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Design Your Program - Leading Staff and Volunteer Efforts

Successful major giving efforts result from collaboration among an organization's management, its professional development staff, and leadership volunteers. If any one of these three elements is missing, the program will not reach its full potential. Thus, it is critical at the outset that all three players understand their roles and responsibilities and respect those of the others.

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

Roles and Responsibilities

The CEO, Board volunteers, and senior development staff work together to strategize, design, implement, and evaluate the major giving program. Like most aspects of station operations, all staff share responsibility for their pieces of the puzzle that make the program successful.

Each staff member shares the responsibilities of championing the case for support for the station, stewardship for the services provided to the community, and engagement with the listeners, members, community partners, and donors. An additional aspect of this responsibility, in line with philanthropy and major-giving cultivation, are opportunities for engagement with prospective listeners, members, community partners, and donors who are intentionally engaged.

The General Manager/CEO:

  • Personifies the organization and, through stewardship activities, gives donors the assurance that their gifts will be wisely spent.
  • In partnership with the Development Team, the CEO sets the overall vision and strategy for the major-giving program.
  • As part of LFP, the CEO receives coaching, support, and access to resources to help them frame their vision, invest resources, shape, infrastructure, and begin the early stages of implementation of the major giving program.
  • Leads the process of building the case for support for the station, framing not only the broadcast programming and services for which the station is known, but the broad range of services and value for the community uniquely offered by public media and the station.
  • Actively participates as the senior development officer, helping to identify, cultivate, secure, and steward gifts.
  • Through stewardship activities, gives donors the assurance that their gifts will be wisely invested in service to the community and responsibly and ethically managed.
  • Leads the board volunteers in developing strategy for identifying, cultivating, and securing gifts, and developing metrics for evaluation and assessment of philanthropic efforts.

Volunteer Leaders:

  • As board members — review and approve all major and planned giving policies, make sure that they are carried out, and protect the donor's investment in the station by ensuring sound financial management.
  • As board members and outside volunteers — take ownership of the organization as a community resource, ensuring that it reaches its full potential.
  • As board members and outside volunteers — extend the station's circle of friends by helping to identify, cultivate, secure, and steward gifts from others in the community.
  • Assist in identifying philanthropic objectives aligned with the strategic plan.
  • Evaluate major gift and other philanthropic progress as components of overall fiscal accountability for the station.

Development Director:

  • Advocates for sound, ethical development practice within the organization.
  • Creates a donor-centered environment that emphasizes the mission of the station and service to the community.
  • The development director has an additional duty, to coordinate development activities and resolve conflicts among them to ensure that donors with greater potential are promoted to greater levels of investment and involvement. This role is vital to identifying and upgrading those with major gift potential, and it is essential during a capital campaign, during which the "best donors" are usually asked to make a special gift.
  • In coordination with the major gifts officer, facilitates the activities of the CEO to assure that time spent with current and prospective major donors is a quality contact that reports on stewardship of gifts in service to the community and develops partnerships to further those services.

Development/Major Giving Officers:

  • Advocate for, establish, and maintain the major giving as well as all fundraising, philanthropy, and development programs.
  • Conduct planning, donor research, and strategy to enable leadership volunteers to assist in the major giving effort.
  • Play an active role in donor stewardship to promote the relationships on which major gifts are based.
  • Provide expertise as a fundraising professional to assist the CEO in setting continuous goals and objectives for the development program and overseeing daily operations, record-keeping, etc.

Thus, development officers primarily facilitate the work of others, though they can and do make actual gift asks, if volunteers are uncomfortable doing so. The CEO serves as the public face of the station, the person to whom donors entrust their gifts for stewardship. Volunteers extend the reach of the organization into the community and serve as visible endorsements of its service and integrity.

Station Professional Staff:

  • Stewardship of professional responsibilities as a vital community service worthy of philanthropic investment.
  • Identifying potential partners and donor prospects to the CEO and Development Team.
  • Recognition that all broadcasts, programs, events, and interactions with the listening and broader community may be philanthropic moments to deepen relationships.
  • Attention to the sound and brand of the station and programs on-air, on-line, in print, and other station materials.

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Attributes of Successful CEOs

The CEO is essential to success in major gift fundraising. This individual sets the tone of the organization, establishes the vision, and exemplifies the station in the public mind. In interviewing a cross-section of CEOs for this site, we identified the following shared characteristics:

  • Champions the mission of public radio and the station, and has a vision for what the station can become.
  • Puts good systems in place to monitor daily activities.
  • Hires talented senior staff and empowers them to manager their functional areas.
  • Promotes a sense of teamwork within the organization.
  • Encourages strategic planning and managing to the plan.
  • Spends substantial time (40-50%, by some estimates) in active community networking, cultivation, and stewardship.
  • Listens to key constituents, seeking their advice and incorporating the best of it.
  • Assures the openness and transparency of policy and financial information.
  • Brings sufficient management experience to the position for sound decision making.
  • Identifies and develops community partnerships.
  • Communicates well with staff, management colleagues, board and/or licensing authority.
  • Understands the technologies that drive service delivery.

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Attributes of Successful Major Giving Officers

Major giving does not just happen. Like any fundraising activity, someone must be specifically charged with the activity or it will not take place. Ideally, that person will have major giving as his or her primary activity. This is an expense that many small and mid-sized stations feel they cannot now afford, but it is not a luxury. Success at major giving is partly a function of the resources the station is willing to invest in it.

The ideal major giving officer has several characteristics, calling for a mix of left- and right-brain characteristics that few people possess.

  • A "people person," not just comfortable meeting others, but genuinely interested in them.
  • An active listener, who not only takes in what is being said, but signals understanding to the speaker.
  • Is knowledgeable in a broad range of interests and therefore able to comfortably converse on many subjects.
  • A facilitator, comfortable with empowering others to succeed and willing to stay behind the curtain, when necessary.
  • At the same time, a leader, fearless about closing the gift, when needed.
  • Is passionate about public broadcasting and able to convey that zeal.
  • Is detail oriented in such areas as event planning, file analysis, and record keeping.
  • Possesses a keen ability to discern the readiness of prospective donors to progress toward deeper engagement with station in service to the community, and in some cases to make a major gift.

Some knowledge of the local community is often helpful, but stations should also resist the temptation to hire those who have worked for several local organizations, as donors may perceive them as being hired guns rather than representatives of public broadcasting.

For stations that feel they cannot afford a major gifts officer, responsibility for major gifts is often added to the portfolio of the development director. Depending on that individual's experience, skills, and workload, this is sometimes not the best solution as the development director is tasked with running a comprehensive set of fundraising programs. The major giving program alone warrants a significant amount of time to reach its rewarding potential. Because they regularly deal with the public, corporate support representatives may also be good candidates, though the station must be careful that the candidate understands the difference between underwriting sales and major donor relationship building.

This Model Job Description (PDF, 20KB) may be used as is or can serve as a starting point for stations seeking to recruit a major giving officer. A job description for a planned giving officer is also included, and the two descriptions may be easily combined.

Clear job descriptions and effective staff organizational structures improve the development performance of any station, large or small. WLJT, Martin, Tennessee, one of the smallest stations in the MGI program, shares its organization chart and the job descriptions for its three development positions.

For information on conducting a performance evaluation of your major giving officer, see Measures of Success on the Evaluation and Improvement page in the Expand Your Program section.

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Attributes of a Successful Development Program

As discussed in other sections, major giving is just one component of a comprehensive (well rounded) development program. The goal is to establish varied streams of revenue so instability in one stream is minimized by stability in others. Like other aspects of station operations, it is important to distinguish and clarify roles for professional staff to avoid confusion and to identify appropriate goals for each position. In addition, the organizational structure of the department can be used to overcome any gaps in positions or skill-sets or to align staff under skilled leaders. Clear job descriptions and effective staff organizational structures improve the development performance of any station, large or small.

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Defining Success

A major giving program takes time to be developed and implemented. Gifts in early stages of the program are likely the result of relationships that have been developing prior to the establishment of the program. Over time, the number and value of gifts will increase as time is invested in the cultivation of strategic relationships.

Measuring early success, progressive success and growth of the program are addressed in the section on Evaluation and Improvement.

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Importance of Volunteers

It is taken for granted that volunteer leadership is critical to major gift fundraising. But why are volunteers so important? Volunteers:

  • Extend staff resources. A volunteer network provides more hands and more minds than the station can provide on its own.
  • Expand the station's philanthropic network. Volunteer leaders expand the circle of friends and bring a more personal set of relationships to the table.
  • Provide knowledge beyond the station. Volunteer leaders know the community and, through their service to other organizations, often know what works and what doesn't in local philanthropic efforts.
  • Are more likely to make meaningful gifts. Those who invest their time are more likely to invest their treasure.
  • Provide selflessness and credibility to the ask. Because volunteers derive no financial benefit from the station's fundraising efforts, their involvement provides a compelling endorsement.

Here are two examples showing how volunteers can make a big difference in a station's major giving effort:

  • At WYES, volunteer network and solicitation has built what is, for its size, one of the largest major donor organizations in public broadcasting. The Producer's Circle Committee consists of members of the WYES Producers Circle who also provide volunteer leadership. Each year, a committee chairperson leads a prospect identification session in which members identify potential major donors from their personal lists and agree to invite them into membership through direct contact, phone call, or personal letter.
  • The KLRU Producers Circle was established in 1992 with a core group of thirty charter members whose original goal was to recruit 100 members. A couple co-chairs the identification and solicitation effort each year, and former chairs, called "chair emeriti," remain involved. Through this system, KLRU volunteers have produced more major donors than the station's own file research.

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Volunteer Organization — Community Licensees

A New Role for Most Boards

Most fundraising professionals agree that the ideal volunteer organization to lead major giving efforts is its own board of directors. Some governance experts see fundraising as an optional board responsibility, but to fundraising executives, it is usually seen as a core board task. The advantage with community licensee boards is that volunteers are recruited and selected by station leadership (GM & other Board Volunteers). The disadvantage is that the role of fundraising as an expectation of board service is a fairly new concept for community licensees.

It is important for station leadership to be purposeful about Engaging Board Members in the fundraising process — strategic, in who they approach and how. Recruiting a volunteer who is comfortable with fundraising and is a champion of the mission will inspire others and reduce resistance. Resistance to fundraising can be avoided if expectations are clear at the time members are recruited. Many organizations provide a Job Description for Volunteers (PDF, 22KB) such as this from KQED, that is discussed with the individual at the time he or she is enlisted. WCVE has created an outline of expectations in its Development Committee Objectives (PDF, 2MB), and KUED has a formal job description for its Development Committee Chair (PDF, 78KB).

(See more on expectations under Identifying and Recruiting Board/Volunteer Resources below.

The expectations and responsibilities of board members should be further spelled out through a new member orientation program. This introduction to the station should include both written materials, and in-person presentations from a board leader and key staff. The Checklist for Board Orientation Materials (PDF, 67KB) outlines the items that stations should include in their board orientation materials. Another useful resource is the thorough Board Orientation Packet (PDF, 496KB) created by OPB.

Nevertheless, many boards remain resistant to playing a role in fundraising. Here are some Board Engagement Tips (PDF, 19KB) to overcome this reluctance.

If a board remains resistant, the station has two challenges. The long-range challenge is to assess whether it has the right board and the right board leadership. Changing the direction of a board is a long and time-consuming process. A case study in the sidebar describes how WCVE in Richmond managed this transition.

The short-term challenge is to make certain that board reluctance does not stall the major giving process. In these situations, here are some Volunteer Leadership Strategies (PDF, 17KB) stations have used to secure volunteer leadership.

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Volunteer Organization — Institutional Licensees

Stations licensed to government entities and universities have a different set of problems. Their governing boards are either elected, and therefore not selected for fundraising skills, or are so remote from the station that they are not able to devote time to it. Here are some successful Volunteer Organization Models (PDF, 19KB) now in use in public broadcasting. The sidebar contains some examples, including by-laws.

Whatever model your station uses, it is important to provide clear goals, adequate support, a measure of status and recognition appropriate to the job at hand.

Iowa Public Radio was formed in 2005 to bring together the public radio services of three state universities. Having completed the operational transition, it is now working to combine the three Friends groups into a statewide organization, and to add new Friends groups that cover all metropolitan areas of the state. CEO Mary Grace Herrington outlines the process (PPT, 96KB) and provides three important documents being used in that transition:

Also included is the letter of invitation (PDF, 236KB) to community leaders and major donors to Iowa Public Radio to participate in a series of discussion about the network's civic and cultural engagement opportunities. IPR has used this process to allay fears of a loss of connection to local stations and to explain how the network's distributed broadcast centers will maintain and strengthen these local ties.

An increasingly important consideration for an institutional licensee is the relationship with its parent, be it a university, school board, or state authority. Key issues in this relationship include:

  • Editorial independence
  • Financial challenges facing the licensee
  • Licensee willingness to permit leadership volunteer involvement and input
  • Cooperation/obstructionism by licensee funds development officers

The University Station Alliance (USA) has prepared a Peer Review Assessment Tool (PDF, 125KB) that can help a station to pinpoint these issues. While the tool is designed to be used by an outside facilitation team, using the tool internally can be a useful first step in identifying problems and seeking solutions. For more information, contact the .

The operating agreement (PDF, 146KB) between the University of Washington and Puget Sound Public Radio, which operates Seattle's KUOW, is one of the more innovative and productive institutional relationships in public broadcasting.

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Identify, Recruit, and Evaluate Leadership Volunteers

It is prestigious to be recruited as a Public Radio board member, resulting in many eager candidates to fill the role. Potential volunteers are more reticent about being recruited to assist with development functions. The best candidates can be found among your current and past board members, donors, members of advisory groups, corporate underwriters, and even newcomers brought in by other volunteers. The most important qualifications for fundraising volunteers is that they be active in the community, excited by your mission, and willing to make a meaningful gift themselves.

If they are already close to your organization, the CEO, Chief Development Officer, or major giving officer can approach them directly. If their relationship is not that close, the best person to approach them is another volunteer.

The rules for recruiting volunteers to your organization are to be clear in what you need, what is required of them, how you will support them, and what constitutes success. Rather than simply asking them to serve on a fundraising committee, answer the above four questions for them:

"We hope to expand the Leadership Circle by 10% this year and to increase revenue by 20%. We are asking you join the steering committee that is taking on that exciting challenge. (What you need.)

"As a member, you will be asked to help us identify five individuals who are capable of giving $2,500 or more each year to this station. Some of these may be on our files; others may be individuals you bring to our attention. We will also ask you to host a small reception — in your home, at your club, or at the station — where we can begin to tell them about the station, and to help us follow up with personal visits. You do not have to ask them to make a gift, if you feel uncomfortable doing so, but if you are comfortable, you will be far more effective than we are. That is the extent of your commitment. (What is required of them.)

"We will provide lists of suspects, train all members of the committee in cultivation and solicitation techniques, provide staff support for the reception, arrange follow-up appointments, and accompany you to all prospect meetings. (How you will support them.)

"We hope some of these contacts will result in gifts, but if you introduce us to five new friends who may eventually support us, you will have done your station a great service." (What constitutes success.)

Then, it is important to follow through, to give them what they need to succeed and recognize them when they have succeeded. Jeff Wright, former campaign director at Oregon Public Broadcasting, cautions against initiating volunteer activities that you cannot adequately support with staff. By doing so, you will not only fall short of your goal, but risk leaving a legacy of disaffected volunteers and donors.

Martha S. Richards, Executive Director of The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, has a checklist of opportunities she invites clients to present to every volunteer, no matter at what level. With Martha's permission, we have adapted this Volunteer Self Assessment Checklist (PDF, 30KB) for use in public broadcasting.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon and Southwest Washington has developed a Board Member Nomination and Orientation Process (PDF, 14KB) that all stations with governing boards might study and, perhaps, emulate. Tom Soma, Executive Director of the charity, reports that prospective trustees are interviewed by a member of the board development committee before they are nominated, then formally voted on and, if accepted, invited to join the board. Successful nominees sign a Trustee Agreement (PDF, 22KB) that spells out specific roles and responsibilities. At the end of each year, every trustee fills out a Trustee Self-Evaluation (PDF, 44KB). Soma says that the process has improved the rate of board giving and participation and has produced resignations of those members who cannot meet the standards the charity sets.

KNPB in Reno uses a similar tool that incorporates a point system. Board members use this system to conduct an Annual Self Evaluation (MS Excel file, 18KB) of their own performance.

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Strengthening the Station's Firewall

The firewall serves to protect stations from undue influence. CPB is charged with acting as the firewall between stations and political influence through federal funding. Each station needs its own firewall to insulate its content decisions from local and state public funding sources, from corporate underwriters, and from donors.

Major giving adds a new level of complexity to firewall protections, for donors are invited to have a much deeper relationship with the station than is possible or practical for most members to enjoy. In high level philanthropy, donor are even asked for their advice on the institution's projects and programs.

This type of donor relationship is new to public media and it is uncomfortable for many stations, but it is essential to success in major giving. The way to manage this delicate relationship is by establishing a set of ground rules and guidelines that are understood at the outset by both the donor and the organization. A new, CPB funded website rich with resources and discussion on topics of editorial integrity, funders and firewalls and ethics in fundraising is available to those taking the step of engaging donors more deeply in the station.

To help determine where the trouble spots may be in the continuum of engagement, Ross Papish discusses how to develop your firewall alarm system (PDF, 337KB).

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Board Engagement Tips (PDF, 19KB)

• Iowa Volunteer Statement of Guiding Principals (PDF, 66KB)
• KUED and the University of Utah relationship (PDF, 513KB), including the governance structure
• The Channel 10/36 Friends, Inc. (WMVS) bylaws (PDF, 7.8MB)
• KLVX Committee Structure (PDF, 38KB)
• New Hampshire Public Television Granite Society Advisory Committee job description (PDF, 17KB)
• WFYI Donor Relations Subcommittee job description (PDF, 98KB)
• KNPB's Annual Self Evaluation (MS Excel file, 18KB)
Sandy Rees, CFRE,
Author, Why 100% Board Giving Is a Must