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First Report on Governance
Gov-o-Metrics 1 Results
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FOCUS ON CIVIC LEADERSHIP
By Kathy Merritt
In the past 18 months, issues surrounding governance of public radio stations have gained prominence and visibility at the station and national level. Governance issues have been discussed at conferences and put on priority lists for a range of organizations. Governance – the structures, traditions and processes that determine how power is exercised, how decisions are made and how the public interfaces with the station – has always been a topic of concern. But the issue is pushing its way to the forefront now for several reasons:
Perhaps the most compelling reason why it is capturing so much attention is that governance matters. Getting governance right leads us to better public service and the ability to run better public service businesses. Effective governance allows public radio stations to build stronger community connections, increase their value as community institutions, tap into new funding sources with the help of high-level community volunteers and concentrate on public service.
As we look at governance issues, one challenge is central to all that we do. An organization functions best when its governance aligns with its public service vision. The focus of the station should be the business of radio and serving the public. In the best of all worlds, that mission matches the mission and needs of the licensee. The place to start is not with governance, but with the public service vision. Define the vision and you can start exploring what models of governance can support it.
Narrowing the focus
The results from SRG’s first Gov-o-Metrics survey helped guide us to our focus on civic leadership. The goal of the on-line survey was to get a better idea of how governance is perceived by leaders in public radio. The survey tested 15 attributes of effective governance by asking respondents to rate the importance of each attribute and their station’s performance on each attribute. We found that performance correlated closely with importance on most attributes.
According to the respondents, attributes related to fiscal control and operations were most important:
A second group of attributes related to big-picture thinking was rated as somewhat important:
Respondents rated as least important the attributes related to board functions and community outreach and fundraising:
(For a detailed report on the survey results, please click here.)
The survey results led us to several conclusions. First, what’s top of mind for the participants relates to the process of ownership.
These attributes of effective governance are internal and real-time. They are about the transactions that need to take place to manage a station well on a daily basis.
What’s “bottom of mind,” if you will, are the attributes related to the intersection of the station and the community.
These attributes are external and long-term.
In order to help stations advance their relationships with civic leaders, SRG is developing outcomes in three areas that will guide our work.
First, more and more meaningful civic engagement. We want to help stations go beyond the typical “dog and pony show” community board meetings to find ways to:
Another set of outcomes would address tapping community resources. Resources include:
Civic leadership can give a significant boost to fundraising efforts. Consider that individual support amounts to $216 million a year for public radio stations. Suppose stations asked their civic leaders – those engaged with the stations in meaningful ways – to raise another 10 to 20 percent. That’s the typical lift that non-profit organizations see from major giving programs. That would add up to another $20-40 million a year for stations. To put that in perspective, CPB’s budget for radio is $70 million a year. Stations invest $55 million a year in NPR. An additional $20-40 million a year could fuel new growth for public radio.
SRG is developing outcomes for a third area – organizational transformation. In other words,
Think about how public radio stations have evolved. Not so long ago, many stations were supported by their institutional licensees to the tune of 30, 40, even 60 percent of their operating budgets. Now, most stations rely on community support for 30 percent, 60 percent, or more of their operating budgets. Licensees, meanwhile, may give little or no direct support or may even ask for indirect costs back. Stations have turned their faces outward and it makes sense to consider business models that recognize where support is coming from – while being respectful of the work and money given over many years by the institutional licensees. Stations have more listeners, and they are raising more dollars from listeners, local businesses and foundations. These people all have a stake in the stations they support, so a transformation to a new business model seems appropriate in some cases.
People were looking inward, trying to improve the product on the air.
“Bottom of mind” answers would probably have been:
There was little emphasis on what the audience was doing. But then, something happened. A few people in public radio set an ambitious goal – to double the audience. That goal - and the research, discussion, and actions it prompted - changed the way everyone thought. If you’re going to double the audience, you have to start measuring the audience. You have to learn new things and start looking at programming from another perspective, a more external perspective.
In achieving the goal of doubling audience, public radio learned to build on significant programming to create significant audience.
That’s where we are with governance today. We’re in the early stages of changing our whole way of thinking about governance.
We believe that significant civic leadership can help change the landscape of public radio by bringing additional resources, ideas and skills to bear in the on-going effort to build stations into significant community institutions providing significant public service.
This report was developed as part of Charting the Territory, SRG's national planning initiative for public radio that is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SRG member stations.
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