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Use Proven Resources - Success Stories: Cultivation & Stewardship

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Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

KVPR Combats Market Obstacles with Personal Touch

About the Program

KVPR, Valley Public Radio, is one of five public radio stations serving the Central Valley in California, one of the poorest economic regions in the nation. It is not unusual to find double-digit unemployment in the agricultural area surrounding Fresno, While there is much wealth in the Valley, it is unevenly distributed, too many of the area's most affluent citizens spend their resources in areas deemed more attractive or fashionable and outside their local communities.

Despite these obstacles, this news and classical service raises 90% of its $1.6 million budget from private support. It does so by listening to and building solid relationships with its donors, corporate sponsors, and foundation partners, providing opportunities that meet their giving needs.

For example, the station's Broadcaster's Circle (PDF 622KB) recognizes gifts of $500 and above — a level much lower than most stations. This attainable level recognizes the "down market" nature of the Central Valley relative to other communities. The station provides personal stewardship to these givers, recognizing not just giving levels, but continuity of support (longevity and consistency), to identify those who can give more. [See KVPR's Donor Cultivation Checklist (PDF 33KB).] Even with this low threshold, the 275 Circle members contribute 37% of the total membership revenue.

How the Program is Funded

When Valley Public Radio speaks of major giving, it is really talking about three initiatives — its capital campaign, special gifts, and the Legacy Society.

Capital Campaign

The first phase of the $5.1 million campaign (PDF 122KB) facilitated the station's conversion to HD. It is now in the midst of the campaign's primary focus (PDF 108KB), $4.7 million needed to purchase and remodel new offices and studios for the station. This effort is primarily centered on individual giving, as well as local family foundations.

One of the first gifts to the KVPR campaign was a $225,000, three-year commitment from a donor who has also included the station in her estate plans. The station has received 58 gifts, 27 gifts of which are at the level of $10,000 and above. Every board member has contributed, and most at very significant levels.

A major gift came from a letter initiated by the station and a cold call follow-up. During the initial visit, the donor contributed $25,000 to name a room in the new building for her late husband, with whom she had shared many hours listening to the station.

And the station has received a $30,000 campaign gift after a seven-month cultivation process that included eight visits.

Special Gifts

VPR seeks Special Gifts in the form of a "wish list" that seeks funding outside of the operating budget. The list is updated annually, printed as a series of one-page sheets, and posted on easels in the station's lobby. This process, referred to as "investment opportunities" elsewhere on this site, has brought some surprising gifts.

One donor who is executrix of an estate spotted the "wish list" during her annual visit to the station. She said nothing at the time, but later called and asked for details about a color printer the station was seeking. She made a $5,000 gift and VPR stewards that donor by sending her examples of the projects it has printed.

The station crosses off each project as it is funded, and most requests are met during the year. Donors have funded: new membership software, web design upgrades, a new telephone system, repairs to the existing building, and many other wishes. The projects appeal to donors who like to see the immediate results of their gifts.

Legacy Society

Valley Public Radio's Legacy Society was the brainchild of a station donor. It is structured differently from most endowment campaigns. This donor wanted to support both current and future giving. Under her plan, each donor makes an initial $1,000 minimum contribution — and some make more. These gifts are split between operations and endowment. Donors renew annually at varying levels. From twelve founding members, the Legacy Society has now grown to 21 members.

Role of Management

The station's president and general manager has spent her life in Fresno. A professional psychologist, she worked for the Fresno Police Department, got involved in community projects, helped start the local women's shelter, where she learned fundraising skills, and then joined Valley Public Radio as Development Director, then CEO.

-As is true of all our case studies, she empowers staff to run the station and gets out in the community. "I try to stay out of the day-to-day operation," she said, "and to spend every day making calls, writing thank you notes, and asking for appointments."

But that doesn't mean she's the only fundraiser on this small staff. She and VPR's Individual Gifts Manager and Development Director form a "tag team, so that when one of us slows down there is always another team member to inspire progress."

Other staff members are part of the effort as well. "Our production person," she says, "could sell you a console."

The management team has a monthly meeting to exchange information on prospects. The team decides who should go on each call, and the manager actively "hands down" prospects so that relationships are distributed throughout the leadership team. Tracking is maintained in a spreadsheet, with one tab per member of the management team. "I have my list," the CEO says, "and I have to report back."

Role of Leadership Volunteers

Valley Public Radio has a board of only fourteen members. "We're very selective," the CEO says. "We want people who put VPR near the top of their priority list, not those that spread themselves around and all over town."

The board chairman leads in guiding board members to tell the station's story. Board members make capital campaign calls, and fundraising is a regular topic at board meetings. "They understand they're ultimately responsible for the health of the organization," the CEO says.

"They give access to their calendars and their assistants. They are willing to make time for us. They're not here because someone appointed them, but because they want to be here. They write checks, host events, pour wine, and carry the trash out. They do whatever it takes to get the job done. They are a great board."

Application of Major Giving Principles

Valley Public Radio's CEO leads the station's fundraising charge, delegating workaday concerns to talented staff members such as the station manager so as to focus on her community. The entire management team is engaged in development. The board is small, dedicated, and active — taking responsibility for the financial fate of the station.

But most of all, Valley Public Radio listens to its donors, crafting giving levels and opportunities that meet the specific needs of a challenging, but committed service area. Together — management, board, and donors — Valley Public Radio accomplishes things that much larger, and better-positioned stations, have not even attempted.

Positioning the Station in the Community

Valley Public Radio positions itself as "your cultural connection to the world," helping those who live in the Valley "enhance the quality of their life — every day."

Through its growing network of personal relationships, it communicates what the station returns to the community: public service to other agencies, partnerships, and knowledge that the community owns it — It tells the listener "you have a say in what we're doing." And donors return that message, by reiterating the station's mission and goals. [See "What Our Members Have to Say" (PDF 93KB) for KVPR's testimonials.]

For the future, the CEO says "we need to do a better job of connecting with the younger generation. Every age group has different experiences and values. Those of us who've been in business for a long time have to be willing to step aside, give up control for new ideas, and try new things." To that end, VPR works to achieve age diversity on its board, so that younger members are recruited and groomed for future leadership.