Counting whoever just picked up the marker for this in the wake of Ron Schiller’s departure from NPR, since I joined its board in mid-2005 (I retired as an SVP there at the end of 2010), there have been six “permanent” or interim heads of fundraising development. NPR will now be recruiting a 7th. Development is also a major task of the CEO and in that same time, there have been five such CEOs (I was one of the interims).
NPR just can’t catch a break in this, leaving what should be one of the most compelling philanthropic cases greatly under-achieving. Lack of continuity in leadership leads to “coin-us interruptus.”
Major gifts fundraising is more important now – when tax-based sources are under assault – than ever. It’s a high-touch, long-term relationship activity. In NPR’s case, there is also a volunteer NPR Foundation board and the sometimes difficult relationship with 280 or so station managers to manage. Ron, and also-departed CEO Vivian Schiller (no relationship), were making what is probably the first real progress in both those sets of relationships when Ron announced his original May resignation before the now-infamous Georgetown videotaped lunch. That progress is now problematic.
Journalism is Job One at NPR, but development has to be Task One for the new interim and permanent executive teams. Stations (where I spent 38 years) also need to coalesce around the need for collaboration and new fundraising models. It will be tempting in a financial squeeze to throw up the barricades and stick to what’s safe. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’ve seen one interesting proposal in draft form (which I hope will be released soon) and I hope others will get creative also.
For the 7½ years I’ve been doing this blog, its masthead has quoted Jerry Garcia: “Somebody has to do something, and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.” Never more true.