The Rivard Report: Four Non-Profitable Years and Counting

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Rivard Report offices are full at the Gonzales Gallery opening reception in December 2018.

The Fourth of July holiday serves as a different milestone for me now, an annual reminder of the decision we made in June 2015 to convert the Rivard Report to a nonprofit enterprise.

It was not an easy decision, but it was a smart one. The catalyst behind the move was John “Chico” Newman, who has served as vice chairman of our board of directors since that time and who is a familiar name to many San Antonio nonprofits that have been the beneficiaries of his family’s quiet philanthropy.

Chico also led the effort to recruit Richard Schlosberg III to sign on as our first chairman, a leadership role he continues to fill with superb finesse. Others with their own strong histories in San Antonio signed on with them, and today, thanks to their work, their personal generosity, and the generosity of the people in this city we serve, the Rivard Report has grown to become a close-knit, high performing team of 19 people.

It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.

Charles Butt, the chairman and CEO of H-E-B, and the greatest philanthropist I’ve come to know (one hamburger dinner with Warren Buffett doesn’t quite count), asked me why we did not launch in 2012 as a nonprofit. My answer then was naïve. I thought there was a small but real chance I would create something of value and I didn’t want to give it away.

The Rivard Report found an audience with its first postings in February 2012, but profitability was another matter. Within a year or two, we were earning a six-figure sum in advertising, enough to pay a small staff of four, rent offices, buy computers, and go out for coffee, but that, I learned, is not the definition of profitability.

“How much do you pay yourself?” asked Lew Moorman, then the president of Rackspace, and someone I was wooing as a potential investor in my growing for-profit venture. It was 2014 and we were three years old.

“Nothing,” I admitted, a source of some disharmony between myself and Monika Maeckle, my co-founder and wife. “Then you’re not profitable, you’re not a for-profit, you’re a no-profit,” Moorman concluded with his signature directness.

Moorman joined with Newman and Schlosberg as a founding board member, and until he rotated off the board earlier this year, I learned a lot by listening to Lew’s candid advice and observations. Laura Saldivar Luna, then the executive director of Teach for America and now a national executive there, and Katy Flato, the former managing editor of Texas Monthly magazine and the founder of the San Antonio Book Festival, also signed on. Dan Goodgame, then with Rackspace and now the executive editor at Texas Monthly in Austin, completed the original corps.

There has been no looking back. We grew from a handful of paid employees to our present size, and today we enjoy spacious offices in a landmark building on historic St. Paul’s Square, a workspace big enough to showcase the work of local artists, with room for bikes and dogs, and a pollinator garden out back that is finally yielding a few cherry tomatoes.

The Rivard Report offices in St. Paul's Square.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Rivard Report offices in St. Paul’s Square.

How do we measure our worth in the community? Are we making San Antonio a better city by our presence? Is our journalism, and our calendar of civic engagement events, contributing to better-informed, better-connected citizens? 

Our growing community of donors and members answer, yes.

“I can’t imagine San Antonio now without the Rivard Report,” are some of the most gratifying words we hear from readers. Don’t mistake that gratitude for complacency or self-congratulations. The team here is ambitious, hard-working, focused, and hungry to grow. We know we can be better, and there isn’t a single person at 126 Gonzales St. who isn’t living up to those words.

As I look back on June, it’s easy for me to single out articles that had a real impact. Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick, our very first employee who joined seven years ago, wrote, Brockhouse, Wife Say She Called Police to Home in 2009, the first written account in which mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse and his wife Annalisa admitted to police responding to a domestic abuse call at their home. Jackie Wang, a general assignment reporter who joined us from the Austin bureau of the Dallas Morning News, wrote our recent profile of Fr. David Garcia, one of the most influential spiritual leaders and historical preservationists of our time.

Brendan Gibbons, who covers the environment and energy, exposed the continuing existence of a hazardous roof shingle dump on the city’s Westside, abandoned by the owner of a failed recycling company. Without Gibbons’ investigative work, people outside that neighborhood wouldn’t even know it exists.

Our readers tip us off to such stories, and sometimes even write them. Amanda Merck, a mobility advocate and research specialist with the nonprofit Salud America, which works to reduce adolescent obesity, has periodically contributed articles to the Rivard Report. Her latest, Hausman Road Sees Rise in Crashes after Costly Expansion, has been her most impactful to-date. Merck used state and local data to show that the City’s most expensive road project ever actually led to commuters on the busy thoroughfare becoming more prone to collision and injury.

Shari Biediger’s touching portrait of Cruz Cortez, the matriarch of La Familia Cortez, who passed away at age 98, is a reminder that alongside hard-hitting journalism, storytelling remains a strength at the Rivard Report.

I could compliment the work of each one of our journalists if given the space, but my point is to highlight different kinds of published work that hold real meaning for people in San Antonio; stories, articles, and commentaries you would not want to live without.

The work of our journalists would not be possible without the success of our small but talented and committed business team. They work to build membership, attract donors, organize and present civic engagement events, and sell advertisements and sponsorships. This summer, this team of four, and two talented young interns from Trinity University, are reaching out across the city to solicit new members of our Leadership Circle, major donors who contribute $1,000 or more annually to support our work.

The team is working to meet a $100,000 challenge grant made by the Newman Family Foundation, conceived to help us increase the number of donors who have the resources to give at that Leadership Circle level.

Donor support comes in many ways. We pride ourselves on offering membership at $25 and up. We have hundreds of members who give between $25 and $99, and hundreds more who give $100-250. Every member counts. Without them, we could not sustain our work. 

You might decide to take the next step now and move from reader to member. Some of you can afford to join our Leadership Circle, many more of you will be just as welcome at whatever level you can comfortably afford.

 

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