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Use Proven Resources - Case Study Library

All of the cases studies used in the development of this site can be found here.

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The Major Gift Opportunity

Many stations recognize that major giving is possible within public broadcasting and have begun to receive gifts of real significance. At KCET, an "investor donor" provided a $1,000,000 gift to fund the start-up costs of its capital campaign. At Oregon Public Broadcasting, another such donor provided a $250,000 gift to fund the station's entrepreneurial efforts. Both gifts were volunteered, rather than resulting from a specific ask, because the donors were close to the institution, knew and respected it, and became excited by the potential of an idea.


Public broadcasting stations in all markets are capable of receiving significant major gifts: KNPB in Reno receives an annual $25,000 gift and WTVP in Peoria has three $10,000 annual donors.

Create Your Case

When MontanaPBS asked its volunteers to help develop its case for support, it proved to be a fortuitous move, for the station's first volunteer, Nancy Flikkema, recalled aspects of the network's history that had no one else knew. By involving volunteers, MontanaPBS was able to recapture its "lost" history and give it a public face, highlighting the contribution of those who conducted the first fundraising effort to establish public television in Montana.

Staff and Volunteer Organization

WCVE, Richmond was about to launch a capital campaign, but was told by its campaign consultant and a campaign advisory committee that its board wasn't ready to undertake a campaign. The board voted to launch the campaign and then refused to support it. Station management realized that its current board was stagnant and uninvolved and that it would be able to reach the campaign goals. It filled three open board positions with movers and shakers. One became a catalyst for change and formed a task force, composed of outside volunteer leaders and leaders of other non-profits, which recommended that the entire board be changed. They first met privately with the board chair and with each member to outline their rationale, then presented their recommendation publicly. The board agreed to the recommendation, resigning effective in two months time to serve the best long-range interests of the station. Many remain involved. On the date of their resignation, a new board was in place, ready to meet the new challenges the station faces. WCVE has graciously supplied several documents that outline key steps in their board restructuring process (PDF, 137KB).


KPBS, a university-owned station, conducts its fundraising activities completely separate from the university. There was once some friction between the two, but the current relationship is solid. The major giving director has personally cultivated this relationship, in response to a strategic planning initiative a few years ago. He sits on several university fundraising committees and touches base with the university development office in an informal but regular way in regards to specific donors. The university takes a hands-off approach on some donors — most notably the Joan Kroc bequest — and the station honors existing university relationships with others.


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.


At WGBH, volunteers provide the prospect research beyond the membership file. Many have experience on other boards and "know the ropes." They invite peers to station events and broaden the circle of friends.

University of Wisconsin (Madison) Foundation

How important are benefits to major donors? Don Gray, Vice President for Administration of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) Foundation says, "We don't really spend a lot of time giving benefits. Members of our annual giving society even pay to attend our annual dinner. We express our gratitude by connecting the donors who make the gift to those who are benefiting from it. We have no trinkets," he jokes. "I have to go looking for a coffee mug around here."

Fairfax County Public Library Foundation

Roberta Longworth, Executive Director of Fairfax County Public Library Foundation, has a similar philosophy. "We have no structured benefits yet. We do special receptions as opportunities arise, but all we promise is a better library."


At KQED, a capital campaign necessitated the kind of high level prospect research that has benefited the major giving program. For 5 years, there has been an in-house research function running wealth screens, real estate screens, and other methods of identification. Many prospects have emerged from the member database. The effort has been so successful that they will maintain a prospect research unit after the campaign is completed. When appropriate, Leadership Circle donors are asked (via giving ladder in mail) for Signal Society ($1000) gifts. Read more about KQED's Research (PDF, 84KB).

Cultivation Strategies

KLRU, Austin, excels at donor cultivation events. Building on their national program, Austin City Limits, and their Distinguished Speakers Series held at the LBJ Library, KLRU meets and mingles with major donors and prospects through receptions, screenings, wine events, a gala — even an annual family Hallowe'en party hosted by the chair of the KLRU Board. Austin is a social town, and KLRU constantly thinks of ways to tap into the whirl.


KQED holds a variety of events, ranging from 10 guests to hundreds. Events focus on a public broadcasting personality, such as Jacques Pepin or producer David Fanning. The station holds large events at the station and intimate dinners in board members' homes — which are real draws if the home is a "must-see." They have a children's event with costume characters and events for adults prior to a performance, such as a restaurant dinner prior to a live taping of the NPR news quiz, "Wait wait... Don't Tell Me!" They also invite guests into master control to watch a taping of the weekly public affairs program.


KPBS invites donors who have contributed $240 or more to major donor events. The two major gift officers move these members into the Producer's Club through face to face meetings at a variety of station events. They make extensive use of events, and volunteers invite attendees to events that serve as cultivation opportunities. KPBS also uses its own air, asking for $1,000 gifts and more in almost every break. As a joint licensee, KPBS receives 50-60 new Producer's Club members every radio drive.

Fairfax County Public Library Foundation

The Fairfax County Public Library Foundation has a technique that may benefit smaller stations. Because it has limited staff capacity, it cannot stage many events. Instead, the Foundation encourages its board members, when they buy tables for outside events such as lectures by authors, to invite library prospects as guests and provide personal cultivation during the event.

The Foundation's Executive Director, Roberta Longworth, has a simple technique for keeping the most important 10-15 prospects in her cultivation scheme: She keeps their files on a corner of their desk and makes certain that she has some contact with at least one donor every week. When she receives a noteworthy gift, she sends a message to all board members asking that, if they encounter the donor, they personally acknowledge the gift.

Twin Cities Public Television

Twin Cities Public Television has a program club that operates much like a book club. Members meet monthly to discuss a program they've individually viewed over the past month and vote on what upcoming program they will watch. When the program selected has been produced by TPT, the producer often joins the group. Over the past three years, 86% of the regular attendees have increased their annual giving, 68% by 50% or more, and 36% have joined the Studio Club, TPT's major donor organization, as a result of this cultivation activity. In addition, 23% have included TPT in their wills and 9% have made Charitable Gift annuities. Read more about the Twin Cities Public Television Program Club at their website.

Solicitation Techniques

A successful gift request at WGBY shows the importance of listening carefully and negotiating a gift that works for the donor. The prospect was asked to provide a gift that would bring the campaign to a successful conclusion. Because part of the campaign involved retirement of a bond issue, the prospect asked if this would retire the debt. The solicitation team answered honestly that it would not — that the station had a plan to retire the remainder of the bonds over the next few years. "I want this station to be debt free," the prospect said, "so that you can devote your operating budget to programs and services." After discussion, the prospect made a larger gift than had been requested, part as an outright gift, and part as a challenge grant to retire the remaining debt on the bonds. This extended the campaign, but when the donor's challenge had been met, WGBY emerged debt free, and the donor accomplished his goals.

National Ability Center

Meeche White, Executive Director of the National Ability Center, tells of a prospect with significant potential who came to her attention when he purchased a video camera for one of her race teams. "I saw an opportunity and contacted his wife. It turned out that they had an autistic child. I sent them information about our programs and got them to come to one of our events. At the dinner, he asked about our capital campaign and asked if there were any naming opportunities. I told him we were going to name a new dormitory after a benefactor who would contribute $1,000,000. 'What about the entire facility?' he asked. I responded that we were willing to name the facility after a donor who contributed $2,000,000." The donor asked a few questions about gift terms. As a private dinner went up for auction, he bid $2,000,000. He asked to say a word to the group, went to the microphone and made an impassioned speech about how difficult it was to find a facility like National Ability Center. "Don't be afraid of cold calls," she says. "That gift began with a cold call to the donor's wife."

Wisconsin Public Television

At Wisconsin Public Television, the executive director writes an annual letter to major donors. He details the service his network has provided to the state and explains the role that major gifts play in making that service a reality. The letter is not part of the donor's stated benefits. It is something extra that comes from the heart, a personal communication from the executive director to his friends.

Oregon Public Broadcasting

At Oregon Public Broadcasting, an out-of-state foundation provided a grant for a statewide immunization project through a relationship with a major donor. The donor sat on the board of the foundation, which had never before made a gift to an Oregon institution. She learned of the immunization project during a cultivation event and offered to help facilitate the grant. While this was a foundation grant, it was identified through stewardship of a major annual donor to the network.

Renewal And Upgrading

At KNPB, the Director of Major Donor Programs sends only two letters before calling the donor. The first letter, which she signs, is mailed in Month 10 of the donor's giving cycle. The second letter, signed by the General Manager, is sent a month later. At the beginning of the month of their renewal date, she calls every donor — to try to get the renewal, if the donor has not yet done so, and to personally thank those donors who have. She invites all in for a station tour or lunch or other personal contact opportunity. After the renewal gift is received, she calls to thank each donor personally and sends a hand written note from the General Manager. Every renewing major donor also receives a formal, typed thank you from her and one from the Silver Circle Chair.

The Seattle Symphony

Why would a brief note from The Seattle Symphony renew so many major donors? Because it is merely one step in a highly personalized stewardship process. Once a donor sends a gift, he or she is assigned to a board member or leadership volunteer. The volunteer first calls and thanks the donor for the gift, makes a personal call prior to an event, and greets the donor during an event. The volunteer handles any questions or problems the donor has. If this note and a follow-up letter do not result in a renewal, the volunteer calls. Those who do not rejoin are assigned to an in-house major gift officer. Read the Seattle Symphony Note (PDF, 9KB).

Special Projects And Campaigns

KPBS received a $1,000,000 ten-year commitment to support the "Arts and Cultural Fund." This fund supports programming that KPBS already provides, but the donor is associating her name with this portion of the station's mission for $100,000 per year for ten years. Her on-air recognition announcement around arts and cultural programming — similar to a corporate underwriting announcement — serves as a testimonial to her support of KPBS and thereby encourages other gifts.

Oregon Public Broadcasting

When one donor asked why his local transmitter didn't telecast in stereo, Oregon Public Broadcasting noted the fact. It developed a proposal to fund conversion of the transmitter to stereo audio, which the donor funded with one gift.

Evaluation And Improvement
Oregon Public Broadcasting

Oregon Public Broadcasting has continually expanded its major giving program since its inception in 1990. With a large major donor organization and active prospects under management, with a new programming fund and endowment campaign in the wings, the statewide network now has three major giving officers, each devoted to segments of the giving continuum, and two fulltime planned giving officers.

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