ideastream's Virtual Asks of Major Donors

Major Giving, COVID-19

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Last year, we were looking for ways to connect with major donors in a manner that would inspire them, allow us to make solicitations, and also be safe given restrictions presented by the pandemic. We developed a two-pronged effort designed to first connect with major donors through a virtual event and then deliver an ask based on the donor’s particular passions and interests.

We started our engagement with an exclusive virtual event aimed at our Idea Leaders at the $1,200+ giving level. We called the event “Inside ideastream.” Each subsequent event had a different topic.

The inaugural one-hour virtual presentation hosted by ideastream’s president and CEO, Kevin Martin, was attended by about 60 donors. Kevin shared a behind-the scenes look at our strategic plan and highlighted some of the various ways we were advancing our mission to serve the community.

After the event, I collaborated with our board chair to identify those who had attended the virtual event whom she also had a relationship with. Then she reached out to those individuals to invite them to attend an individual special presentation. We planned five individual presentations based on what we felt the donors’ passions and interests were, including election 2020; community issues; and arts and culture.

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Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture in Our Organizations

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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We work in the culture business. Our individual and collective efforts have the ability to mold the world outside of our industry’s walls. The stories we report, music we air, programs we produce, and events, webinars and experiences we offer to our audiences all add to the narrative of our multifaceted, multi-lensed society. Our programming is like a tapestry; it offers perspectives carefully designed, woven and crafted with different materials, patterned and textured to make something uniquely appealing. Adding our own flair to the public media tapestry is a privilege we all share; we do not take this position lightly. Each of us brings ourselves, past and present, to our work in hopes of creating something meaningful that resonates throughout history.

It is critical we look at culture when thinking about who has access to public media. To do so, we must examine the definition of culture from an everyday perspective and within the workplace. Generally speaking, culture defines our way of life, such as our norms, values, attitudes, customs, vernacular, and the nuances in between, depending on the group in question. In a corporate setting, culture sets the tone for how business is conducted. It ripples across departments and hierarchy, denoting which behaviors are praised and which are deemed unacceptable. In both settings, culture maintains boundaries, whether physical or psychological, tangible or abstract.

Leadership controls the culture. We look to their vision as our main objective while measuring and observing their every move. This includes a litany of things: their public and private behavior; their decision-making processes; their character; what and who they value; where they divert time, attention and resources; the company they keep, and so much more. The list of attributes that encompass their leadership style is endless. The compilation of these traits creates a culture barometer, measuring the efficacy of the entity’s vision.

Much of my time as a consultant is spent untangling conversations, carefully pulling them apart and then piecing information together to get to the crux of an organization’s culture. In some instances, I have separate conversations with multiple people within an organization and find there is a disconnect between the information both parties share. When this happens, it becomes evident that the organization’s communication mechanisms are strained, signaling a potential culture problem. I ask questions about leadership and how supportive they are in creating a workplace environment where everyone receives what they need to be successful. Too often, I hear comments similar to these:

“When I have a question about a project, or have an idea that could help my department or organization, I’m told to stay in my lane.”

“My organization says it supports professional development, but all of my requests are denied. How do I grow if I’m not receiving the training I need?”

“I have glowing performance reviews and am told the department could not function without me, yet I always get passed up for the promotion and I’m always asked to train the new employee hired for the job.”

“My manager asked me for feedback about a project/situation. I came prepared and explained my concerns and solutions in detail. My feedback was never incorporated and my manager never gave me an explanation as to why.”

“My editor is afraid my story, that includes instances of racism, will upset our core audience and wants the story scrapped altogether.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m not trusted to do the job I was hired to do.”

“The organization’s leadership continues to ignore recommendations from its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, or makes plans without asking for our ideas, insight or opinions.”

“I always have to jump through hoops to get the things I need/my department needs, while other employees/departments get things handed to them without question.”

“How people are promoted is secretive and exclusive.”

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Failing Forward: Learning From Mistakes on the Journey to Anti-Racism

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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So often we spend a lot of time thinking about the mistakes that we make, both those we realize on our own and those that others point out. We can spend days replaying a scenario particularly when it is related to race or gender identity. Some describe it as minefields that they are fearful of saying the wrong thing. I want to liberate you and tell you that you WILL make a mistake and you will offend someone. When working in equity and inclusion and striving to build knowledge while moving forward it is important to have a framework of what to do when you make a mistake. This strategy allows you to make amends, to learn and to feel more courage to take risks and make mistakes in the future. 

During a webinar I was once asked this question: “I have run into situations where a name is unfamiliar to me (e.g. I recently hosted a panel and one of the panelists had a Vietnamese name I hadn’t heard before). I struggle with having to ask someone multiple times to pronounce their name because it feels disrespectful but I am asking because I genuinely want to get it right. Any tips on how to handle this situation?”

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WXPN's Virtual 5k Brings Surprising Results

event sponsorship, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, Audience Engagement

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, events have gone virtual. From screenings to concerts and 5k runs, we’ve all been scrambling to figure out the best way to transition to this new model.

Last fall, WXPN successfully did just that, for its Musicians on Call campaign, in partnership with a national organization by the same name. The results were impressive, particularly when it came to participation. With approximately 200 more participating in its annual 5k fundraiser this time, many were listeners who lived too far from Philadelphia to join past runs, but were signing up now.

“We’re a big supporter of the local music community,” says WXPN’s Director of Marketing, Kimberly Winnick, who is responsible for raising funds for the program. “It’s one of the reasons we got involved with Musicians on Call. Our mission is to connect artists and audiences, and build, serve and engage the community. With a large community of local musicians and passionate volunteers, we knew we could build and sustain the volunteer staffing needs for this program. It’s a perfect fit for us.”

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Why Confronting Ethics in Fundraising Matters Now

Major Giving, COVID-19

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Americans tend to place more trust in nonprofit organizations than they do in many other structures. But if any organization abuses that trust or defies the ethics of philanthropy, it paints us all with the same mistrust. 

When some nonprofit hospitals across the country recently allowed their major donors and board members to “skip the line” and receive the coronavirus vaccination early or through special invite-only arrangements, it understandably angered not just the general public but most of us inside fundraising. 

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) released an unambiguous rebuke of the practice. “The idea of hospital systems, or any charity, ignoring protocols, guidance or restrictions—regardless of origin—and offering certain donors and board members the opportunity to ‘skip the line’ and receive vaccinations ahead of their scheduled time is unethical, inequitable and antithetical to the values of philanthropy and ethical fundraising.”

While we in public media are not subject to concern over vaccine distribution, it would be unwise to ignore this opportunity to examine our own ethical responsibilities to discover where we need to shore up our practices.

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Tips to Prepare Tax Statements for 2020

Membership, Major Giving, calendar year-end, tax statements

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The new year is not just a busy time to map out your upcoming fundraising objectives, it’s also time to start planning for tax receipts for donors' gifts made the prior year. And while best practice is to refrain from asking for a gift with the statement, this is an opportunity to thank your major, mid-level, and sustaining donors for a year of support.

The 2020 CARES Act had two important provisions for tax deductibility for donor gifts in 2020. As of legislation signed on December 28, 2020 those provisions have been extended to 2021. First, charitable contributions up to $300 in 2020 are considered an “above the line” deduction on donors’ taxes. Second, donors may now claim a charitable deduction up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income for cash gifts to nonprofits. There are no significant changes that should impact the compliance component of the tax statements provided to donors. However, compliance isn’t the only concern. Tax statements are a way to engage with donors and be of service to them regardless of how they file their tax return.

The strength of public media is that our supporters use and place a high value on the service stations provide. So, with that lens, strengthening that connection by practicing good stewardship is paramount.

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1984: The Year I Discovered "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion"

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, diversity & inclusion

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As futuristic as it once sounded, thanks to the novel by George Orwell, the year 1984 didn’t stand out because of a dystopian society. Instead, I remember it as the year I experienced my first diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) moment, long before I’d ever heard the abbreviation or the term uttered. There was not a mention, not a peep. If I had heard it, I would not have known what it meant.

In 1984, I was more than 20 years away from focusing on DEI at KPBS in San Diego. When I encountered the topic, I felt frustration and resentment. Not because I took it as a personal affront, but because it left me having to complete someone else’s work. 

I attribute these feelings of discontent, in part, to being an American-born Venezuelan, having spent most of my childhood living in Queens, a borough of New York City. While my brothers came and went as they pleased, my family did their best to raise me to be a proper daughter with many of the restrictive traditions by which a Venezuelan female needed to abide. This included chores on Saturdays and church on Sundays. 

In 1984, I was in the fifth year of my career at KCTS, public television in Seattle. I had recently hired Beth, a student from the University of Washington, who was majoring in communications and eager to learn. Beth was amiable and appeared to be a good fit for our department, and, though I didn’t see it then, I’d eventually come to see that Beth was an activist, more socially aware than I was, with a mind of her own. What’s more, she wasn’t shy about knocking down established norms of the day. Whereas exhibiting such behavior went against everything I believed in.

Unlike Beth, any mind of my own that I might have possessed had been molded and shaped by my parents’ careful oversight and by the mores of the day. Let’s not forget that in addition to being a Latina, I was a Baby Boomer. This meant that, like most girls my age, I was raised on TV shows about sweet, loving housewives who wore pearls while vacuuming and baking pies. I’d see films starring Doris Day, who’d always get her man, and I was encouraged to “play house” in kindergarten while the boys played at being firefighters and astronauts. What’s more, my imaginative play consisted of my Barbie doll marrying Ken over and over, and mindless hours drawing in bridal coloring books. 

Feminism might have been in full swing, but I found myself choosing the traditions of being female in America against the backdrop of the feminist movement. I was firmly and decidedly a product of my culture and generation.

Enter Beth.

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Discovering Major Gift Prospects Amongst Year-End Donors

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, calendar year-end

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As you finish your fall campaign and begin your calendar-year-end campaign, you’re certain to have some some new or returning $1,200 donors. These donors could become your next major gift prospects. A few easy strategies can help you identify a crop of excellent prospects for 2021.

First, make sure you’re stewarding the wonderful donors who have given you a $1,200 gift. You should have a process in place to make sure this happens without fail. If you need to establish one, these resources can help you get started. 

Prospect Research

The next step is to learn a little bit about each new donor. You don’t need to do a full prospect research report, but gathering some basic information about the donor will help you put them in context. How they made their gift can tell you quite a bit. Did they call in to make the gift during a drive? That lets you know they don’t mind phone conversations and you can feel less anxious about calling them. Did they give through a donor-advised fund (DAF)? Having a DAF likely means they value philanthropy as a part of their budget and make careful decisions about how to give. Additionally, they likely have a high giving capacity. Did they add a comment about why they gave? Donors often give us wonderful information about what they love along with their gift. Use this information to connect with the donor’s interests. Be careful not to assume too much, but gather any clues that might help you understand if they are a prospective major donor.

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Reflections on the Work of Anti-Racism From WUOL’s Daniel Gilliam

Membership, Major Giving, General Management, diversity & inclusion

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In October, the member services department at WUOL Classical in Louisville received a listener letter objecting to the station’s increase in music by Black composers. The letter stated that the anonymous writer - a self-described long-time donor - was discontinuing their support as a result. 

Member services shared the letter with Daniel Gilliam, WUOL program director and director of radio, who decided to read a Statement to a Racist Listener on-air, stream it on Facebook Live, and publish the statement online. We asked Gilliam about this response from the station, and about the larger anti-racism work being done at WUOL.

Greater Public: What was your reaction when you received the listener letter?

Daniel Gilliam: I don’t think any public radio station is a stranger to receiving negative or controversial letters, particularly around race. Whether it’s someone complaining that a triple-A station is playing too much hip hop, or that they dislike someone’s way of speaking or the coverage of race on a news station. But at a classical station, we’ve been largely immune to these kinds of letters because, historically, classical has not been a very diverse format. There are some people in the classical radio world who are coming to terms with that and being proactive to change it. It’s something I've been trying to work on at WUOL. 

When the letter arrived, it did a couple of things. First, it signaled that somebody is noticing that we’re playing more composers that aren’t white. I wondered how they knew; did we say on-air that this is a Black composer, do they know enough about the music to know which composers are Black, or did they Google the composers to see who was Black and who was white? I had questions about why that would catch their attention. But I’m glad it did, because I want more people to recognize themselves in the music we play on WUOL. And we still have a long way to go.

But the writer of the letter also said they wouldn’t be supporting the station because we’re playing more Black composers. We often get letters at stations that threaten to discontinue support and we let them roll off our backs. But this one struck me for how explicit it was. And it angered me quite a bit. We say “listen to relax and escape” and all is fine in the world. But when you encounter a listener who’s an avowed racist, it kind of shakes you. This is not “peaceful let’s-all-get-along” listenership.

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Strategy Is Not Enough: The Importance of Changing the Culture of Public Media

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, diversity & inclusion

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Once in a meeting with a senior manager of a station I worked at, I was discussing why I felt that the structure and culture of the organization could do a much better job of fostering respect, empowering innovation and providing psychological safety to its employees. Though new ideas were often seen as threatening and feedback was rarely well received, I was daring to speak up because I believed that these changes were imperative for creating the collaborative spirit of innovation needed to ensure the long-term survival of the station. 

Well into the conversation, the manager said, “you know, you’re in a tough spot.” Immediately, I thought of a dozen different things he might be referring to, but, not wanting to assume, I asked him to elaborate. He explained that even though I had been working there for almost three years, I still had to prove myself. 

This was an organization where people were often shamed for being “too sensitive,” and fear of perceived failure routinely drove management decisions. Perhaps he meant to be helpful by suggesting that if I only kept my head down and worked hard there for a decade the other senior managers would finally take me for my word and respect me. But I went back to my desk and cried. 

In that moment he’d confirmed one of my darker fears about our industry: Our overwhelmingly traditional, white, patriarchal culture is killing public media.

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