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Expand Your Program - Project and Transformational Gifts

Annual giving is the cornerstone of public television and radio development programs. To obtain gifts of significance, however, we must move beyond gifts for operating income and invite donors to invest in specific projects that fulfill their broader philanthropic goals. Local productions, community outreach activities, partnerships with other organizations, and gifts to capital campaigns represent investment opportunities for individual donors, as well as for foundation and business funding sources.

Even more important are "transformational" gifts — gifts that change the organizations, and often change the donor as well. These include lead gifts to capital and endowment campaigns and planned gifts that may be received at any time. Project and transformational gifts allow donors to share in the station's mission, vision, and values, working through you to fulfill their goals.

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

Internal Coordination and Planning

Stations that are successful in what consultant Jane Williams calls a "big gift strategy" (See Major Giving Bibliography, PDF, 28KB) continually identify projects that they want to undertake. Management and board meetings center not just on what the station is doing at the moment, but what it wants to do in the future.

Management sets the example for this kind of thinking by encouraging an ongoing dialogue about what the station is now doing, intends to do, or might do if resources can be identified. These plans and dreams involve not just broadcast productions, but all methods of station contact with the community (engagement efforts such as outreach, community partnerships, media sponsorships) and all tools (broadcast, publications, web services and other new media — even the station's physical presence in the community.)

Organizations that do this effectively begin with a strategic plan that involves members of the management team, staff, board and advisory committee members, and even other stakeholders in the community. While the plan is updated annually, identification of investment opportunities goes on continually.

By identifying investment opportunities, these organizations are ready to match donor interests with projects as opportunities arise. KAET develops a mini-strategy for each initiative and tracks progress using their Project Tracking Sheet (MS Excel file, 28KB).

In developing such projects, it is important that every element of the station's service be considered. Nebraska Educational Television asks 17 Service Questions (PDF, 16KB) about a project before approving it. Maine Public Broadcasting has a Business Plan Form (PDF, 23KB) that not only seeks basic information about a project, but ensures that those planning it have considered all costs.

Educating Internal Staff
In developing investment opportunities, the development officer must collaborate with those in the station who are developing projects. Because this kind of fundraising is new to many in the station, the development officer must educate other departments about certain aspects of major giving. Here are but a few of the things others need to know:

  • Developing funding for a project takes time. It has been estimated that turning a prospect into a significant donor can take three years. Even with a cultivated constituency, it can take many months to match a project and a donor. Planning for programs, projects, and funding special needs must take these realities into account by providing adequate timelines. Development officers should be involved at the earliest possible point in the planning process.
  • Donors expect not just programs, but results. Donors are not interested in funding a project for you, but in addressing community problems through you. It is up to you to demonstrate the return on their investment. Projects must have clear, measurable outcomes, and the results must be shared with the donor as part of the stewardship process. The National Center for Media Engagement has a comprehensive station planning tool, PlanIT! (requires registration) that helps stations design measurement standards from the outset.
  • Donors often have constructive ideas. Donors are matched with investment opportunities through their interests, which are identified through cultivation. It follows that some donors will have ideas to contribute. How does the station respond when a donor says, "You really should talk with Jan Smith about this project. She's worked in this area and knows a lot about it." This is a sensitive area, for it can easily cross the line from providing ideas to exercising editorial control, something which public broadcasting does not and must not allow. The station must have a clear editorial integrity policy, such as KUAT's Editorial Policy (found on their website) to guide it in balancing donor relationships and project content. The station must be willing to walk away from inappropriate donor demands, as KPBS has done in seeking funds for its News Initiatives. WPBT has two comprehensive written ethics policies that address this issue. One covers producers through a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct for Production Staff (PDF, 250KB). The other applies to non-production staff through an overall Ethics Policy Statement (PDF, 275KB). Also, check out Funding and Firewalls (PDF, 438KB) from CPB's Editorial Integrity Project.

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Local Productions and Community Engagement (Outreach)

The most obvious examples of investment opportunities are to be found in local productions and community outreach projects.

  • WYES, New Orleans found enthusiastic major donor support for productions highlighting the city's cultural heritage and history.
  • Idaho Public Television raised nearly $100,000 for a documentary on a key trial in the state's judicial history, with a retired judge leading the fundraising effort.
  • KQED's arts and culture initiative, SPARK, has attracted numerous restricted gifts, and developed an opportunity for the station to produce programs as "tools" to support its outreach efforts. National Center for Media Engagement's Cristina Hanson provides an Initiative Overview (PDF, 38KB).

Community engagement (outreach) is public television's mechanism that extends the value of our broadcasts by bringing citizens together around issues and concerns raised through our programming. It provides public television programs with impact, and thus is an ideal mechanism for providing the results that individuals, foundations, and corporations expect from their investments. Stations like KUED in Salt Lake City, Nebraska Educational Television, and KLRU in Austin make their community engagement (outreach) activities a centerpiece of their major giving program.

There are a number of station planning resources for community engagement (outreach) available on the website of the National Center for Media Engagement.

  • NCME can help you think through your project by identifying where it lies on the outreach continuum and helping you think about what related activities you might include.
  • Find out if your projects are appropriate for community partnerships and helps stations define the scope of outside involvement by developing a working agreement to guide the relationship.
  • Use a powerful online survey tool (requires registration) to help you conduct online surveys, analyze the results, and assess your project's impact.

Marketing to Major Donors
Marketing productions and outreach is a matter of linking station dreams to donor interests that are discovered through cultivation efforts. When Oregon Public Broadcasting wanted to launch a statewide childhood immunization campaign, its major gift officer presented the idea to a major donor who he knew had an interest in children's health because he had identified other causes to which she contributed. She brought the project to a foundation with which she had a relationship. Although that foundation had never before supported OPB, it provided a major grant that funded most of the project's costs. The development officer knew that what OPB wanted to do was what his donor wanted to see happen, and he brought the two together.

Community engagement (outreach) projects like this work because they have impact. They take advantage of public broadcasting's reach to create broad awareness. They make a measurable difference to the community. The PlanIT! tool found on the National Center for Media Engagement website leads a station through a process to build impact from the start.

Community engagement (outreach) projects also provide the opportunity for non-editorial involvement by donors that can enhance the opportunity for donor recognition and provide the most effective kind of donor stewardship. Examples include inviting a donor to:

  • Host a community engagement (outreach) event in his or her home or business.
  • Attend a broadcast component and be publicly recognized prior to its start. WNET/Thirteen included a Major Donor as part of its screenings on diversity.
  • Present previews of the project to friends and associates. Oregon Public Broadcasting recognized major donor contributors for a new history series, The Oregon Experience, at a reception hosted by its project partner, the Oregon Historical Society. It also previewed its program, The Three Rabbis, to the programs donors and other interested citizens at its own studios.

While there are many examples of stations that have funded all or most of a project through a single gift, the best marketing efforts find ways to leverage gifts. These include:

  • Devising multiple funding strategies that involve businesses, individuals and foundations
  • Having donors provide leads to funding from larger sources, such as foundations, as OPB did
  • Asking one committed donor to help convince others to participate with them, as Idaho Public Television has done through its judicial history project.

Packaging Investment Opportunities
Stations that are actively engaged in local productions and community engagement (outreach) have learned to sell their station's mission, rather than its individual projects. KUED in Salt Lake City has identified three specific areas for community engagement (outreach) emphasis and has developed an umbrella funding program for each. The station's grant writer prepares an annual description for each area that can be modified by anyone in the department presenting one of these projects to an individual, foundation, or corporation.

These three areas, with links to the station's FY06 presentations, are:

KLRU in Austin has a similar approach to umbrella packaging, one that goes to the very heart of what it stands for. It has identified the different segments of its mission as "KLRU brands," identified all the ways in which it reaches the public through these brands, and placed every one of its activities — from its popular Austin City Limits series to its childhood obesity project — in a board-approved KLRU Brands Grid (PDF, 90KB), complete with investment levels for each brand.

KPBS has placed all its news initiatives in a series of Reporting Funds (PDF, 24KB) in which it invites individuals, foundations, and businesses to invest.

These umbrella titles include both programs and outreach projects and offer a variety of donors the opportunity to invest in them. This funding diversification allows more donors to participate and removes the perception of editorial control by any one funder.

This kind of packaging allows a station the opportunity to consider involvement and recognition opportunities, and even benefits that are related to the interests donors reflect through their giving. And it allows a station to document results in a way that matters to the donor.

Closing the Loop
It is a truism in major gift fundraising that gift stewardship is the first step in cultivating the next gift. When carefully planned, station projects provide a built-in mechanism for gift stewardship — sharing the results of what the project accomplished. Documenting audience, attendance at events, distribution of printed materials, kits, etc., and changes in awareness and attitude determined through surveys all serve to demonstrate a project's impact and to convey to the donor "what you accomplished through your gift."

  • Nebraska Educational Television annually documents its Outreach Impact (PDF, 448KB) to its boards and constituents.
  • The Two Towns of Jasper Study (on the NCME website) documents the results of a community engagement project hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.
  • The NCME website also provides a matrix-based Checklist, A Framework for an Outcome-Focused Community Project, developed by the United Way of America.
  • Finally, the NCME's PlanIT! tool found on their website helps you take these examples and design impact into your project.

This impact can be reinforced by sharing results with external media in a context that shows that your channel is the one that changes the viewer. You can use your own media — radio and television air, your website, your program guide, annual report, and letters to donors — to document your accomplishments. This is what the commercial media call "proof of performance." Don't forget to update your case materials to reflect what you have achieved, so that you can share your results with other prospects and make it a part of your station's permanent history.

Your projects and activities should have a cumulative effect. Use each initiative to communicate a broader image of what your station does — that it is far more than just broadcasting — to an ever-widening audience. We must not forget that everyone touched by our station becomes a new friend.

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Other Giving Opportunities

Another important investment opportunity lies in identifying existing programs and projects that lie within the station's operating budget and packaging them in ways in which a donor may choose to invest. The KPBS News Initiative, KUED's diversity, education, and health initiatives, and WYEP's multi-year funding for a music director are examples of this kind of giving opportunity.

A station might choose to package just one or two items, however. If it supports a reading service on a supplementary audio channel, it might package this as a special funding opportunity for individuals, foundations, or a combination of funding sources. While funds donated to such a project in the operating budget are restricted, it frees up funds the station can use to develop new initiatives, fund overdue capital projects, or reserve for future needs.

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Capital Campaigns

A capital campaign is a special kind of major giving initiative of limited duration and with a specific dollar goal designed to achieve a specific purpose. It requires its own budget, such as this Endowment Campaign Budget (PDF, 50KB), provided by The Galler Group. It is beyond the scope of this toolkit to describe how to organize and conduct a capital campaign, but it is important to show how major giving contributes to it, how major giving can be maintained during a campaign, and how a capital campaign can benefit the major giving program after its completion.

Before the Campaign
A capital campaign requires that prospects be educated about the station, be involved in its mission, and have an understanding of the project — in a word, cultivated. Because a major giving program is in a continual process of cultivation, it performs much of the preparatory work in advance of a capital campaign. Major donors who are part of an ongoing cultivation and stewardship program do not need to be told about the campaign, they know it is coming and are well aware of the need. One of the challenges many public television stations faced when they began campaigns for digital conversion was that they did not know their constituency. Those stations with established major giving programs did not face this problem.

During the Campaign
It is usually difficult to increase annual major gifts during a capital campaign, but with careful strategy, the program can be maintained. Major donors solicited for capital gifts should be informed of the need to maintain operating funding levels. The capital gift should be positioned as a special, one-time gift, over and above the annual gift. Some campaigns request a comprehensive gift, a single gift that encompasses both a campaign gift and an annual gift covering a period of 3-5 years. Opinions vary as to the more effective approach, but in either case, the emphasis should be on maintaining the annual support during the campaign gift pledge period.

Using a Giving Pyramid to Develop Campaign Strategy
One of the most important tools for planning any funds drive, whether a capital or endowment campaign or a simpler project to fund a production or outreach effort, is a gift chart or giving pyramid. The gift chart recognizes that not all gifts are equal — that a few top gifts can produce 50% or more of the revenue.

Gift charts are valuable for planning purposes, in that they focus the attention of the development staff on those prospects who can make the greatest contribution. They are valuable in tracking campaign progress and for motivating those with the greatest potential to provide truly meaningful gifts.

There are two ways to present this concept. One is a simple Gift Chart (MS Excel file, 27KB) that lists the strategy and tracks gifts as they arrived. The second is a more visual Gift Pyramid, (MS Word file, 30KB), which is more dramatic but more difficult to maintain. Both accomplish the same goal.

After the Campaign
A major giving program benefits from a capital campaign in two ways:

  • A capital campaign brings in new donors, many of whom can be brought into the annual program through careful gift stewardship. Many of public television's major giving clubs were formed as capital campaign pledges were fulfilled.
  • Because major donors become accustomed to a higher commitment level during the capital campaign, many may be willing to raise their annual giving level once the campaign pledge has been fulfilled.

Thus, it is not unusual to see an increase in annual major gifts after a capital campaign. The secret to taking advantage of this opportunity is — as with all major giving activity — effective stewardship.

Here is a case study of how, through careful planning, a capital campaign benefited annual giving:

Prior to its capital campaign to construct Benaroya Hall, the highest annual gift The Seattle Symphony received was $10,000. Today, according to Director of Development Patricia Isacson Sabee, $10,000 is the threshold amount for their major giving program, and the symphony receives several annual gifts of $50,000.

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Lead Gifts

During a capital or endowment campaign, a handful of gifts may constitute 50% of the campaign goal. While many of these lead gifts come from philanthropic foundations, quite often the first and largest gift received by the campaign comes from an individual or family.

At WXPN, a $1 million gift from an individual immediately made its capital campaign "real" to other prospects. WKSU received a $250,000 lead gift from an individual who has a family foundation. Oregon Public Broadcasting's endowment campaign has received a $1.5 million challenge from a family of philanthropists.

Everything that applies to special gifts applies even more to transformational gifts. The cultivation process often takes many years, beginning long before any specific campaign was underway. The station's CEO played a pivotal role in the gift and may have personally solicited it. The gift is not the close of a process, but part of an ongoing relationship.

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Planned Gifts

Planned gifts represent a special type of major gift that should be part of every station's overall development program. Planned gifts are generally substantial in size, sometimes immediate but most often deferred, usually from donors' assets rather than their income, and often require the assistance of legal or other professional estate planning counsel.

There are many types of planned gifts, but the most common are:

  • Simple bequests from donors' wills or living trusts
  • Charitable gift annuities
  • Charitable trusts
  • Gifts of life insurance, real estate and retirement funds
  • Equities
  • Pooled income funds

By far, the most common is the straightforward bequest. For many organizations seeking planned gifts, more than 80% of their planned gift income consists of cash or other property made in donors' wills or trusts. For a station getting underway with a planned giving program, the best initial approach is to seek bequests, which are easy to encourage and require no highly specialized knowledge.

It is not necessary for a station to have a specific planned giving officer to begin a program, although it is generally easier to make progress if you do. Apart from establishing policies, a station's main task is to create awareness among those who might include it in their will — by identifying and mailing to prospects on the file and using its own air to publicize the program.

Any adult can write a will at any time. But most people make charitable bequests late in life — once they are sure their assets will support them through their own lives and that they will be in a position to leave gifts to their children. Therefore, it is not unusual for an organization to begin to receive planned gifts within three years of starting its program and there are many examples of gifts received even earlier — eighteen months or less.

Another helpful prerequisite is to recruit a group of professionals to serve as an advisory committee that can bring specialized expertise to the station. This committee may include qualified board members such as the chair of the finance committee, but should involve non-board members to expand the station's circle of influential friends. Examples of those to involve include attorneys, insurance professionals, certified financial planners, trust officers, stockbrokers, and real estate agents.

In the end, planned giving is not about bequests, trusts, or other instruments. It is about developing relationships with prospects. As in all major gift activities, you come to know prospects by spending time with them and learning about their interests. Your station is one of those interests, so you always have something in common. Find out what it is you broadcast that most appeals to them, and give them more information about those aspects of your service. Find ways to send them tokens of appreciation from the programs they enjoy. As you build relationships with them, they will tell you a great deal more — about their lives, their families, and their dreams. And often, they will give you enough information to tell you how to present your gift request.

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Project Tracking Sheet (MS Excel file, 28KB)
Adapted from KAET
17 Service Questions (PDF, 16KB)
Business Plan Form (PDF, 23KB)
Comprehensive Station Planning Tool: PlanIT! (requires registration) Developed by The National Center for Media Engagement
Endowment Campaign Budget (PDF, 50KB)
Gift Chart (MS Excel file, 27KB)
Gift Pyramid, (MS Word file, 30KB)

Success Stories - Ideas That Worked
Alabama Public Television's commitment to the education of children has increased funding, identified leadership, and built a strong advocacy mechanism.
• The Community Idea Stations emphasize impact and outcomes in their educational outreach, earning accolades and increasing major gifts.
KETC has built on its historic role as an education provider to become a catalyst for change in Greater St. Louis, leveraging private support and public endorsements of its role as the community's public media resource.
KNPB delivers unified education and outreach services through network of partners, who actively advocate for the station.
KUED's education agency partnerships produce new sources of funding and strong public advocacy.
KVPR uses a personal touch with donors and a menu of investment opportunities for a funding harvest in a challenging agricultural market.
Smoky Hills PTV creates network of community foundation support by showing that it cares about education in its rural communities.
WJCT invites local funders to adopt-a-school, producing revenue for its education programs and involvement for the station.
WKSU's model for collaboration with its university license holder swells volunteer leadership and campaign funding.
WNED's ThinkBright network becomes the case for successful $16.9 capital campaign and attracts operating funds.
New Hampshire Public Radio turns a statewide "listening" effort into a successful $6 million campaign for a new facility.
WYEP builds on a successful capital campaign to leverage outreach funding.