Barbara Appleby, a longtime leader and consultant in public radio fundraising and development, died Saturday of complications due to metastatic cancer. She was 57.
Colleagues say that throughout her career of more than three decades in public radio, Appleby helped many stations boost fundraising revenue and spearheaded innovations that have become widely adopted.
“Barbara Appleby was contagious,” said Valerie Arganbright, who co-founded the fundraising consultancy Appleby Arganbright with Appleby in 2012.
“Individually and as an industry, we benefited greatly from her passion, clear thinking and enthusiasm, directly and indirectly,” Arganbright continued in an email. “In addition to being a walking book of knowledge, her critical thinking skills and bottomless curiosity propelled everyone to greater achievements. She was an exceptional leader, without title or position, who left all of us feeling good, laughing and better citizens of the world.”
Appleby earned a bachelor of arts in political science at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. In 1986 she joined Minnesota Public Radio, where she worked in several roles over 11 years with the station.
After leaving MPR, she worked as a consultant until 2006. During that time, she was a principal on the team that developed and launched Strategic AudiGraphics for Audience Research Analysis.
Appleby also played a critical role in helping WNYC in New York City better realize its potential for listener-support revenue. From June to December 2001, she served as the station’s acting senior director of membership, co-leading a $3.1 million campaign after 9/11 to generate operating support and replace the station’s destroyed transmitter.
In 2004 she joined the Development Exchange Inc., now Greater Public, as director of research. Doug Eichten, then president of DEI, hired Appleby as he worked to build DEI’s staff and fundraising expertise. “She hit the ground running, and she really gave the company everything it needed,” Eichten said.
Eichten credits Appleby with pushing public radio stations to start promoting sustaining memberships, now a widespread strategy throughout public media. Appleby had learned about the approach from fundraisers outside of public radio, Eichten said. As she worked to introduce sustaining memberships to public radio, she ran into resistance from colleagues who said it wouldn’t work.
“But Barbara said, ‘This is the ticket,’” Eichten said. “And she just kept pushing on and on, and today, of course, every station embraces it.”
“I like to think of Barbara as the mother of all sustainers,” he added. “I don’t think it ever would have happened without Barbara embracing it. … That really is near the top of what Barbara was able to accomplish in all the years that I worked with her.”
Appleby was also “the most ethical person I think I’ve ever met,” said Eichten, who brought Appleby to discuss ethical issues in fundraising with graduate students in classes he taught at St. Catherine.
“That’s so important in the fundraising world,” he said. “People have to trust you, or they won’t share their funds with you.”
Appleby left DEI in 2006 and worked at NPR for three years as director of new revenue strategies. During that time, she created the national Three Million Giver (3MG) campaign, a direct-mail service and fundraising specials. She returned to MPR in 2009 as membership digital director for three years before starting Appleby Arganbright.
Since her death, Appleby’s colleagues have taken to social media and email forums to remember her contributions. “Your brilliant, pragmatic mind has helped so many stations raise more money … which translates to more stories told and more voices heard,” wrote Regina Yeager, director of development at WUNC/North Carolina Public Radio in Chapel Hill, in a note to Appleby that she shared on an email forum for development staffers. “The world and public radio is better off today because Barbara Appleby has been a part of our lives.”
“She made me a better person in so many ways — personally and professionally,” fundraising consultant Barry Nelson said in an email to Current. “I loved her and feel privileged to have her in my life. How can we calculate the impact of such a giant in our industry, a fabulous person with a dry sense of humor, and a generous spirit who made us smarter just being in her presence?”
Appleby is survived by her mother, Carole, and her sisters, Anne Larson, Laura Fagan and Trish Appleby. Funeral arrangements are pending.