Will a grant from a large but little-known foundation help PBS in a big way within the next year? PBS President Paula Kerger, speaking to the PBS Board at its meeting today at headquarters in Arlington, hinted at a possible “very large grant” from the Anne Ray Charitable Trust, one of three entities under the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. It’s named for the granddaughter of the founder of agricultural products giant. MinnPost reports that Margaret Cargill was known as the “silent philanthropist,” because she made more than $200 million in anonymous donations to charities before her death in 2006. According to the Foundation Center, the trust’s $2.12 billion in assets make it the twenty-second largest foundation in the nation. The organization’s website notes that it “does not accept unsolicited requests for support. The foundation is responsible for identifying appropriate charitable organizations and making grants.” Cargill specified that the trust direct its philanthropy to a broad range of issues–including the environment, the arts, disaster relief, children, education, tolerance and conflict resolution, animal care, American Indian culture, and the elderly. The grant could be among the first achievements of PBS’s renewed focus on the PBS Foundation as an avenue for bolstering funding. The Foundation began with a 2004 task force investigating how to attract more “top-of-mind consideration” among philanthropists (Current, April 12, 2004).
The hoped-for Cargill grant may somewhat ease the Board’s budget concerns. PBS hasn’t raised station dues in two years, and at least one Board member is worried about the long-term affects of that. Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said that it’s “imperative” that PBS be investing in new technology. “I wonder what the implications are for us as we look to the future” with such funding restraints. Kerger replied that “these are pivotal issues we’re wrestling with.” It’s important that the system be aware “that we can’t continue to go down this path,” reaching deeper into new technologies while holding the line on station dues, she said. Kerger plans to convene a panel of stakeholders to brainstorm potential revenue sources for digital media. There are great opportunities for PBS in digital media, Kerger said, “but we need to have resources. We would not want anyone to assume that somehow we can continue with business as usual, that’s not going to take us anywhere.”