The Money Room: Cold Calls Pay Off

This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series The Money Room
Reading Time: 2 minutes

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 Sam Tyler

By 1972, WGBH owned the top tier of public television programming across America. Number one was Masterpiece Theater, carried by 199 stations. Close behind was The Advocates with just six fewer stations on board. But in 1975, The Advocates’ five season run ended; the show ran into funding problems and was cancelled. 

Peter McGhee, head of national public affairs programming, was determined to bring The Advocates back.

In 1977, he asked Development to help him assemble a funding package. While McGhee gathered up CPB, station, and WGBH programming money, it fell to us to come up with about one million dollars.

This type of urgent challenge made the job fun. One day I’m on air begging for pledges at 492-1111, the next I’m out in Lexington at Raytheon asking for local underwriting, and the next I have to wonder where can I possibly help find the money for the return of one of public television’s most revered programs.

In Development, it’s important to visualize the end result, rather than the immediate need. This way things do not seem so impossible. We were motivated by the idea that the show would return, that WGBH would have yet another programming coup, and that the entire organization would gear up to help move it along through production. The large staff meetings, where so much information was passed, and the occasional parties in Studio A, added to the sense that the organization was a winner.

One needs to be stoked in this manner because cold calls, I believe, are very intimidating. Fear of rejection is not a good fear to have. Whom do I call? Why? Is this the right person? Can I wrangle a meeting? That was always the key – get yourself into an office and you might have a chance.

Luck was with us on this one. A cold call to William White, President of The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation led to a meeting in Flint, Michigan. A grant for $600,000 followed. This was good, meaning we only had $400,000 to go.

Figuring that the PBS audience would be attractive to Merrill Lynch, I cold called Jim Walsh in corporate advertising. Again, I lucked into a meeting in New York City and a commitment for $300,000 came soon after.

Nancy England, a key member of our team, brought in more foundation support — again a cold call — and The Advocates was back on the air.


Read more entries in The Money Room series.


Special thanks to Gene Mackles for the series wordmark.

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