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Friends of SDPB Celebrates 50 Years of Triumphs and Support


This article is from the April 2024 edition of SDPB Magazine. See past issues HERE.

For the past 50 years, Friends of SDPB has been working diligently to provide funds for the programming, events, and materials our supporters, listeners, and viewers have come to love. Without the contributions of our Friends members and the efforts, innovation, and relational endeavors of our Friends team, we wouldn't be able to stand proudly where we are today. Through Friends, SDPB receives funding from 13,500 families and 165 corporate sponsors. Before Friends existed, SDPB was funded and licensed through USD and SDSU. With network expansion statewide, SDPB came under the direction of the state of South Dakota, which continues to fund personnel and infrastructure. Paying for programming became the mission of Friends of SDPB, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Friends was first organized in 1973, and the first television fund-drive in April 1974 raised nearly $23,000 from 1,800 people – an average of $17 a gift.

"I was intrigued by the possibilities of programing that could reach the Indian reservations in South Dakota. They had little radio or televisions reception until SDPB sent its signals out with positive and educational presentations."

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Charter Member

Gayle Grothe was Membership Director of Friends for 41 years, starting in June 1977. She recalls that when fundraising drives first began, only three people answered the phones. Everything was done by hand, including writing donations on carbon copies and then passing those to a volunteer at a typewriter. Over the course of four decades, Gayle saw significant changes and greater efficiencies as technology evolved.

"Now, electronic touches are a big thing," explains Gayle. "Our methods all met a need at the time that we used them, and they served us well. But that was a big challenge and something that we made work for us.” Gayle always was concerned not just about meeting the financial responsibilities but having a personal connection to donors. “That was a goal that we strived for – in addition to monetary goals."

Julie Overgaard, Executive Director of SDPB, started in 1986 as a work-study student while attending SDSU. She talks about how Friends of SDPB began as primarily a membership organization and has grown to be so much more. "Our fundraising wasn't focused on the kinds of things it is now, like what we did to make our production truck a reality, building the Sioux Falls and Rapid City Studios, or supporting the refreshed logo. It was almost 100% a membership program. I think of how diversified we are now in our portfolio of fundraising and what the impact has been with targeted fundraising, major gifts fundraising, and successful underwriting programs. Those are all real explosions of ours regarding the amount and impact over the last decade."

Julie points to successes over the past 50 years, including having an endowment and a major giving program. The endowment means Friends doesn't have to start from scratch each year in fundraising, and the major giving program contributes around $750,000 yearly for programs that air on SDPB.

“SDPB is an incredible treasure for all South Dakotans. Our citizens are better informed on state government, the fine arts, sports, children’s shows, and many other areas because of its broad programming. We are proud to have supported SDPB for many years.”

De & Dave Knudson, Board Members

Also important are the people who have given their time to serve on the Friends Board of Directors. "I often think about the growth and development of the board that we have," says Julie. "We used to be a 13-member board largely comprised of retired educators. We now sit with a 20-member board that represents all parts of the state, all backgrounds, economics, diversity, and more in terms of activism, breadth of experience, connections, wanting to be on the board, and wanting to be a contributor towards making sure that public media exists and thrives in South Dakota. That's been a game changer for the Friend's organization and their talent level."

Ryan Howlett, CEO of Friends of SDPB, spotlights sustaining memberships. “When we rebooted the sustaining program in 2013 about 4-5% of our members were sustainers, that number is now around 40%. Sustaining memberships are valuable because it gives us a solid baseline to count on every month, and it allows us to invest efforts in major giving and corporate support. That is a huge change in the last ten years."

Friends has experienced many successes, from membership trips to PBS landmarks to growth in membership drives and funds, and much more. Even so, the most important thing for Friends and SDPB is the relationships we establish with the people who support us. Julie and Ryan recall countless interactions with our donors over the years and share some of the most special ones that capture the heart of our SDPB family.

"The most meaningful story happened early in my career," shares Ryan. "We had somebody send us $1000, which was a huge jump in their giving. We met at Perkins in Rapid City; this guy and I were just bawling in the restaurant because his wife had passed away. He said, 'I donated in her memory and honor because I couldn't get out of bed without my friends at Morning Classics who kept me going in those darkest days. It was SDPB that got me through something like that.' That was special."

“We have supported SDPB for a long time and have enjoyed growing with them throughout those years. We appreciate the excellent programming that has entertained and educated us, our parents, our children and our grandchildren. We want these services to continue for generations to come.”

Keith & Kathy Sprinkel, Charter Members

Julie recalls a friendship with a donor that has also stuck with her. "There was a woman named Florence in a nursing home. She would call about the second or third of every month about her membership magazine, and then we would talk about how her favorite part of the day was the days the radio would play anything with flute music because she was a flutist back in her day. I had Karl Gerhke (Jazz Nightly) make her a mix tape of flute music and send it to her. About a year or so later, I received a lovely letter from her son, saying that she had passed away but that she had the mix tape and my note sitting on her nightstand. She would listen to it every night before she went to sleep. She was somebody who could only afford to give us $15.00. She had no money and few relatives; we were her family."

Julie reminds us of the mission of Friends. "At the end of the day, Friends' purpose and mission is to raise private dollars to support the mission and programs produced by SDPB. It's a hand-in-hand partnership and relationship. Friends successfully raises money and grows revenue because of the programming on SDPB – it appeals to our viewers and listeners. People don't support things in which they don't find value or purpose or where their missions don't align. Friends of SDPB build relationships between SDPB, our viewers, and our listeners – it's the bridge between us and them. We share with our members all of the great things we are doing, and they provide feedback, ideas, and community engagement."

Ryan adds, "Friends is essentially a service organization. We enjoy connecting our donors who support the programs to the network. Friends is bigger than the 14 people on staff. It's the 13,500 member families and 200 companies that support us on an annual basis."

We look forward with excitement to see what Friends can accomplish in the future. We thank you for your role in getting us here. It has been a delightful 50 years, and we are eager for the next 50 years to come.

“When my husband, Roger and I moved to Rapid City from Madison, Wisconsin in 1987, we looked forward to experiencing public broadcasting as we had known it in Wisconsin. It was quite a surprise and disappointment to find out that, though there was programming, SDPB was a little-known entity in western South Dakota. Thinking something needed to be done, my husband and I became donors and business advertisers. I also became a Friends board member along with Carol Johnson. The studio grew to a beautifully designed downtown location. I am confident that SDPB has now established a firm base in Western SD, and I am proud to have had a very tiny role in this growth. My husband and I will continue to be ardent supporters of SDPB even up through legacy giving. SDPB finally has a huge stage, not only in Rapid City but anywhere in the world. Now that’s progress!”

Janice Homandberg Knutsen, Board Member