When I started at the National Campus and Community Radio Association (“NCRA” - the English not-for-profit network of radio stations with 105 members across Canada), I came from the member/station side – it’s pretty common for an Executive Director (ED) to oversee the sector from which they originated. Not having any knowledge of association and membership management, I was learning on the go. But I knew what my station wanted and needed, and had a hunch that a few others could benefit from these insights, too.
When our books revealed that we were going into the first year of a balanced budget in about 5 years it presented both a shock and an opportunity: a chance to change the way the association sees and works with the sector. It opened the door for fresh eyes and a new perspective to come in and help strengthen many areas of the organization.
So here is what I did to help double our income within 2.5 years, and to set us up to double it again in the next two:
1. Respect what came before you
My predecessor (Shelly Robinson), and the previous ED’s before had done an amazing job to get us to where we were, but admiring her work didn’t mean I had to try to fill her shoes. I needed to assess the work that had been done, and find a way build upon it. For us, that meant moving away from asking for approval from all of our stations for everything (an often time-consuming task), to being a professional, business based organization. (“Professional” can be a dirty word in a community, non-profit setting, but for us it was about streamlining and efficiency in order to create the best environment for our members). It meant taking a different approach to the same question, “what can we do that will make the stations better, from above, as a whole?” Trust the member to take care of themselves, and work to change the context around them so they can flourish.
2. Learn, Confirm, and Go
In our case, we learned that our AGM’s were widely understood to be a mess. My first one as the ED of the association lasted 13 hours…. And no new bylaws or member motions passed. So the solution I saw was to cut the handholding, joint decision-making of the formal meeting setting, and to insert the feedback and community input into our work in other ways. This was done by:
- Opening up other forms of feedback to the association - such as sector wide annual surveys and implementing “open space” for feedback,
- Meeting with members on a one-on-one basis so they knew we were listening directly to them - but not only them, and
- Developing our own app (“AGMeeting”) to allow all members to participate fairly and equally (with the bonus that people wanted to make sure they didn’t mess up on the app voting and as a result, were not really willing to try to cause problems). The outcome of that app was a 1 hour 30 minute AGM in 2017 - and now member stations are using it themselves at their own AGMs.
3. Turn the technology solutions into money!
The AGMeeting app now is a finished app: we own the rights to it, we developed it in-house (with the help of a grant, meaning no actual cost to the association), and now we can spin it off and sell it for straight cash to support our members. We have also been developing the !earshot Digital Distribution System which solves not only a problem about the physical space and wasted costs for our music partners in mailing CDs into stations for airplay, but also allows us to capture those costs. It means that we can capture the income by updating an antiqued system – and this income is estimated at upwards of $500,000 by the end of 2019. The benefits are plenty. Members get music faster, cheaper and more direct. Artists save a lot of money and time, and the association is predicted to double its cash flow. The best part is that, as an association with limited costs, we are able to strengthen our membership and to filter money directly back to our own organizations and the sector as a whole.
So for us, taking a step outside of what we historically did, assessing the systems in place, and working with members in a different way to get their buy-in on updated processes, has resulted already in a twofold increase in our budget in just 2.5 years. This, along with the potential re-doubling of income in the next two years, will go right back to support the members themselves. Did I mention we now also have 15 new members with more knocking on the door?
Radio is alive and well. It’s just not the same thing you heard a few years ago - and it’s on the way to sounding even more different.