Commentary: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina

Broadcasters' Foundation Says the Storm Brought Out the Character of Broadcasters
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Broadcasters' Foundation Says the Storm Brought Out the Character of Broadcasters

"It was not just about the money. It was knowing that someone really cared."

These comments were central to nearly every conversation between the Broadcasters' Foundation and the more than 275 Hurricane Katrina victims we helped in 2005.

The Broadcasters' Foundation Hurricane Katrina relief effort was set in motion immediately following director Richard A. Foreman's establishment of a $50,000 matching grant to help fellow broadcasters and their families impacted by the storm. Colleagues who cared deeply matched his grant within 48 hours. Supplemented by additional resources from the foundation, more than $275,000 was expedited to broadcasters in Louisiana and Mississippi by the end of 2005.

We learned a great deal about the character of those individuals, who are the heart and soul of radio and television stations. We became closely acquainted with hard-working professional men and women, who cared about their commitment to serving their local communities despite having suffered enormous personal loss.

Many continued to find their way to their respective stations when they no longer had a home themselves. Others stayed at the broadcast facilities for days keeping information flowing to the public. They were grateful for our assistance and heartened with the knowledge that colleagues in far away places embraced them.

Courage under fire

The personal courage of these individuals is remarkable. While some were forced to leave the Gulf Coast in the interest of their children and families, many more stayed to see their stations back on the air, finding themselves back at work full-time and beginning to rebuild their lives.

It takes a family from many different backgrounds and with a wide variety of skills to compliment a broadcast station. Because of Hurricane Katrina, we met people holding nearly every broadcast job description who cared about each other, their stations and their communities. It was a valuable reminder that at the heart of our industry is a special group of men and women who love their jobs, neighborhoods, cities and towns, and truly believe that our profession is of a higher calling.

Hurricane Katrina aid in 2005 represented only part of the benevolent outreach by the Broadcasters' Foundation. In addition to the $275,000 in Katrina grants, our work throughout the year continued by providing over $300,000 in monthly grants to colleagues who are in acute need.

The Broadcasters' Foundation's average monthly grant to an individual or family is now $1,100. That may not seem like a great deal to a person earning five figures, but for a person dependent only on Social Security, and who also is ill and trying to pay medical deductibles, the money can be lifesaving. In 2006, our grants will exceed $500,000. To put this is perspective, 10 years ago the annual grants total was only $13,000.

The foundation's ability to grow its outreach has resulted from an outpouring of support from throughout the radio and television industry. Broadcasters have come to understand the tremendous need that is fulfilled by the foundation's work. We have become the vehicle by which we can help our colleagues in a number of different ways.

During 2005, $578,000 was contributed to the Broadcasters' Foundation Endowment Fund and to the Angel Initiative. The endowment is the means by which individuals contribute to the foundation on an annual basis. The Angel Initiative is an annual corporate giving program.

Contributors should know that even with the extraordinary demands placed upon us by Katrina we were able, through contributions and events, to replace endowment resources so they in fact exceed the amount we began with in January 2005. That fulfills the endowment fund's goal of always making sure we have the resources so no future call for help will go unanswered.

Fun for a good cause

The Broadcasters' Foundation annual events play a vital role in our outreach. Net income from the Golden Mike Award, the NAB Charity Golf Tournament and the annual Celebrity Golf Tournament exceed the operating expenses of the foundation. Therefore, we are able to cover all monthly grants, in addition to the foundation's total annual overhead, and still transfer operating surplus to the endowment fund at the end of the year.

A major reason for this extraordinary accomplishment is that the foundation operates with extremely low overhead, which includes a staff of only two full-time employees, Director of Administration and Finance Eleanor Matera and myself. Our modest office space on the second floor of a 70-year-old building in Greenwich, Conn., works just fine.

Our signature annual event is the Golden Mike Award. This year we honored Jeff Smulyan, chair of Emmis Communications. The dinner, held at The Waldorf Astoria in New York, set a new net revenue record. The outpouring of personal warmth for Jeff was exhilarating. The contribution of time and talent that made the evening so special was enormous.

Dick Ferguson, retired executive vice president of Cox Radio, set a new standard by personally coordinating and financing the production of a Jeff-TV satire that will be difficult to match in the years ahead. Dick's generosity is one more example of the wonderful folks in our industry coming together for a great cause.

The Broadcasters' Foundation Charity Golf Tournament for NAB2006 sold out in December 2005. This tournament has been held annually at the NAB convention in Las Vegas for the past 11 years. The event would not be possible without the wonderful collaboration and support we receive from the NAB, historically from Eddie Fritts and now from the NAB's new President and CEO David Rehr.

The 2006 Broadcasters' Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament, now is its seventh year, will be held on Monday, Sept. 25, 2006 at the prestigious Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn. The tournament sold out for the fifth year in a row. This event was conceptualized by Broadcasters' Foundation Director Scott Knight, and has become the industry's annual golfing event, raising more than $300,000 annually in support of our mission.

The money we raise from our events is important, but equally beneficial to the foundation is the visibility among the many new people we reach through these functions. As Scott Knight has said many times, "There is nothing wrong with people having a good time in support of a charity that is near and dear to their hearts." I think Scott has it exactly right.

Following the creative tradition of the NAB Golf Tournament and the Celebrity Golf Tournament, foundation director Skip Finley has established the Broadcasters' Foundation Offshore Challenge. Yes, a fishing tournament to raise money for our mission.

The second annual Offshore Challenge was held May 19-21 in Nassau, Bahamas. Fifty-five broadcasters aboard 13 charter boats participated in the tournament, which raised $45,000. Foundation Chair Phil Lombardo is following in the great tradition set by Chair Emeritus Ed McLaughlin and former Chairs Ward Quaal and Jim Delmonico in providing energized leadership for the board of directors.

The success of any philanthropic organization rests with its directors, and we think the Broadcasters' Foundation board has attracted a fabulous cross-section of the radio and television industry.

I have come to learn that giving back lifts the spirit of the benefactor and well as that of the beneficiary. How can you help? Embrace the spirit of giving back. As Ed McLaughlin has said so many times with his signature sign-off, "It will feel good."

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