Fundraising within a university environment is complex. There can be control issues; there can be staffing issues; there can be issues with competing priorities. There can be a lack of understanding of the differences between alumni fundraising processes and procedures and proven public radio and television fundraising practices.

As a station, you want to connect and communicate with your members/donors on a regular basis. For the most efficient and effective fundraising you need to track their giving types (new, renewal, add-gift, or lapsed) and their giving methods (pledge, direct mail, web pledge, telephone). You want acknowledge gifts quickly and assure donors that their gifts are going to support the programming, not to the University.

As a licensee, your university wants to know about all the gifts – who gave, how and much did they give, a reasonable expectation. Universities are keenly interested in tracking whether the donor is an alumni, and if so, what year they graduated, if a board member, a sports booster, or member of the faculty/staff. They have the fiduciary responsibility to make sure that donors are properly acknowledged and receipted for tax purposes and to make sure that the fair market value of premiums is provided as required by the IRS. For the most part, they want to maintain a single database for all gifts to the University. Reasonable expectations on the part of the university should not preclude the station managing its own database and producing fundraising materials as needed.

Since audience research shows that it is public media programming that drives community-based giving, it is important to create a close link between the program service being supported and the donor. The station should send out appeals on its own station-branded stationary and have its own unique web pledge page to clearly signal that the gift is going to the station, not the university. The station needs to be able to produce its own mailing lists, e-mail blasts, fundraising letters, and acknowledgments as well as generate the unique fundraising reports required by CPB, PBS, NPR and Greater Public Benchmarks.

In order to provide the best customer service, stewardship, and cultivation, the station should maintain its own database and provide the university with an excel spreadsheet download of required data on a monthly basis.  Most software will allow { or a user defined field to include the university’s donor number along with your own unique member number. It is important that your file ties to your deposit receipts by batches for credit cards checks, eft transfers, and cash. By providing the monthly downloaded file, the station supports the university’s goal of a single database that contains all University transactions, while maintaining station data and the ability to manager solicitations, customer service and stewardship/cultivation according to proven practices.

When it comes to soliciting major donors, the relationship may become even more complicated. Some universities prohibit the station from approaching any of the institutions known or potential major donors. Others prohibit the station from fundraising during its own annual fund drive. Negotiation is the key. Calendar schedules around pledge drives are the easiest to accomplish, however make sure that your on-going renewal solicitations are not included in the fundraising ban. Offer to coordinate asks with the University advancement office, or insure that a major gift to the station and/or the station endowment fund are included in the available offers; especially if the major donor has already given a gift of any size to the station.

In most cases there is a major difference in the size of gifts the university/foundation seeks and prefers, and the sweet spot for membership and “major giving” for public media organizations. Many foundations want at least a 5 figure gift while major gifts at stations often start at 1,000 with only a small fraction ever making a gift of 5 or six figures. One of the keys to working together for the good of all is to understand that universities/foundations are working at the top of the pyramid while public media’s success begins at the bottom of the pyramid. The strategies, approaches, and fundraising techniques are radically different and require different skill sets. The station and the foundation staff can meet and work collaboratively in the middle ground for cultivation toward higher gifts. It is imperative that while cultivation is going on, annual gifts must be solicited regularly since public media operates on a cash basis.

Universities/foundations and stations have great potential to solicit planned gifts. Many, many public media donors give annually for years – and those givers, no matter the amount, are great planned gift prospects for the station – however, stations must be on solid ground with annual giving before they can invest in planned giving.

It is an interesting conundrum. While stations may be nearly insignificant in the total gifts received each year, station donors can comprise from 60-80% of the active donor base. Foundation staff deal with many fewer donors and tend to invest a great deal of time in each individual while stations deal with thousands of donors and invest time in mass communications and direct marketing fundraising. Both achieve their desired results within their individual target markets.

Staci Hoste, JoAnne Ufrosky, and Virginia Dambach contributed to this article.