Navigating Power and Privilege in Public Media

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

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The city where I grew up – San Antonio, Texas – was majority Latinx, but by no means unsegregated. The East Side was predominantly poor and Black, and much of the South and West Sides were poor and Brown. If you were an upwardly-mobile POC, you moved to the city’s whiter, more affluent northern suburbs. That’s where my assimilated, single mom – originally from the West Side – raised me, with help from her Mexican immigrant parents and, eventually, my SoCal Chicano stepdad. 

As a white-presenting mestiza (raised in white suburbs, no less) I am, in the words of Leslie Arreoloa-Hillenbrand, “both colonized and colonizer.” To be white-presenting is to live a duality: to both benefit directly from racism and be privy to the psychic pain it inflicts. It’s an eternally uneasy place to live.

When I was 31, I moved to Minnesota, and it was nothing short of culture shock. Exposed to people and cultures with which I’d had no prior experience – Somali, Hmong, Ecuadorian, Ojibway, Dakota – Minneapolis made me realize how diverse San Antonio actually wasn’t. New to me was the experience of feeling my whiteness so blaringly. 

Shortly after arriving, I landed my first job in public media as an administrative assistant at Minnesota Public Radio. At the time, I was one of very few ethnic minorities or people of color at MPR. There were a few – I bonded early with another Tejano colleague, a fellow Black assistant who eventually rose in MPR’s ranks, and a rotating-door of Latinx journalism fellows – but there weren’t many. At one point in my ten-year tenure, despite Minnesota being home to the largest Somali population in the U.S., the only Somali in the building was on the janitorial staff. New to me was the experience of feeling like the only minority for miles.

Minneapolis was also the first time I’d witnessed acute segregation. Months in, I learned that the city’s predominantly Black North Side was a kind of island, when three consecutive taxis refused to drive us to a friend’s house there. I knew San Antonio’s East Side suffered grave inequities, but I’d never heard it spoken of as if it were some dangerous other country. 

To be clear, racism and the inequities it creates are global; Minneapolis is not unique. But, for me, my ten years spent in the Twin Cities was eye-opening and oftentimes uncomfortable, even with the protections my whiteness afforded me. There were things I loved about the place, too, which made leaving – when I took a job in Texas – feel like the end of a failed marriage. On my last ride to the airport, I watched the buildings of downtown Minneapolis shrink in the car’s rear window and thought: Welp, we tried.

Last month, I sat in the safety of my Austin living room, phone in hand, watching video footage of a gas station burning two short blocks from my last apartment in Minneapolis. I felt a lot of things – sadness, anger, worry – but surprise wasn’t one of them.

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Five Steps to Creating Content Your Audience Actually Appreciates

Membership, Social/Mobile, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing

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Have you ever wondered how we bring you the insightful commentary and research you read on EDGE? The EDGE blog you trust doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of an ecosystem of content created by Greater Public, a nonprofit that serves the professional development of public media fundraisers. 

Creating quality content that people actually want can feel exhausting sometimes, especially when fundraising is your primary objective. Producing the very best blog on public media fundraising is possible thanks to our strong process for vetting, selecting, editing, and publishing content.

To help you streamline your work process and create better content for your members, we want to share the content creation process developed by our senior manager for content and projects, Ellen Guettler. These tips could help you increase engagement and warm feelings for your organization. 

  1. Figure out a problem that’s relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach.

    The easiest trap for any content producer to fall into is focusing on what you want or think is best, instead of focusing on your intended audience. Understand whom you’re trying to reach. Imagine how their day plays out, the obstacles they’re encountering, what’s slowing them down or keeping them from what they want. Content that doesn’t help people is just an ad, which can lose your audience’s attention very quickly.
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Strategies to Generate Major Donor Thank-Yous When Times Are Hard

donor cultivation and stewardship, Major Giving, Gift Clubs, COVID-19

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As the country navigates the economic effects of massive unemployment, the health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, and calls for change due to systematic inequality, the public media system continues its essential public service for audiences and donors who are affected by this complex and historic moment.

Donors have been extraordinarily generous since the beginning of the pandemic response in March and there are no signs of that slowing down. Organizations are seeing gift-club ($1000 - $5000) donors give earlier and bigger gifts than expected and we are having more substantial conversations with major gift prospects in cultivation.  

This is all wonderful news. Where we have started to let donors down is in the back-end process now that we are no longer working collaboratively in an office environment. Many organizations struggle to send timely and personal thank-you letters to donors under normal circumstances. The pressures of all these joint crises together have made that process break down even further. 

There seem to be three main reasons that this type of stewardship has stumbled. 

  1. Gift officers are extra busy and all aspects of their work is harder during lockdowns.
  2. It’s easy to feel stuck creatively and not know what to say.
  3. We may fear the donor won’t appreciate the note.
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A Time for Change

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

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The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and too many other Black Americans, along with the anguish being felt in cities nationwide, have pulled back the curtain for many on injustice and the need for systemic change. And we are part of the need for change. Our industry grapples with the same issues of implicit bias and whiteness that exist nationwide.

Change is tumultuous. But the beauty of change is that it brings opportunity.

Public media has everything it takes to learn, grow, and serve all the people of this nation just as our mission has called us to do from the beginning. We have always lifted each other up in service of our mission, and our capacity to come together remains undiminished. In fact, the way forward for our entire industry exists within the wisdom and practices of individual stations and teams. We have the advantage of being able to learn from one another.

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Building New Revenue Starts With Gratitude

Major Giving, COVID-19

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Your resources - including time - are being simultaneously crunched and stretched. Corporate sponsorship is likely underperforming, membership may be holding steady but the long term is uncertain, your licensee may be reducing support, but your community’s need for your service has never been greater. 

If our industry has ever needed a path to “new” revenue, it needs it now. 

I would maintain that there is substantial revenue hiding in plain sight at most local public media organizations.

Where is it hiding? On your donor list.

Whether you have 5,000 donors or 50,000, whether you’re in a major market or in a smaller community, there are individuals that are currently supporting you with a relatively modest annual gift that have the capacity to give more – in some cases much more.

I have seen analyses of donor lists from dozens of public media organizations prepared by colleagues at Veritus Group, our partners in the Transformational Major Giving Pilot Program and Public Media Major Gift Academy. Every single one of those analyses shows the potential for dramatic growth based on Veritus’s experience with organizations large and small, across nonprofit sectors.

Every single one.

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Strategies to Make the Most of Working From Home

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, COVID-19

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One benefit of work-from-home is that my car is getting three weeks to the gallon.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a number of public radio underwriting sales staff who were already working from home (WFH), often because their station’s reach covered a sizable geographic area or their entire state. Those salespeople live in various parts of their coverage area in order to be able to call on and visit with underwriting prospects and clients.

And then it happened. WFH. Everyone.

In these [pick one: challenging, crazy, terrible, unprecedented] times, stations’ underwriting salespeople packed up their files and list of accounts to work from home as states implemented stay-at-home orders that shuttered businesses and helped isolate those who have the virus to prevent it from spreading. 

The show must go on.

As we soon learned, the mandatory WFH situation that many of us found ourselves in is not ideal. Schools closed and kids had to be home-schooled. Restless pets were wondering why their human owners were not leaving the house. With everyone home, some home Internet connections were being taxed due to the increased use by multiple family members. Accessing the station’s network remotely from home had its problems. For most of us, these new situations only added to existing work challenges.

With the “interim or new-norm” of WFH it can be difficult to remain motivated through all of the uncertainty. So what are some of the things we’ve learned to motivate us and keep us productive while working from home?

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What’s Past Is Prologue: What We Can (and Can’t) Learn From the Last Recession

Membership, Corporate Support, budgeting, Major Giving, General Management, COVID-19

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We are all looking at our budgets. How will 2020 end? And what assumptions should we make for revenue in 2021? To borrow a quote from screenwriter Willian Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.”

We are far from the end of the story about how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect our lives, our communities, our economy, or our public media organizations. As we all prepare our worst-case, bad-case, and less-bad-case scenarios, I can’t help but look back at how public media weathered the Great Recession of 2008.

I have no doubt that all of you have done due diligence on how your individual organizations performed from 2008-2010+ for clues on how to imagine things unfolding. For a system-wide perspective, Greater Public analyzed relevant station data from our Benchmarks reports from the recession years, and we’ve gathered insights from several other data-minded colleagues at national organizations.

Public Radio Individual Giving Tells an Optimistic Story

Based on data from a consistent group of 47 public radio stations that participated in Benchmarks from 2008-2011:

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Planned Giving Communication During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Major Giving, planned giving, COVID-19

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) includes some provisions that could affect charitable giving. These changes are worth communicating to your donors, but should be done so in a way that is sensitive to the hardship and crisis that has become a reality for people around the globe.

The Changes

The CARES Act provides incentive for a large number of individuals to make cash gifts to charity, where before they received no tax benefit from charitable giving. Non-itemizers (people who take the standard deduction on their income tax returns) are allowed an above-the-line deduction of up to $300 for cash gifts to qualified charities. 

It’s also important to note that what was once the 60%-of-adjusted-gross-income (“AGI”) deduction limitation has now been temporarily increased to up to 100% of AGI for cash gifts to public charities. This means that donors making large cash gifts can completely offset their income for 2020.

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The COVID-19 Crisis Is a Time to Pull Major Donors Close

Membership, Major Giving, COVID-19

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I know you keep hearing you should connect to donors now, but during the COVID-19 crisis, public media is needed more now than ever. We are seeing public media audience skyrocket during this crisis. Why? Because people want trusted advice and information.

If there was ever a time for you to personally connect with your major donors, this is it. While some nonprofit leaders have said we should leave donors alone because they are too affected by this crisis, I can tell you first-hand this is not what fundraisers around the country are experiencing. 

What we are hearing from fundraisers is that major donors are grateful that nonprofits are reaching out to them to see how they are doing. Donors are responding to fundraisers via phone, email, text, and video conferencing in numbers never seen before. Why? Because they are now home and have time to actually connect. And, guess what: Donors are giving! Some donors are giving larger gifts, and others are giving more gifts because they want to make a difference. 

As a public media fundraiser, you have a unique opportunity to communicate to donors about what your particular station is doing in this crisis. Part of your station’s mission is about bringing your community together. Now, more than ever, your donors want to know you are putting their gifts to work. 

Here are some suggestions for you to start conversations with them during this crisis.

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Major Giving Strategies During COVID-19

Major Giving, Gift Clubs, COVID-19

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The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 an official pandemic and the ways in which we go about work, life, and interacting with our donors will change in the coming weeks. Now is the time to create and/or assess plans for your major giving program so that your donors feel like partners and you're positioning yourself to maintain major giving revenue. 

Here are four ways that we at Greater Public recommend you move forward.

1. Communicate Now

This time period is absolutely critical. The sooner you communicate your station plans to your donors, the more they will feel like a trusted member of your team. If your portfolio is small enough to send a personal email to each of your donors, choose that option. If you have hundreds or thousands of members in your $1,200 gift club, a group message will suffice.

What should you say? 

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