Sometimes you just have to start over, it seems to me. That’s what we’re doing with the part of our organization that works with corporate partners who support public radio in our area. We build giving relationships with individuals through pledge drives, written communication, personal interactions – pretty traditional “development” work that mirrors what a lot of not for profits do and while we’re always trying to do that smarter and better and with more of an eye to what donor/investors are looking for in a relationship, we understand that fairly well.
But our work with community businesses has always followed a “media sales” model, where we have been asking companies, large and small, to make a media buy, to purchase underwriting on our stations. Corporate support is a huge part of our budget each year, accounting for almost 40% of our total operating funds. It’s no secret that it’s been getting more and more difficult to find corporate support in this challenging economy and the sales pitch for public radio has become increasingly difficult. Our corporate support line was down by about 30% in our fiscal year 2009. So, we’ve had some thinking to do.
And it makes sense to me that we would look at corporate entities in the same way we look at individuals – as people who care about the community, who want to invest in quality of life causes, who have limited resources and want to know that what they invest in makes a difference, who are discerning and careful and want good information as they make decisions. People who want to be fully engaged in causes they choose (and it is always a choice) to support.
So we’re abandoning the old “sales” idea in favor of a corporate engagement model, one that says to a business, “Tell us what matters to you and let’s see how that might dovetail into our work.” Maybe what matters to them is getting their new name out. Maybe they want to be seen as a more community-minded business. Maybe they want to connect with a certain group of people. Maybe the business owner wouldn’t listen to anything but NPR and wants to make sure others have the same opportunity (these are the fun ones.).
And what we offer can look really different, too. Sometimes that may be a straight on-air schedule of underwriting. Maybe it will include an event sponsorship where a corporation can be present and make themselves personally known as a supporter of this particular kind of community information we provide. Maybe it’s in the form of technology and equipment donations that further our work. Or providing a corps of volunteers to help with events and drives. Maybe it’s stepping up their corporate match for employees who pledge to NIPR and then publicizing that within the company. Or, providing free or discounted services like printing or lawn care – things that we would otherwise need to pay for. We’re looking to think in a whole different way that would allow any business or organization, ANY business, to find a way to partner with public radio, make contact with our loyal, committed audience, and know that they are contributing to an educated, thoughtful population.
We’ve created a new position to help us navigate this exciting mind shift — we’re calling it “corporate engagement manager” – engaging corporations, businesses, organization, of all sizes, shapes, and missions in this important work of public radio. There’s still, certainly, an important sales aspect to it, but we’re going to focus on finding someone who really gets the philanthropic part of investing in public radio. It’s the best of all worlds, really, underwriting on the air, the ability to support a community resource, opportunity to connect with an audience that really loves this station and wants it to do well, and yep, a sense of doing something really, really good. We’re looking for someone who is as excited about representing public radio out in the community as the programming and production staff is about making public radio. It’s an important addition to our team.
The job description can be found here. Let me know if you’ve got somebody in mind who will just blow our socks off!