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Arkansas PBS Foundation Gets New CEO After Schism

3 min read

After a leadership showdown and a nationwide search, the Arkansas PBS Foundation board has chosen a new CEO, experienced fundraiser Marge Betley.

Betley, previously major gifts officer for the Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation in Fayetteville, North Carolina, will start in her new job on Monday. Her three-decade career in nonprofit fundraising includes work in fields as diverse as the arts and behavioral health, serving organizations with budgets of up to $60 million, Arkansas PBS said in a news release.

The job announcement comes on the heels of a now-eased standoff between the state’s educational TV network, now known as Arkansas PBS, and its fundraising nonprofit affiliate, the Arkansas PBS Foundation. Both were rebranded with the PBS title after years of being known as the Arkansas Educational Television Network and the AETN Foundation.

A dispute over the firing of former AETN Foundation COO Mona Dixon had led the Foundation board to demand a different CEO than the chief executive of the network itself, Courtney Pledger. Pledger had fired Dixon, causing hard feelings on the board and unleashing staff unrest over Pledger’s new leadership of the organizations.

Pledger had previously been CEO of both the network and the foundation.

The foundation board found itself at an impasse with the Arkansas PBS last year after Dixon’s firing in February 2019, and various vocal but anonymous staff members criticized Pledger’s management style and handling of Dixon’s and the foundation board’s concerns about the way Pledger used foundation money to pay for consulting services from a North Carolina-based filmmaker and content expert, Rachel Raney.

After AETN threatened to cut its services contract with the foundation, Pledger agreed to be removed as foundation CEO in favor of an independent leader, though she remains on the foundation board.

The foundation board president, S. Lynne Rich, a professor at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, home to Arkansas PBS, praised Betley’s qualifications. “The Arkansas PBS Foundation Board performed an extensive nationwide search to find the best candidate who would bolster fundraising efforts and grow membership for the network,” Rich said in a statement. “We are confident that Marge Betley, with her nonprofit experience and belief in public media, will make great strides in securing the necessary resources to benefit all Arkansans.”

Pledger noted that Betley’s work in North Carolina included heading the “Caring for the Future capital campaign in support of the health system’s planned Center for Medical Education and Research. “In particular, Marge’s experience managing large campaigns and major donor relationships is in line with network needs for growing infrastructure, funding increased digital content, broadening content acquisition options for broadcast and Arkansas PBS Passport, and telling more local stories,” Pledger said in the news release. “Her understanding of the work of PBS and Arkansas PBS from a creative perspective, combined with her passion for the mission of public media, make her an ideal candidate to lead our development efforts.”

A former Fulbright Scholar to Germany, Betley was once chief development and communications officer for Family & Children’s Services, the largest nonprofit behavioral health center in Oklahoma. In that role, she helped to raise more than $10 million in less than a year to support capital expansion needs, according to Arkansas PBS.

“There’s never been a more important time than now for the Arkansas PBS Foundation,” Betley said. “PBS is the champion of education, science, art, diverse voices, and of equal access to culture and information of integrity. I am thrilled to join the Foundation, and to help create an even more vibrant future for Arkansas PBS programming and services across the state.”

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