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Faces Of NPR: Donor Relations

From Top Left: Loren Pritchett, Cecelia Rizk, Shari Thomas, Melanie McCarty, and Alaina Gibbs. From Bottom Left: Mary Claire Sullivan, Chelsea Bollea, Jennifer Longmire Wright, Bailey Muto and Amanda Heerwig.
From Top Left: Loren Pritchett, Cecelia Rizk, Shari Thomas, Melanie McCarty, and Alaina Gibbs. From Bottom Left: Mary Claire Sullivan, Chelsea Bollea, Jennifer Longmire Wright, Bailey Muto and Amanda Heerwig.

Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature showcasing the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what inspires them.

To celebrate the season of giving, we're featuring NPR's Donor Relations team. Chelsea Bollea is the Director of Stewardship, Alaina Gibbs is the Manager of the Foundation Board and Volunteer Relations, Amanda Heerwig is the Donor Communications Manager, Melanie McCarty is the Senior Writer, Bailey Muto is the Senior Associate of Stewardship, Loren Pritchett is the Associate Director of Development Communications, Cecelia Rizk the Donor Relations Coordinator, Mary Claire Sullivan is the Senior Associate, Shari Thomas is the Executive Director of Donor Relations and Jennifer Longmire Wright is the Donor Events Manager.

An Inside Look

You work for Donor Relations. What does that mean? What are different roles in your team?

Chelsea Bollea: Donor relations works to make sure our supporters know the impact of their generosity and find meaningful ways to keep them engaged. It's important for our donors to feel like they are a part of the NPR family—and that's where we come in. I came on board two months ago in a newly-created role to analyze the ways we thank, recognize, and inform our donors. I also determine where we can improve and develop fun, out-of-the-box ways to engage current and future supporters. The Donor Relations team runs like a well-oiled machine – one full of smart, creative, funny women, and I know we are going to do great things together for NPR Development.

Shari Thomas: We are the brain-trust that finds strategic, yet creative ways to engage and retain donors. We keep them feeling like they have a personal connection to public radio through events, communications, stewardship/recognition and NPR Foundation Board management.

Mary Claire Sullivan: I like to think of donor relations as the fun part of FUNdraising. We think of creative ways we engage donors before, during, and after they make a gift to NPR. I split my time between regional events and on-air and online recognition for our donors. I work with Member stations, volunteers from the NPR Foundation board, and teams within NPR to create special experiences for NPR donors or those who we think might give in the future. In recognition, I (with the help of the awesome folks at NPM) write philanthropic messages that air nationally on Member stations and create banners for

Melanie McCarty: We connect donors to NPR's work. We handle everything from on-air credits, to donor newsletters, to event planning. As Senior Writer, I write fundraising proposals and help shape how we talk about NPR's work to our donors.

What does giving mean to you? What does it mean to give to NPR?

Chelsea Bollea: Giving to an organization means investing in their mission. By supporting NPR and its Member stations, our donors become partners in creating a more informed public—one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas, and cultures.

Mary Claire Sullivan: I think there are a lot of different ways to support something. You can listen to NPR and support it by telling all your friends about it. That's great! We love that! You can volunteer for an organization that you value – that's like a donation of time. And then you can support something monetarily. These are all great ways to support something you believe is important, but only the last one allows NPR to pay for someone's salary or to pursue a new initiative. Back at my college station we were virtually all volunteers. Yet, no amount of volunteering could buy us a new transmitter, so we had an annual fundraiser. That's why it's important to give—in a lot of ways it can have the most direct impact.

Shari Thomas: Giving to NPR and Member stations helps us recruit and grow talent, create programs, and expand a system that informs, educates, and entertains listeners around the world. It's a human act of kindness that supports the advancement of a cause.

Shari Thomas, Melanie McCarty, and Mary Claire Sullivan.
Hugo Rojo / NPR
Shari Thomas, Melanie McCarty, and Mary Claire Sullivan.

How did you get started here? What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?

Chelsea Bollea: I've always been a big fan of public radio, so when I learned that there was an opportunity to join NPR's Development team on the west coast, I immediately reached out. Prior to NPR, I worked at UCLA and the American Society of Clinical Oncology in various fundraising roles, focusing on donor and alumni relations, annual giving, events, and stewardship. My advice to anyone who wants a job like mine is to get involved with organizations that align with your passion, volunteer, find a mentor that can help show you the ropes, and don't be afraid to ask questions or work on projects outside of your job description.

Melanie McCarty: I worked for many years at WAMU (Washington, DC's Member Station), where I held a variety of fundraising positions. While there, I found that I had a knack for development writing. That is, writing newsletters, proposals, reports, and other materials that help donors to see the impact of their contributions. As an English major, I've always loved reading and writing, so development writing was a natural fit. It allows me to write for a living, while supporting causes that I believe in. When I saw the announcement for NPR's Senior Writer position, it seemed tailor-made for my background and experience. Luckily, my colleagues thought so too!

As far as advice: read a lot, write a lot. Take some writing workshops. Volunteer at your local Member Station! They can often use the extra help and it's a great way to get public radio experience.

Mary Claire Sullivan: I started at NPR as an intern in Fall of 2014. Before that, I spent a year as the Development Director for WCBN, Ann Arbor's free-form community and student radio station. While I was there, I ran our annual 10-day fundraiser, training and coordinating 70+ volunteers, designing and promoting premium items, and ultimately raising ~$47,000 (for reference, our annual budget was $36,000). I am proud to say that I still give to WCBN annually!

Shari Thomas: It was serendipity, really. I was looking for jobs for a friend who was finishing up law school and had interest in estate planning. I stumbled upon a Strategic Events Manager position at NPR. I wasn't looking to leave my job at Georgetown University at the time, but I knew that this NPR gig and I were meant for each other. And here I am, eight and a half years later.

What's your favorite #NPRLife moment?

Chelsea Bollea: I have a #nprlife moment every morning when I walk through the newsroom to get to my desk. It's an incredibly inspiring way to start the day. Sitting in the studio for one of Dwane Brown's newscasts at NPR West is another one. It was interesting to learn all that goes into a 5-minute newscast and felt like I was watching a one-person symphony! I spent the entire five minutes worried that I was going to cough or sneeze and ruin the segment, but thankfully neither one happened!

Melanie McCarty: On my second day at NPR, Susan Stamberg complimented my sun hat. We were on the elevator at NPR HQ, where a recording of her voice announces every floor, so for a moment she was in stereo.

Mary Claire Sullivan: To be honest, probably my first Tiny Desk concert back when I was an intern. I remember being totally in awe of the fact that I got to work somewhere where this was the norm.

Shari Thomas: Weekend in Washington is my baby. I once produced a Weekend in Washington panel conversation, for which Nina Totenberg phoned in to moderate from her bed after a really bad fall. Now that's dedication.

What are some cool things you've worked on?

Shari Thomas: I created something new this year, called NPR Collective, which we launched in Los Angeles. I look forward to unveiling a few new tricks that I have up my sleeve in the months ahead.

Chelsea Bollea: During my third week, the Development team traveled to Los Angeles for the NPR Collective. It was a great opportunity to meet our donors and Trustees and a fun way to get to know my teammates. On top of that, I got to see some of my favorite NPR podcasts in action and behind-the-scenes.

Mary Claire Sullivan: At NPR Collective, we had amazing presenters from our podcasts highlighting all the fun new things they've been doing over the past year, as well as guests from California Member Stations covering issues important to the region. I managed registration for the event (so a lot of customer service) and also built our event app.

Melanie McCarty: I've written several fundraising pieces in support of the Collaborative Journalism Network, a new initiative designed to support local journalism and make it easier for Member stations to collaborate with each other and NPR. Projects like this make writing for development fun. I get to learn about the exciting things that an organization wants to do, then play a small role in helping to make these projects happen. It can be really gratifying.

What's on your desk?

Amanda Heerwig: Right now there are about 10 dachshund figurines in varying shapes and sizes (everything from dachshund pens, to calendars, to a tape dispenser), a few Yoda figurines, lots of calendars, and some books I snagged from the fourth floor.

Alaina Gibbs: Coffee, sparkling water, dried flowers, an abstract print, and the NPR Foundation Board book. I always keep the most recent version of the book close by.

Amanda Heerwig, Loren Pritchett, and Alaina Gibbs.
Hugo Rojo / NPR
Amanda Heerwig, Loren Pritchett, and Alaina Gibbs.

Favorite podcast?

Cecilia Rizk: Right now, It's Been A Minute. The segment on the best thing that happened to listeners each week makes me cry every time.

Alaina Gibbs: There are far too many to name, but I'm currently listening to Embedded and There Goes the Neighborhood. Over the past few months, I've kicked off my weekday mornings with Up First.

Favorite Tiny Desk?

Chelsea Bollea: All of them. I saw Wyclef Jean, The Roots, Hanson and Ani DiFranco in my first month of training at HQ—pretty solid line up! I really hope the Tiny Desk Tour rolls through Culver City one day...

Melanie McCarty: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. They played with a lot of heart.

Bailey Muto: George Clinton & P-Funk, or any band/musician that can get a whole room dancing!

Favorite places in Washington D.C.?

Bailey Muto: I moved here last month, so I'm still discovering new places and looking for recommendations! I really enjoy Union Market and the view walking down 13th Street. I'm looking forward to checking out local music venues like Songbyrd Café and Black Cat.

Loren Pritchett: My absolute favorite place in D.C. is the rooftop bar at Marvin on 14th and U. The music is always good, the vibe is perfect, and the menu is amazing. Another favorite is The Potter's House, a nonprofit café and bookstore in Adam's Morgan. The bookstore is quaint and has a really cool backstory. I also enjoy walks around the Tidal Basin and National Mall when I have friends or family in town. And every once in a while, I'll go to Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park at 3:00 p.m. and participate in the drum circle. I've been in D.C. four years and still feel like there are so many more gems to discover!

First thing you do when you get to the office?

Amanda Heerwig: I walk straight to the coffee machine and pour myself two shots of espresso—at maximum strength. (You really don't want to see me before my espresso!) Then I make my morning rounds and see how each of my team spent their previous evenings.

Jennifer Longmire-Wright: Say a prayer of thanks for arriving to work safely! Then good morning greetings all around to my awesome colleagues, get some coffee or tea, maybe visit our Sound Bites cafeteria, and then get started on my day.

What are you inspired by right now?

Amanda Heerwig: I'm inspired by Renee Montagne's maternal mortality stories. I've seen several listeners write in about how the stories actually saved their lives. I don't think impact gets much greater than that.

Jennifer Longmire-Wright: I love, love, love to read (I must give a shout out to NPR Books)! Here are some of the inspirational books that I am currently reading: Hit Refresh by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir by veteran actress Jenifer Lewis, Shrill by Lindy West, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed.

What do you love about public radio?

Chelsea Bollea: It's always there to teach me something new, challenge me with unfamiliar topics and different perspectives, and connect me to communities near and far.

Melanie McCarty: Public radio empowers people with information. We provide facts that help people to make decisions, whether it's where to live, how to vote, or what causes to support. It's such an important service.

Mary Claire Sullivan: I got interested in economics through Planet Money—I started listening to it as a way to keep up with what was going on during the financial crisis in the U.S. while I was living abroad. Not only did the stories help me keep up with what was going on, but the podcast inspired me to study Economics in college. That's the kind of interest public radio stories spark.

Shari Thomas: Its relentless ability to reinvent itself. #40andOverClub

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Chelsea Bollea, Cecelia Rizk, Jennifer Longmire Wright, and Bailey Muto.
Hugo Rojo / NPR
Chelsea Bollea, Cecelia Rizk, Jennifer Longmire Wright, and Bailey Muto.

Jeevika Verma joined NPR's Morning Edition and Up First as a producer in February 2020. During her time there, she's produced a variety of stories ranging from Afghanistan peace talks, COVID surges in India and local & state elections. Verma also contributes to arts and poetry coverage for NPR's culture desk, and is always trying to get more poets on air. She leads the Morning Edition diversity council and works on DEI efforts across the network to help NPR live up to its mission.
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