Friends of PBS Wisconsin, originally the Friends of Wisconsin Public Television, is a nonprofit organization that supports the Public Broadcasting Service for Wisconsin.
They raise money, advocate for the service to Wisconsin residents, and manage volunteers.
The nonprofit says it also exists to ascertain the needs of the communities served and otherwise support the state’s public broadcasting service.
Anyone who donates to PBS Wisconsin becomes a member of Friends of PBS. With that membership comes the ability to elect new members of the board, vote on changes to the articles of incorporation and the bylaws, and dissolve the institution altogether.
But the Friends of PBS board is putting forth a proposal to take away voting rights of its members. Instead, all voting rights would rest with its board of directors.
But first, the current membership would need to approve the bylaws change that would take away its voting rights.
The change was prompted in part, the nonprofit says, by low voting rates among its membership of 70,000 throughout Wisconsin.
According to Eric Greiling, the executive director of Friends of PBS Wisconsin, much less than one percent of their members actually vote in the elections.
“The idea of members becoming involved in the management of the organization in a hands-on kind of way is not something that the members are that interested in currently,” says Greiling.
“I think they are very interested in the success of the organization. But what we’ve seen from how they engage with us and their level of involvement, that expresses trust in the board of directors to actively manage and govern friends of PBS Wisconsin.”
Despite this, Greiling says, they are making every effort to get out the word before the vote.
“We were in consultation with attorneys on this, and also want to serve our members well,” says Greiling.
“We published an article in Airwaves, our monthly viewer guide. We sent a letter to everybody who has opted out of Airwaves who we don’t have an email for, and we sent an email to every member who we have a good email for. And then we published in the newspaper of record too, so that in my view was above and beyond our legal requirement to try to notify everyone. We sent several reminders to people because I would like to achieve quorum on the vote and, you know, do this once.”
Under the current rules, each member has one vote. The membership has the ability to approve amended bylaws, mergers, and dissolution.
The proposed changes would allow its board of directors to have the final say on all of these changes. They would also let the board of directors choose all future members of the board. of directors.
That’s in contrast to the current system, where a group of directors nominate candidates, then members vote on them. The board then approves the members’ choices.
Each member of the board of directors serves for three years. And no director may serve more than two consecutive terms.
Even if these changes are approved, Greiling says that regular members will still have a voice.
“This is an annual membership,” says Greiling. “They have a pretty powerful way to signal to us whether we’re meeting their expectations or not by continuing their membership, not continuing their membership, or expressing themselves through any one of the vehicles we have to gain their opinions and their comments.”
Greiling also says that regular members will continue to benefit from being a part of their organization. They will continue to receive event invitations and the monthly Airwaves newsletter.
According to their website, members can also participate in an annual member survey put out by PBS Wisconsin.
Friends of PBS will meet tomorrow at 6pm, on the second floor of Memorial Union, where members will vote on the proposed changes. Members can vote in person or online, and can call in if they are not present. Greiling says that he expects the proposal will pass and adds that there has not been much pushback from members.
“The most common response I’ve received to the invitation to participate in the meeting is ‘sorry, we’ll be out of town’ or ‘we’re busy that evening so we can’t make it’,” says Greiling.
“I’ve had a single letter expressing concern about-I don’t mean to put words into the writer’s mouth-but the concern was more of the optics of this than the actual changes being proposed: in light of other events in politics across the state, was this a very prudent thing to be doing at this point in time? I think there’s a difference between government and governance of a not-for-profit company.”
PBS Wisconsin needs fifty members for a quorum. A majority of the votes of members present is needed to make the changes.