Even though fundraising is getting more difficult as the economy slows, the new president of the Broadcasters Foundation of America is ramping up efforts to help broadcasters in need.
Next Monday night (Feb. 23), the Broadcasters Foundation of America hosts it annual Golden Mike Award dinner, at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
The dinner, which this year honors Peter Smyth and Bordes family, owners of the Boston-based radio and newspaper company Greater Media, always draws top executives from the broadcasting industry in their black-tie best and is the prime showcase the foundation and its mission.
That mission is to take care of broadcasters who have fallen on hard times because of illness, age, death of a spouse or some other misfortune.
Money for the grants comes from the Golden Mike and other events, notably the NAB Charity Golf Tournament in April and Celebrity Golf Tournament in September, and from direct appeals for donations.
Chaired by Citadel Communications CEO Phil Lombardo, the foundation board is a who’s who of the broadcasting industry.
But presiding Monday night in New York will be a newcomer to the foundation, veteran broadcast manager and owner Jim Thompson.
Last August, he succeeded Gordon Hastings as the president of the foundation. (Hastings continues with the foundation, helping to market events.)
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Thompson talks about the perfect storm that is making carrying out the foundation’s mission more difficult and his increased efforts to inform all broadcasters about the foundation — in case they want to make a donation or need its help.
An edited transcript:
How is the economy affecting your fundraising?
Not since the book and the movie The Perfect Storm have I used this term as much as I have in the past month or so. Last year we gave out more money than we ever had; in the past month, we have had more requests for assistance than we had in the previous six months; and it’s been more difficult to raise money because people just don’t have it and aren’t able to help us the way they have in the past.
Can you put some numbers to all that?
In 2008, we gave out just about $500,000 in grants to people in need. That’s a 20-some percent increase from the year before and a 50 percent increase from ’06. Part of that is because people are starting to be more aware of us and more people need our help.
What about the fundraising side?
On the fundraising side, we squeaked through 2008 with just a little more than $500,000, just under where we had been in the year before. So, people did step up and try to help as best as they could because, I think, of our outreach. More people know about us and know of our programs and were able to contribute.
I know you use the money from the Golden Mike Awards and other events to fund operations. How did they do last year?
We were down year to year, but not by a lot. Our celebrity golf tournament, which is a big fundraiser for us, was down some foursomes. That was in September and people were starting to really feel the recession.
So, how are the events shaping up for 2009 now?
Well, our first one is the Golden Mike Award [on Monday] where we’re honoring Peter Smyth and the Bordes family. Melba Moore and Martina McBride will entertain. This is our major fundraiser, and, even in these extremely difficult times, people still are supporting the event, albeit a little less than perhaps in past.
There are many organizations that have supported us over the years that just are not able to support us now. However, there are those who haven’t supported us in the past who are going to support this one because of the honorees. So that’s a help. I guess I’d say we are pleased that, in this environment, we’re able to get the kind of activity we are.
What about those downstream events: the NAB golf tournament, the celebrity golf tournament?
The NAB golf is, at the moment, on track with what it was last year, but, again, you really won’t know for sure until we get closer. It’s far too soon to talk about the celebrity golf. That’s not until the fall.
You said earlier than you have had more request for grants in the past month than you had the previous six. Do you think the pace of requests will stay at that high level?
Yes. Everyone on our board believes that’s the case. We certainly believe it at the foundation headquarters just based on the volume and calls that we’ve gotten. Because it will be a difficult fundraising year, it’s going to be difficult to help all of these people.
So what are you going to do if demand exceeds the supply?
We have a couple million dollars in our endowment. If we have to use some of it, that’s what we’ll do.
So you would cut into that endowment?
I think we will have to.
Has your endowment been hit hard by the economy?
Like all endowments, it has taken a hit. Fortunately, we have taken a very small percentage hit, very low single figures. We’re fortunate that we moved into a safer investment area earlier than some other people have.
You’re the new guy. What are the new initiatives?
One of the things that we have done is broadening our outreach. We want more people to know that we’re here to help them in times of need.
I’m on the schedule of the RAB’s board of directors meeting. We attended the NAB radio convention, which we hadn’t done before, and we’ll be at the NAB Show. I see the TVB board of directors is going to meet there. Hopefully, we’ll get a slot.
I was in Philadelphia two weeks ago and met with every TV general manager in the market. I initially was going in for money, but I know no one is allowed to give money, other than their personal money. So, I told them simply that I want all of their employees to know that the Broadcasters Foundation is here for them in critical times of need. They were very receptive and they were creative in thinking of ways to help us. We’re still talking about that. It’s a work in progress.
But no one’s ever been in Philadelphia before and most people don’t know what we do. It’s done great things for a lot of people. We want everyone to know about that.
I was just in Los Angeles last week, talking to people on the TV and radio side. We’ve been active and we’ll continue to be even more active with the state associations. We just have to remind people we’re here — in sight, in mind. That’s a big part of what we want to do.
You depend mostly on donations from companies and wealthy individuals? Are you going after money from rank-and-file broadcasters?
If you look in our annual report you’ll see some of the same people, god bless them, who have supported us over the years, but that’s 10 percent of our industry.
So, sure, we would like donations from everyone. If every broadcast head or every general manager and everyone in a major market who is in broadcasting knows that we’re here and that we can help them, maybe they’ll send us $25 — $25 is not hard to do for anyone.
How smart is it to stir up demand for grants at a time when your revenues are flat?
How do you turn your back on someone? We’re chartered to help people who have fallen on hard times. You know what, if we get our endowment down to zero, we’ll go back and we’ll find more. I believe that people have always stood up in this business and they will again if and when we need them. We do need them now and, if we need them more acutely, I’m sure they’ll stand up for us.
You’re a former station manager and owner. Tell us, when is the industry going to come out of this recession?
Do you want an estimate? Well, I would say the end of the first quarter in 2010.
So all we have to do is hold on till March 2010.
That’s exactly right: St. Patrick’s Day, 2010.
If you are interested in attending the Golden Mike dinner, participating in other events or finding out more about the foundation, you may contact Jim Thompson at 203-862-8577 or [email protected].