Monthly Archives: August 2010

The morality of a budget.

I spent some time working for a social justice organization that launched a campaign with the slogan “A budget is a moral document.” We were involved in lots of memorable activities, but that phrase had a significant influence on me then and continues to be top of mind anytime I’m struggling with dollars, personally or at the station.  What we do with our money says a great deal about what we truly value.

It’s budget time at NIPR. Our fiscal year ends September 30 and we begin again on October 1 and it’s a good idea to begin with an approved budget.  Budgets are always challenging for nonprofits – if we’re passionate about the mission there’s always so much more we want to be doing for the people we serve and, of course, that takes funding. I happen to be of the optimistic type so I look at a hard-working staff and dedicated supporters and think we can fund more. That’s when a good board comes in handy, just to say “Really?”.  And then we go back and look at it all again.

We have some added challenges when trying to improve and expand how we serve and do that within a reasonable budget because we’re servicing a large debt as well.  So we budget for paying good staff,  for our national programming from NPR and others, for keeping the equipment functioning so we aren’t just playing good radio inside our building, for maintaining our studios, and for all the expenses every business has . . .  and then we budget for paying off the purchase of 94.1. Right now the service on that debt each month is about equal to one of the two payrolls we make each month. It’s a budget line on the cash budget that I certainly wish wasn’t there.

When I think about the moral issues of the NIPR budget – providing the service we say we provide, making sure people get paid (and paid fairly), keeping up our obligations for benefits, paying for things we buy in a timely manner, stewarding contributions with integrity – servicing debt certainly has a moral obligation to it. Figuring out how to do all that well within the constraints of the income we can expect isn’t easy.  We’re dealing with cuts in funding from the state and from our federal support, still-cautious corporate support (although we are seeing improvement, thanks to faithful corporate partners and great staffing), and of course, the increase in cost of just about everything.

Last week was a week of sharpening the budgeting pencil and I’ve struggled with what every not for profit manager battles.  Getting a realistic, balanced budget by decreasing expenses always means something suffers.  For almost all of us, after this long economic nightmare, all the fluff was gone long ago.  We’re operating lean and mean and sometimes ugly just to keep doing what we do, so to look at more cuts on the spending side means somebody loses. Let me be really clear that as passionate as I am about what we do at NIPR, we’re not the food bank,  or a free clinic, or services to the handicapped or homeless or ill or endangered.  I get that and I get that cutting a program on public radio doesn’t have the same devastating impact.  (I do get tired and cranky, rarely delusional.) But cutting expenses does impact the product we deliver.

So the alternative is to improve the revenue side. And that’s when our moral document of a budget becomes a budget decision for our listeners, supporters, and corporate and community partners.  I was encouraged this week when we sent out a plea to our closest partners – our current and past board members – asking for some additional support as we move into the final few weeks of this fiscal year.  Thanks, all of you. And I know that to operate responsibly next year, we’re going to be doing a lot of asking.

As we move into full-blown planning for our fall pledge drive (October 16 – 24, I know you’ve been waiting to put it on your calendar. C’mon, it’s fun!), one of the things we are most hoping is that we can do our best job yet as we talk about the mission and our service to the community.  We will need to be awesome at encouraging those who listen but don’t give to step up this year. It’s a huge part of the answer.

So as I continue to put numbers on the lines (and delete and try it again) to produce a solid, realistic, service-providing budget, we’ll be asking listeners to look at their budgets and see if there isn’t a line dedicated to investing in the programming they rely on.  Seems like a kind of moral obligation to me. And it is, when all is said and done, revised and revamped, the only way we get to keep doing what we do.

Thanks for listening and supporting,

Joan

2 Comments

Filed under Financial fun

Live in the studio.

Midday Matters ArtCentric Friday has been on a summer roll of live music and today is no different.  Local legends Bob Craven and Fred Rothert are tuning up in the Harriet Parrish Performance Studio and it’s exciting.

There’s just a special kind of energy flowing when musicians perform live during a program. It’s what radio used to always be and I love it that we have space, technology, and willing hands and minds to make it happen on a fairly regular basis here. (Chief Engineer Ed Didier and Al Mozena, you’re the best!)

Bob Craven, Julia Meek, Fred Rothert

I’m really enamored with the idea – Julia’s idea, really – of having a regular evening program that features this kind of music, performed live for our listeners.  A great combination, perhaps, of incredible music heroes such as Bob and Fred, and new music, artists just coming on the scene, finding their way and blessing us with the sounds as they journey.

So much we’d like to do here.  Your input is always welcome.

Even the tuning up sounds good –

Joan

22 Comments

Filed under Good Times, Programming

Underwritements.

Carrie Boylan, who joined us just a couple of months ago as our Corporate Engagement Manager has coined a new word to describe the “spots” you hear on our stations that give credit to our corporate programming sponsors.  “Underwritements.”   I like it.

We’re a federally funded (less than 10% of our budget, but it’s there and we’re grateful for it) not for profit, noncommercial public radio station and that comes with a bit of baggage when it comes to our corporate partners and what we can say on the air. You’ve noticed that our corporate spots sound very different from the advertising you might hear on commercial stations. (No “Saturday, SATURDAY, SATURDAY!! here).  Community-minded businesses “get” that partnering with NIPR is different from just “buying air time.”

The regulations around the corporate presence on our station are based on the assumption that corporate support is just that – corporations make a contribution to public radio and the “spots” serve as acknowledgement of that support.  No calls to action (that’s why many spots end with something like “more information at yourname.com rather than “Stop in today and buy something”) and why the spots are short (most thirty words or less) and why you don’t hear comparative terms (nobody’s the biggest, fastest, smartest, nicest, brightest, bestest).

Those spots are designed to do one important thing – let the community of listeners know that this particular company has found public radio to be a significant community resource with a worthwhile audience and they are choosing to support it.  The spots remind all of us that the programming we hear isn’t free and that corporations and organizations are teaming up with every individual member who contributes to make certain this resource keeps broadcasting.

Every decision to underwrite on NIPR contains an element of philanthropy, of community investment and all of us who enjoy what we hear would do a good service by thanking underwriters when we have the opportunity.

But signing up, and paying the bill, for “underwritements” on NIPR has some big upside for companies, so while partnering with us will always have an element of charitable investment, there’s solid business strategy as well.

We have a remarkable audience that rewards companies who support public radio.  You are loyal, committed, invested in the community, and you want to be a patron of others who feel the same.  You are the people many “advertisers” want to connect with and you pay attention. You don’t need blaring music or someone yelling at you to understand what it means for a company to stand behind programming you value.  You are engaged in this work and when we invite corporations and organizations in our region to support us, through underwriting, event sponsorship, or our new business membership program, we are inviting them into the same relationship, full engagement with the work.  And as a reward, we let you, listeners with a least a bit of money to spend now and then, know about their investment.

Each of us can play a part, along with Carrie, in strengthening our corporate “engagement” by simply letting the organizations you hear mentioned on the air know that you appreciate their partnership. We know how important it is to them every time an NIPR listeners says “Hey, I heard your spot on NIPR.  Thanks for doing that!”  It matters – to them and to us.

Thanks,

Joan

2 Comments

Filed under Community, Financial fun, Partners