P.S. 314 – Black Public Media Case Study Interview

A Conversation with Leslie Fields-Cruz of BPM | Cultivating Donor Relationships to Support the Arts

Can you give me a brief overview of your organization?

Leslie Fields-Cruz: Black Public Media is a nonprofit media arts organization that funds and distributes content about the African American and African diaspora experience, and invests in talented media makers of African descent.

Can you describe your role and how it fits into the organization?

LFC: I am the executive director of the organization, and so I oversee all aspects- the programs and overall strategy of the organization, and I work with the board. I do quite a bit of fundraising for the organization. I try to keep a foot in some of the programming even though my fundraising job is growing and getting bigger.

How is the structure and culture of the organization?

LFC: We’re a small organization- a small nonprofit. Right now, we have four full-time [employees] and one part-time [employee]. We are in the process of scaling up. We moved from being an organization where everyone came into the office, and now, we have several of us who work remotely. Our headquarters are inside of a shared office space called WeWork in Harlem. We are a female-centric culture because everybody, except for one of our part-timers, is a woman of color. I would say, in terms of our overall culture, we do have a sense of family in terms of the organization. We work really hard and support each other both professionally and, in some cases (when necessary), personally. So, the culture, at least I’d like to think, is a culture that’s very positive, and it allows people opportunities to express their ideas. It’s done within an atmosphere of support and acceptance.

What challenges does your organization face?

LFC: One is just fundraising. We are a small organization but we’re a national organization. It’s difficult for us to have so many people try to wear so many different hats. Even though we do, it has an impact on how well we’re able to pursue the activities and tasks needed for the organization. For example, I’m looking for someone to serve as our director of communications because, as we try to grow the organization, I’ve realized our director of program development and acquisitions, who has a background in communications, she’s great – but she can’t do the job of program development and acquisitions effectively if she’s also dealing with trying to get ads out through Facebook and making sure our website is updated. So that’s one of the challenges. The reward is that we always have really smart and capable people who work at the organization – they can [only] do so much, but the offset of that is that we actually need to be able to have people who can focus on one department. We really want to grow the organization in the way that we should.

What are the organization’s short-term and long-term goals?

LFC: Short-term goal is to become fully staffed. The long-term goal is to ensure the financial health of the organization so that if one of our core funders decides that they no longer want to support us, that doesn’t mean that the organization will fall apart.

How did you hear about P.S. 314?

LFC: I met Pi – she was working with a number of independent producers that we funded. She was working on outreach campaigns; I had met her a couple times that way. And then, in terms of how we ended up signing on and working with P.S. 314, Kay Shaw suggested that I speak to her about some of the challenges and the things I wanted to do around development. And so, we had an initial conversation, and then Pi said “okay let me think about that, and I’m going to come back to you – I think I’ve got some ideas of how I could help.” And that’s how we got connected with P.S. 314.

What made you want to collaborate with P.S. 314?

LFC: You know what, what sold me was her sincerity and interest in trying to help me realize my vision for the organization. But, also, I liked her approach. When she came back and pitched what she thought our organization would need in order to move us to the next level – her pitch was great, but I also loved her approach. She wasn’t saying, “I’m going to do it all”; she was saying, “okay I’m going to bring in consultants to work with you on these specific areas. First, we’ll do a survey of where you guys are at and then we’ll try to build a plan that will take into consideration your current capacity but also help you build towards a larger and more well-resourced organization.” And so, I had conversations with and met with other people in development. I had somebody we actually hired who was trying to do it all and it was clear that she was not capable of doing what was needed. Because I don’t come from a fundraising background, I did a lot of the programming at the organization before I stepped into the executive director role, but sort of the cultivation of potential donors – that was just an area that I was unfamiliar with. And I needed some help and coaching and she offered a way that I can work with some dynamic people to increase my knowledge exponentially with the benefit of actually, helping the organization.

How did P.S. 314 improve your organization?

LFC: We just hired a development associate and one of the challenges before Pi came on, we had hired somebody who would be a development director but that person wasn’t capable of doing the job. With Pi’s help and her team’s help, I was really able to understand all of the aspects of growing an individual donor base – approaching private foundations, looking at our potential income stream, how do we go after corporate sponsorships. I was able to look at each of those various earned income streams and really understand who I needed to have in place and one of the things that was really apparent was that we actually needed someone who was a foot soldier – someone who was a step lower, someone who can grow into being a director. I would not have known that had I not had the benefit of having P.S. 314 working with me for a year. Another specific is that in terms of our corporate sponsorships – working with Chantal, who’s the consultant that P.S. 314 assigned to me, she has opened up doors for me. Because of her work with us, Google is now on board for one of our special initiatives for this year.

“I was able to look at each of those various earned income streams and really understand who I needed to have in place and one of the things that was really apparent was that we actually needed someone who was a foot soldier – someone who was a step lower, someone who can grow into being a director. I would not have known that had I not had the benefit of having P.S. 314 working with me for a year.”
How was your overall experience with P.S. 314?

LFC: It’s fantastic and I’m in this for the long haul – “I don’t want you guys to go anywhere.” I mean really, everybody on the team, all of the consultants that she pointed my way- they were and continue to be all really wonderful to work with. And Pi, she’s great. She’s smart, very supportive, and inspiring. So, it’s just really been a joy working with her and the team.

Do you have anything else to add?

LFC: I recommend her and P.S. 314 pretty much every chance I get when someone says they’re looking for development support. I really do try to share what she’s done for us. If someone else is looking for a similar experience, I really hope that they contact her because I think P.S. 314 is great. There’s a success story happening and it’s taking place right now. A lot of it is due to P.S. 314.