Public broadcasting has grown up. Over nearly half a century, many stations have moved from the perennial struggle to survive from pledge drive to pledge drive to more stable positions. Today, a growing number of stations are taking their places among the ranks of the endowed educational, arts, and cultural institutions in their community.
Sharpe client KQED in San Francisco provides a window on the growing role of planned giving in securing the future of public television and radio. The station was honored this fall with the PBS Development Award for greatest achievement in planned giving for larger-market stations. Give & Take spoke with staff members of KQED and PBS to learn more about their road to success.
A matter of pacing
KQED’s director of gift planning and endowment, Earl Blauner, says that the KQED planned giving program “kicked in right on schedule in 2000,” its fifth year and the organization’s 46th year of existence. “We stayed the course and had some nervous times in the first few years, but now we understand that our results this year are extraordinary for public broadcasting.”
Two very large bequests of $3.1 million and $7 million combined with 15 smaller bequests and seven completed life income gifts yielded KQED planned gift receipts in fiscal year 2000 of almost $11 million. According to Blauner, planned giving donors also made seven outright gifts totaling almost $100,000. “The best planned gift is sometimes a current gift,” says Blauner.
In commenting on KQED’s path, PBS ’ associate director for major and planned gifts, Betsy Gerdeman, told Give & Take that she was “inspired by the dedication of Earl and his colleagues at KQED to the process of planned giving. They understood that this was not a short-term proposition and they kept up the steady pace leading to where they stand today. Any station or other organization, large or small, would be well advised to follow their example.”
KQED’s large planned gifts in fiscal year 2000, together with the previous year’s $700,000 bequest, and a $1,000,000 bequest just received at the beginning of the current fiscal year, show that public broadcasting can think big — that stations can compete successfully for larger bequests and deferred gifts. But responses to KQED’s ongoing communication and marketing efforts also reveal a broad base of gifts of more average size in the pipeline. The station now has 130 known expectancies. Assuming one in six bequests is known about in advance, this means a likelihood of at least 800 actual bequests to be received down the road. “This base of expected gifts should provide stability to the planned gift revenue stream even in years that we may not realize a very large gift,” says Blauner.
Keys to success
KQED has built a solid marketing program that keeps low-key information on gift planning in front of viewers and listeners in the form of its VISIONS newsletter, ads, articles, and on-air messages. Close cooperation between the planned giving staff and the KQED Signal Society major gifts program, and intensive personal donor cultivation are also critical. This effort is guided by an annual operating plan directed at securing gifts of all types and sizes.
Mr. Blauner, who holds a law degree, was the lone gift planning staffer for the first few years of the program. He was joined in 1998 by planned giving administrator Karen Marek, and most recently by experienced gift planning officer, Pamela De Martini and development associate Amy Hsu. As Sharpe consultants often advise, KQED waited and added additional staff only after marketing programs began to produce the volume of activity necessary to fully occupy and justify the investment in added staff.
Many public TV and radio stations are seeing the need for endowment as they mature. Last year, KQED implemented a new Board-Designated Endowment, authorizing all planned gifts not otherwise designated to go to endowment. “This new policy allows our program to properly focus on raising endowment funds for KQED’s future,” says Blauner. “In a little more than a year, endowment grew more than 450% to over $14 million, positioning it to provide meaningful support of KQED’s long-range operation. We estimate this endowment will already generate additional income equivalent to 14,000 average-sized KQED memberships.”
In August 1999, KQED completed the charitable gift annuity registration process in California, triggering a burst of accelerated marketing activity and new gifts. “In a little more than a year, we completed eleven gift annuities totaling almost $400,000, and are currently working with 45 other persons who are interested in gift annuities,” according to Blauner. This further demonstrates the viability of life income gifts as a source of public broadcasting revenue. Indeed, KQED has been named beneficiary of 18 charitable remainder trusts with more than $4 million in known assets.
Marketing for results
Ads and articles about the planned giving program appear almost every month in KQED’s Fine Tuning program guide. Television bequest spots — both KQED-produced and PBS-provided — air at least four times per week, and bequest and gift annuity spots air on KQED-FM about eight times a week. KQED has been an active partner and collaborator in the creation of the ongoing VISIONS newsletter program produced by Sharpe for over 70 PBS-affiliated stations nationwide.
The future of non-commercial public broadcasting in the digital world will depend, in large part, on the ability of stations to attract larger gifts from individuals, and KQED is just one example of a station that is setting the pace.