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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Defend the Underdogs of Public Media

Jim and I and our friends at WSSB in Orangeburg, SC
Since the November 2016 election, people in public and community media have been speculating about the future of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). This agency provides funding for public and community stations throughout the country through its Community Service Grant program and other special funding initiatives for infrastructure and collaborative projects.

Now, the Trump administration has announced its first pass budget that, to little surprise, zeroes out funding for the CPB, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I could go on about the politics of the elimination of funding. But not now. What I want to address is the very real impact of this potential loss on small, rural and minority stations.

First, an apology to my larger market station colleagues. I respect you and what you are doing to provide educational service to your communities. You invest local resources in Ready to Learn programs. You have some of the largest, and most under-resourced, teams of journalists in the country. You engage community leaders in civil discussion about local issues as wide ranging as racial profiling and restaurant reviews.

You will be fine.

CPB funding, for many large or medium size market stations, has become an increasingly small portion of their budgets. These stations may have survived elimination of other funding sources, such as state funding. Some have even explored what it might mean to withdraw from the Community Service Grant program. And I can confidently say that larger market stations have rallied their audiences to provide higher levels of voluntary support.

Some of my colleagues who have worked with only major market stations agree that eliminating funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a bad idea, but they are being practical. We can consolidate. We can raise the difference.

That's why I'm not really worried about you. I'm worried about the stations who can't do that.

The small but mighty KAWC team, 2016
(Steven Hennig is missing because he was taking the picture)
We work and have worked with small, rural and minority stations. We work with KAWC Colorado River Public Media, based in Yuma, Arizona, which provides two noncommercial programming streams to rural Arizona, including local coverage of real life on the border from a four person news team, and the only news service to some areas where cell phones still don't work.

We work with KGHR Navajo Public Radio, based at Greyhills Academy High School in Tuba City, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, which serves as a community information board, sharing news about health fairs, home maintenance, public safety and other basic services that might otherwise go unnoticed.

We have worked in the past with KUYI Hopi Radio, licensed to The Hopi Foundation, one of the pioneers in Native American public media, which provides programming in the Hopi language and contributes to the protection and growth of the Hopi culture.

For all three of these stations, their CPB grant is a significant portion of their budget. It pays for programming that connects these remote communities to the rest of the world. It helps cover staff that keep the station running and provide a local voice. These stations are running with the bare minimum of staff to keep them going; the grant does not cover “fluff.”

In addition, these stations are not in communities with high resources. The idea of having the local audience bear the full cost is not realistic for these smaller stations. For instance, in a project funded by the CPB through Greater Public, we worked with four African-American licensed stations to try to build their local capacity for fundraising. Could we give these stations the tools to raise more money?

The answer, as you might expect, was “yes and no.” The stations did, to varying degrees, increase the amount of money raised, but not to the level of doubling or tripling their revenue. The communities that they served simply did not have the financial capacity to increase their giving dramatically. If faced with the loss of their CPB grant, they might be able to cut some expenses and generate a little more revenue, but not enough to continue.

So that begs the question...why do we need these small stations anyway? Wouldn't it be more efficient to just merge them into another larger station? Doesn't the internet provide the services these stations do? Couldn't we just have a national feed of NPR and PBS and call it done?

What would we lose if these small, rural and minority stations went away?

We lose the voices of these communities in national discussion. It doesn't work to ask people from these communities to go someplace else to share their opinions: that automatically makes them an outsider and immediately changes the nature of the conversation. We need to speak with people where they live to get their real perspectives.

We lose the connection within rural and small communities. Stations help residents in their communities stay connected. Particularly in radio, the station is often the only way to communicate with the whole community, not just about local events, but also about emergency situations. And the suggestion that everyone can get what they need through the internet? Well, internet access is not as universal as many in larger communities think, and what happens during a crisis when local internet might be down? In recent floods and hurricanes in the southeast, often the public radio or television station was the only source for updates.

We lose sight of issues that face people who live outside of metro areas. Let's face it: problems are different in major cities than they are in small towns and rural areas. For example, we are still dealing with getting cell phone service to some of these communities, when people in big cities complain about not having free WiFi. Stations have the ability to have issues moved to a larger stage that are simply foreign to metro audiences.

We lose the stories and rich histories of diverse cultures. You can't simply send a correspondent into a community for a day or two and expect them to understand the culture and way of life. There are so many stories that can only be crafted over time, and by someone who is a part of life there.

And we begin to ignore small, rural and minority communities and the issues that are important to them. By saying, “really, only large markets can have this service,” you tell people that they are not worth having a voice.

A colleague suggested that threats to federal support to public broadcasting might be a good thing for us. Like with the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and others, perhaps this is an opportunity for the public to rally and provide unprecedented levels of support. I worry that stations that really need the funding will not have the ability to access it.

Annie Lin (my mom), Mr. Rogers and me, circa 1971.
 I've been a public media supporter for a long time.
There will be much more discussion about this issue in the coming days, and, like in previous battles, I expect that many people will voice their support for public media. If you would like to do so, please visit Protect My Public Media to add your story. Also, contact your Representative and Senators regarding your position.


And find your local station and support them. They need all the help they can get.



We have worked with so many stations that deserve your support, but a special shout out to KAWC Colorado River Public Media, KGHR Navajo Public Radio, KUYI Hopi Radio, KXCI Tucson, Arizona Public Media, Arizona PBS, WSSB Orangeburg, WSNC Winston-Salem, WUVS Muskegon, KBBG Waterloo, Mountain Lake PBS, WGVU Grand Rapids, KCOS El Paso, Houston Public Media, KPFA Berkeley, WBAI New York, KNPB Reno, KUAC Fairbanks, and Wisconsin Public Television.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Manifesto 3.0: Being True to Your Values

There is an oft quoted story about the child and the starfish. You probably know the one. The abridged version goes like this:

A man came across a child walking on the beach, upon which thousands of starfish had washed. The child was picking up the starfish that were still living, and throwing them back in the water, because if they stayed on the beach, the starfish would surely die. The man observed this for some time, and eventually approached.

"What are you doing?"

"I am saving the starfish," he replied.

“Little boy, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he looked up at the man and replied, “Well, it mattered to that one."

What I have only recently learned is that this story is adapted from a longer story called "The Star Thrower," by Loren Eiseley. In the longer essay, there is an important resolution:

On a point of land, I found the star thrower...I spoke once, briefly. "I understand," I said. "Call me another thrower." Only then I allowed myself to think, he is not alone any longer. After us, there will be others....For a moment, we cast on an infinite beach together."

So why is this story important to us?

Jim and I frequently reflect on those rare people in our lives who are truly, deeply genuine. These are people who, regardless of what is happening to them, or to people they care about, or to situations around them, are true to their values, loyal to people who are important to them, and honest in what they say. These are not people who waver: they are our rocks, our foundation. Our star throwers.

The star throwers of our lives tend to be underappreciated. They may be quieter than others, more introspective or introverted, yet they are always there, ready with a helping hand, a kind gesture, or an insightful observation.

But it is one thing to tell people that you admire their traits. It's quite another thing to emulate them.

Over the last several months, Jim and I have felt a need to express the values of GoalBusters more overtly. While we've never been shrinking violets about this (see the GoalBusters Manifesto), we also know that we need to clearly define where we stand.

When we participated in the Women's March on Washington, we knew we were taking a step.

Even though we work with many different organizations, with people of many perspectives, political beliefs and spiritual callings, they all have one thing in common--they are part of communities who struggle to have a voice. Whether it's a small public radio station covering border issues far from major cities, or a health care institution trying to provide comprehensive service in a rural community, or an education organization providing advancement opportunity to those who haven't had it before, these are charities that are, in many respects, trying to do the impossible.

So, I dedicate the GoalBusters Manifesto 3.0 to our friends who are trying to do the impossible. To our Star Throwers.


The Manifesto 3.0
updated March 7, 2017 (aka the tenth anniversary of Liberation Day)

At GoalBusters, philanthropy, and fundraising, is not about money. Yes, money is involved, and we help our clients raise money and do more with the resources they have. But fundamentally, the obligation of the charitable sector is to make the world a better place, and to lift up the people and beings living in it.

Fundraising is not about "shoveling coal into a machine." Your purpose has to matter to the communities you serve. You have to care about more than yourself. It comes down to the root of the word philanthropy: it means love of humankind.

Therefore, we work with causes that we personally believe in. When we work with a client, we throw our hearts and souls into the organization. Ultimately, we can't fake that. Causes that we personally support include public and community media, education, healthcare for the underserved, diverse communities, arts and cultural programs, progressive causes, social justice, social services, and our professional associations.

We also work with teams that are passionate--about the cause, about learning, about improving, about making the world a better place--because if you're not committed to your cause, why should anyone else be?

Finally, we work with people who are committed to the highest standards of ethics and professional practice. And don't just give that lip service—actually live it.


Call me another thrower.

This post is dedicated to Vernon Kahe.

Thanks also to our team, Annagreta Jacobson, Elta Foster, J.C. Patrick, Justin Anderson, Matthew Ferris and Dennis Gilliam for supporting and uplifting us every day, and to Bill and Matthew Ferris for allowing me to throw my whole self into GoalBusters. And of course, thanks to Jim Anderson for, well, everything. On March 7, 2007 (aka Liberation Day), Jim and I took a leap of faith that GoalBusters (founded as Ferris Consulting in March 2001) could be a real full-time gig, and now, ten years later, it is much more than that--it is our life's work. We have the privilege of meeting incredible fundraising professionals around the world and the honor of serving organizations that live the Manifesto.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

When Things Don't Go As Planned

Twenty years ago this week, I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona to start my new job as Director of Development for Lowell Observatory. I was 26 years old, in my first senior management level position, and I had no clue how I was going to accomplish what the institution expected of me.

Nothing has gone as planned since then.

I thought that the job at Lowell would get me enough experience to move back to Wisconsin, so that I could move up the ranks at Wisconsin Public Television. I was supposed to be in Arizona for four years, then move “home.” Instead, I quit my job at Lowell Observatory after four years to have my son, Matthew, reluctantly turned down a job offer at Wisconsin Public Television, and dedicated myself to being a stay at home mom. Which lasted three months.

Since then, my journey has been a series of twists and turns, none of which I was expecting. I founded my consulting firm when Matthew was three months old. I vowed I wouldn't specialize in public media, yet my second client was a public radio station and now the majority of our clients are in public media. I said I wouldn't go back to work full time, yet when Matthew was two, I was working full-time at the local hospital, running the foundation. I thought I'd go back to public media as a staff person for the rest of my career, but I barely made it two years due to conflicts with my boss. I thought I'd have more children, but after a miscarriage or two, that wasn't in the cards.

I didn't think that my consulting practice would amount to much, especially since one of my professors in my MBA program said I didn't have the mindset of an entrepreneur, yet here I am with a modestly successful 15 year old company.

I steadily moved up in volunteer leadership roles with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, holding positions in all divisions of service, yet after three failed attempts to serve as chair of the organization, I was making no progress.

I never thought I'd be a cat person. (#random)

At every turn, however, something good has eventually resulted from it. Because of these unplanned turns of events, I have worked with several public media organizations with people who are genuinely passionate about the role noncommercial media plays in lifelong learning and civic dialogue. I've traveled the world presenting at conferences, AFP meetings, and nonprofits who are energized by my workshops and talks. I've met dozens upon dozens of earnest and enthusiastic AFP volunteers who remind me that it's not about what titles we have, but about the volunteer impact.

And today, thanks to Jim Anderson, I was honored as the AFP Northern Arizona Outstanding Fundraising Professional for a surprise third time, with an amazing tribute video that Jim crafted. It featured testimonials from some very special people: Ken Verdoia, my Downton Abbey (among other programs) pledge partner and consummate broadcasting professional; LuAnn Leonard, Executive Director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund, who has been an inspiration to me and whose organization has been a benchmark for other charities we serve; Scott Fortnum, MA, CFRE, ACFRE, a stalwart AFP colleague and valued peer volunteer; Dave Riek, General Manager at KAWC and a public media colleague since I moved to Flagstaff, who has been with GoalBusters every step of the way; Rick Swanson, another colleague and friend who was instrumental in launching GoalBusters full-time and cooks up a mean lobster feast; Bob Marty, television producer extraordinaire, who raised my profile exponentially in the PBS system with the honor of working on the Downton Abbey pledge events; and my parents, Jim and Annie Lin, who have supported my efforts without exception my entire life. Of course, Jim Anderson's in-person commentary made me cry, saying that I change the lives of everyone I touch, including him, even though, 11 years ago, he declared that he was unchangeable.

And now we face another unexpected turn in the United States. I am devastated by the results of the presidential election. For the first 6 hours after the results became clear, I could not stop crying.

But I have to believe that something good will come of this. I must believe this; it's the only way I will get through the days, weeks, months, and four years coming up. Maybe it will be improved civic engagement. Maybe it will be activation of communities who don't accept a cult of fear. Maybe it will be new collaborations and partnerships that never seemed possible before. I don't know, and it's too early, too raw, to tell.

What I do know is that the nonprofit community will continue to improve people's lives, no matter what. Funding sources may not be the same, and the players come and go, but, as in the hundreds of years before now, the American philanthropic sector will survive the winds of change. Regardless of your political persuasion, we will need time to heal, to forgive, and importantly, to listen, but we must be committed to continuing and expanding our work.

In the days leading up to the election, I posted a quote from Jane Goodall: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

I want to make the world a better place. I don't know how to do that right now, but it will come to light. So how do you want to impact the world?


***
This blog first appeared on the GoalBusters Blog and reflects the personal opinions, experience, and far too public emotional processing of Alice Ferris.

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