Category Archives: Financial fun

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

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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

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Filed under Community, Financial fun, Partners

The power of ten, as in $10.

I had the great privilege of spending time yesterday with a colleague who also runs a small public radio station. We have different situations – his station is licensed to a public school system; ours is licensed to the “community.” Both have advantages and dis’s (although yesterday, it was clear that at least for that moment, I do not want to trade) but more similarities than differences.

Conversations always turn to fund-raising and we hit on the huge problem – challenge, really, – for public media that stems from the fact that our product appears to be without cost to the public.  That is also a fulcrum for the mission, so it shouldn’t change.  You turn on the radio, you get to walk away with the product. But funding the production and distribution of a product that is essentially free to consumers is a unique and interesting place to live.

We talked a lot about connecting in a more meaningful way to those in our community who have the capacity to give significant gifts, about getting our current members to perhaps give incrementally more, about positioning our organizations as not just radio stations, but essential community resources.  We talked about how we make certain those who are giving now know how much it means and how much they are appreciated. These are all directions that have great impact to our sustainability and must be talked about and examined on a continuing basis – and examined with intelligence, insight, and a real sense for who truly cares about us.

But the segment of the population that really always captures my interest is that big, BIG group of people who listen, many every day, but never make a contribution.  They don’t have to, it’s so true. But I always wonder why they don’t. And more importantly, I wonder (and by wonder, I mean agonize over, dissect, drive staff crazy, and just can’t give up on) what we might do to encourage that giving.

If you have spent any time with me, like fifteen minutes, in the last two years, you have most likely heard me say that if everyone who listens to WBOI for any time at all during the week made a gift of $10, we could pay off our old operating debt and begin to run this station on top of the ground rather than from our current, rather discouraging “in a hole” position. $10.  It would change, in a way I cannot even begin to describe, the way we serve this community. Mostly, and I think you will understand the importance of this, it would change the level of bravery with which we are able to innovate, create, and move forward.

So how would we do that, get those listener, non-member folks, whom we love and who love us, I think, to pass over the debit card for a $10 gift?  Seriously, I think about this way too much. Because it seems like such a logical answer to a weighty problem.  If everybody did a small part, we’d solve this. (Selling 94.1 is an enormous problem, but there are some doable, if not altogether glorious, solutions. The operating debt, a leftover, doesn’t seem to have so many possibilities.)

We can’t send everybody a text or a letter or an email, because until a listener self-identifies, we don’t know who they are.  People get to use our product, for free, in stealth mode.

What about a $10 drive?  A couple of days, pretty low-key, but the ask is that everybody, EVERYBODY listening shares $10 with a station that must have some value to them, because they are listening.  Write a check, give us your card number, stop by the station with a ten.  I wonder how we’d do . . .

Do not be surprised to hear something like this someday.  As I said, this plagues me.  If you have solutions, I would love to add your brilliance to my “wonderings” on this subject.

$10. Every listener.  And maybe a few people would throw in a $20 to cover listeners that simply can’t do it right now. I think we could get it done.

What do you think?

Joan


“- “I’ve been thinking Hobbes –”
– “On a weekend?”
– “Well, it wasn’t on purpose…”” Calvin & Hobbes

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Lighting the match.

Two full days and a half a day on Saturday is what’s left in the drive.  Yesterday was a really good day with the phones ringing all day, and ringing wildly during Morning Edition and All Things Considered (thanks Catherine Lee of Cinema Center and Andy Welfle of Fort Wayne Dance Collective).  That’s how it’s supposed to go and it felt very good!  Thanks, too, to the scurrying people answering those phones!

I think pledge drives are a pretty weird model for fundraising, if I’m being honest, but it’s the model public media has been working from ever since the government stopped providing the lion’s share of support for public radio and television stations.  And sometimes development people from other organizations think it looks pretty great to be able to just talk to the constituency all at once, with a real voice, and that part is great, I admit.  But how about the part where people can take advantage of the service you provide and never identify themselves, never buy a ticket, never walk through your door in person, never shake your hand or speak their name.  We don’t know who’s listening unless they choose to tell us.  It does make it pretty easy for a listener to never, ever give.

Pledge drives are about finding just the right words at just the right time – the words that make someone realize we are talking to them – the words that make them say, “Oh, man, I should give something!”

And it’s about offering a match.  It still amazes me, and really, it is a very good thing, how people will pick up the phone if we have a match available.  Who doesn’t like having their gift doubled, or an extra $25 added to it?  I am so grateful that we have corporate partners who value what we do enough to put up some cold hard cash to encourage the rest of the community to partner with us, too. And yesterday, it was pretty awesome.  We had challenges from Indiana Michigan Power. Sweetwater. NIPSCO the day before and Midwest Quality and every time we introduce their sweet deals, the phones start ringing. 

Match magic.

So those corporate partners provide a bit of lighter fluid for the fire.  Oh, I kind of like that picture.  The fire’s smoldering all the time (people do give, I firmly believe, because of the message) and then once in a while (because we couldn’t possibly offer matches every minute of the drive) we squirt a little lighter fluid on the coals and whoooosh!  it blazes wildly for a while.  And the fire burns brighter for a long time afterward.

So, thanks, corporate partners, for fanning the flames of this important effort this week. You make an enormous difference in the energy of each day, in the way people feel about making even a small gift, and in the final outcome of our drive.

Haven’t called yet with your gift?  You don’t have to wait for a match, but there will be some today. 

Just sayin’ . . .

Joan

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Have we ever done this before?

“Really, have we ever done this before?”

It was one of those mornings, as we launched into the first full day of live pledge driving.  With quite a few new people on staff and lots of moving parts, it was an interesting challenge, but we’re having fun. So if you thought maybe you heard a testimonial playing over the news, yep, you did. And if you thought there was a really awkward pause or something or other just before BBC, yep, there was. What you couldn’t see was the wild scurrying as the technical sorts here tried to figure out what was happening.  Anytime we mess with the “usual” we open ourselves up to interesting anomalies.  I’m grateful that the technical sorts here are just really good and that nobody depends on me to figure anything out when stuff starts to go haywire.  My role is to stay quiet, out of the way, and then say “Good job, everyone”, when we’re back on track.

 How great was it to have Jeanette Dillon with us, early in the morning, like old times, as we started Morning Edition at 6 am!  We made a good start, with about $10,000 raised and a $5000 challenge match from current members.  The phones have been busy and the pledge forms are piling up, so we’re on our way.  Other great friends will be in all during the week – Rachel Blakeman from the Mayor’s Office, a super supporter of public radio, will be in during ATC today and she’s always a treat.

Phil Shaull, Jackie Didier, Joan Brown, Kevin Kreigh, David Hunter, Ed Didier, Jennifer DePoy

We did celebrate the actual birthday of Midday Matters and had to look back sort of amazed at how far we’ve come in a year. I figure that we’ve had more than 500 guests during this year – and shared huge amounts of information, news, commentary, and opinion. Still a long way to go – lots to improve and tweak – but we love that this is part of our line-up.  We hope to hear from MM listeners all week.

So, even with the glitches, it’s been a good day so far and we’re looking forward to a memorable, successful week full of great conversations with listeners.  I hope you are one of those conversations.

Thanks,

Joan

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got goals?

The break room has been transformed into a “phone room.”  Gigantic containers of various snack foods and highly caffeinated beverages are appearing in the supply closet. Program grids, match money schedules, and guest hosts lists are completed, edited, and revised for the last time (right?).  It’s almost time for the spring pledge drive and we are so ready.

And the goal is . . . ?? 

To raise $150,000 in support for the station this Saturday afternoon through next Saturday at 1 pm.  We can so do this!

During this first week-end, it will be “pledge drive lite”, regular programming punctuated with special pledge messages throughout the week-end.  And a phone room staffed totally by NIPR staff members, which is always such a great way to work the kinks out of the system (and to have a pretty good time while we still have energy!).

Then starting Monday morning, bright and early with Morning Edition, the action begins.  Guest hosts, special programming (don’t worry, we aren’t preempting Diane Rehm), and you, joining the enthusiasm by pledging your support.  It is the single most encouraging time of our year, whatever the final result.

$150,000 sounds like a lot and it is a higher goal that we’ve had, but challenging times call for a little courage – we haven’t really made a secret of the fact that it’s a challenging time – and the support of listeners has never been more important. In fact, $150,000 represents only about 10% of our budget.  Some members give so generously, we hesitate to ask again, but we do, because this programming matters to this community and we need consistent giving to keep it strong and healthy.  Some folks listen all day, every day, and yet haven’t yet become members.  We hope that something said during this week will serve as motivation to join the family.

And many listeners join or renew memberships outside of the pledge drive, and we are so grateful for that.  If we had to raise all our membership money just during pledge drive time, the goal for this drive would need to be $250,000.

$150,000 breaks down into 5000 people each giving $30. Each week between 40,000 and 50,000 people listen to us, so 5000 seems really, really easy (well, it does to me, anyway).  And some people are able to give much more than $30, which helps cover other listeners who may find themselves unable to give this spring. The real point is – every gift is going to matter.  A $30 pledge, or a $300 pledge, or a $3000 pledge (it’s happened) all contribute to a successful conclusion.  If everyone who listens played even a small part, we’d blow this goal right out of the water.

You’ll hear lots of familiar voices during this drive and I’m just thrilled that so many listeners, supporters, board members, fans and friends have stopped by the studio to record brief spots about why they support public radio in our community.  I look forward to hearing many other voices, on the other end of the phone line, all during this really important, exciting week.

It’s gonna be fun.

Joan

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Report Cards.

Earlier this week I received a box in the mail, addressed directly to me, with “Confidential” stamped on it.  As soon as I saw the return address I knew what it was.  The official copies of our 2009 audit.  Our fiscal year runs from October 1 through September 30,  so our audit comes at the very end of the calendar year, with the results coming in January/February.

It’s like getting a report card.  You know, you weren’t ever really surprised by what was on it, but to see it there, in black and white, and know you have to show it to other people (like your parents) was kind of unnerving, if it wasn’t all good.

We had a very good audit experience that affirmed many of the positive changes that we’ve made, and gave us a good report on our processes and procedures, but the bottom line is kind of ugly this year.  And I feel a bit like I got a bad report card.

Operationally, we actually did better this year than last, but we had to make some big adjustments on paper to account for an unfavorable appraisal of the frequency that we purchased in 2007. And we had to admit that some people who owed us money aren’t really going to pay us and write those accounts off.  Ouch.  Big ouch.

Anyone really reading the financials carefully would see some very good things and would understand that those were “paper” adjustments, not real cash transactions.  But just looking at the bottom line, you’d have to say, “Hmmm.”  If you read all the way through to the notes at the end, you’d see that we’re working hard to keep things moving in an upward direction.  If you read all the way through . . .

Just like that pesky report card, this gets shown to people who matter.  Major funders, grant makers, individuals who ask for it.  I sent several copies out in the mail today to people who require them on an ongoing basis and I seriously wanted to add a note that said, “Promise you’ll read this carefully, compare it to last year (not just the bottom line), and read the notes at the end.  Promise?”

I really very proud of the accomplishments of this organization over the last year.  We’ve played fairly well with the hand we were dealt, so to speak, and kept expenses unbelievably low. I’m ridiculously optimistic about what’s ahead for us.  So spending much time worrying over last year’s report card seems like an unproductive use of energy. So I’m not going to.

But I do sort of feel like I got a frowny face sticker or a “you can do better” written in red.

Onward and upward,

Joan

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