The Money Room is a bit of history written by John Kerr, John Carver, and Sam Tyler whose fundraising careers at WGBH spanned three decades.
By John Kerr
The story of how one particular person got so smitten by ‘GBH that he became its main beggar.
Capital Funds Needed
Faced with an urgent need to raise $10 million to replace outmoded facilities and equipment and to raise funds to launch major national programs, we then decided to launch a major capital drive.
I had no idea how to do that. So I visited with the heads of the three largest foundations in Boston to ask who was the best money-raiser in town.
All three named Sam Tyler
As Chris Pullman and others worked on case presentation materials for WGBH’s “Independence Fund”, we hired Sam.
He, in turn, then added John Carver and Phyllis Haig – a blue-ribbon fund-raising team that raised capital funds, searched for national corporate grants and led the way to new levels of fund-raising success.
Sam helped us on-air, too. One of his ideas was his famous “pie charts” with which he explained to viewers where their contributed money went, and why.
We had fun, too. We made on-air spots with notables around town. We visited the main non-profit institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and many more. Videographer Howard Powell and I would go out in the community with a mobile unit and interview people in the street.
One day, David Ives and I visited William C. Mercer, then head of New England Telephone, with the easel and presentation boards that Sam, Chris Pullman and others had developed for the Independence Fund.
We were all set to ask Mr. Mercer for a corporate contribution of $25,000.
The telephone building was a tall, imposing building with two large revolving doors at its entrance, polished brass, and a uniformed guard inside.
Mr. Mercer was known to be very punctual.
About three blocks from the building, Ives and I hit an early-morning traffic gridlock. Nothing was moving.
David became agitated, jumped out of my VW bus, told me to park wherever I could and bring the materials, which were encased in an enormous portfolio case that our design professionals had put together with Sam.
I threw the VW bus at the first fire hydrant I saw, grabbed the portfolio, and ran through the stopped traffic toward the telephone building.
I could see David a block ahead of me as he darted between stopped cars. He was wearing his classic raincoat and a tasseled blue ski cap. He disappeared through the telephone company’s revolving doors.
I followed him, huffing and puffing. But in my haste, I got the folio stuck in the revolving door, which jammed.
I banged on the glass and yelled at the guard inside, who came running. He pushed some button which released me from the doorway like a cork from a champagne bottle. He then whisked me up a freight elevator to Mr. Mercer’s office.
There was Ives, waiting for me.
We were one minute late. As I mopped my sweating brow, we were ushered into Mr. Mercer’s office. I set up the easel while Ives did a superb job of talking about WGBH, the needs of its Independence Fund, and the promise of producing more wonderful programs.
Mr. Mercer gave us $25,000 on the spot.
National Corporate Fundraising
We began to look more widely at ways to increase national efforts to raise grants and corporate contributions.
Once, when we were all heading to a PBS meeting on the west coast, we drew match sticks to see who would bang on the doors of various corporate offices as we went.
I drew Cleveland.
One morning, carrying a briefcase full of program tapes that deserved funding, I headed in to see a top corporate officer of Standard Oil of Ohio. I was led into a large office overlooking the lake.
This guy listened to my pitch, closed my briefcase for me, and sent me on the way. Discouraged, I then went to see three other corporate officers. Same result.
Finally, I visited TRW, a defense company just south of Cleveland. The corporate officer I saw was eager to learn about ways to fund PBS programs. John Carver then sealed the deal. That visit led to a grant to WGBH of $300,000 to help fund NOVA.
For years, colleges, museums and other non-profit organizations had been successfully raising “planned gifts” in which donors pledged contributions beyond their lifetimes.
Public broadcasting stations had never done that.
We left work, grabbed dinner in Harvard Square, and went to Brown’s class. Before long, we learned that a brilliant young employee of Boston Safe Deposit & Trust Company, Debra Thorburn, was the top student in every class. We realized that Debra knew more than either of us would ever know about planned giving.
During a break, we offered Debra a job at WGBH to lead and begin a planned giving program. Debra Ashton, as she then became, wrote a successful book entitled Everything You Need To Know To Compete Successfully for Major Gifts, and raised large planned gifts and other contributions to fund WGBH and its programs. She visited donors and did presentations at PBS development conferences. Debra’s contribution to the station was phenomenal.
Read more entries in The Money Room series.
Special thanks to Gene Mackles for the series wordmark.