate the amendment's principles, she says.
"Why in the world would we have passed the Cahill amendment if we didn't want them to keep their hands off our usual sources of funding?" asks Alan Chartock, executive director of WAMC in Albany, N.Y., and one of the most outspoken critics of NPR on the subject.
The upcoming task force will try to soothe such worries by setting clear ground rules. For example, "it would be my responsibility" to ensure that station execs are invited to all NPR Foundation gatherings, Hall says.
Some stations, including Wyoming Public Radio, already have worked out agreements with the network. NPR has cultivated major donors in Jackson, Wyo., Schwartz says. If it persuades the Wyoming station's major donors to give more each year, NPR and WPR will split the new funds equally, but only after subtracting what Schwartz was already receiving.
NPR and Wyoming Public Radio also share costs and plan the events together. "There are practical things to work out, but that's what we do," he says.
"I think the best antidote to some of the concerns out there is a track
record that is extended beyond one episode," Schwartz says, referring to the
Kroc gift. "That's clearly the next phase of this story. . . . Even a $100,000
gift — most of us would be thrilled to share that."
Web page posted March 17, 2004, revised May 28, 2004
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