The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at radioworld.com.
Amid 170,000-plus attendees and 2,700 sessions, it is hard to not be awed by the sheer spectacle that was Dreamforce, the annual conference hosted by customer relationship management tools developer and service provider Salesforce.com But beyond rumors it will buy Twitter, why should Salesforce.com and CRM matter to small and local community radio, and what can radio learn?
Whether it is Tony Robbins or U2, Dreamforce attracts big names and marquee corporations. For good reason — Salesforce.com has made a tremendous name for itself across many industries, from finance to retail to every sector of technology imaginable. Some of the world’s biggest nonprofits use it to manage donor relations.
“All good,” you say, “but who cares?”
Hear me out. The noncommercial media space, including community radio and public media, has much to learn from successful nonprofits using data and technology to grow. The analytics revolution that Salesforce.com and competitors have ushered into modern life is also a chance for community radio and public media to assess what is most important. It matters because contributors have new expectations. It also matters because technology can help stations focus less on paperwork and more on the relationships with their supporters.
Three key things at Dreamforce struck me.
Community radio can use technology to grow what people expect of it. At Dreamforce there were so many instances of nonprofits using data, mobile and service to engage supporters in ways that press community radio to consider how it can inspire members and underwriters, and expand its own service. One UK nonprofit takes public concerns for the homeless to smartphones by allowing geolocation of people in need to service providers. Black Girls Code and Code 2040 leaders shared stories about how they made alliances with businesses work best for their constituencies. Discussions like this are incredibly instructive for community radio, which often fancies itself as a voice for localism and subcommunities. Technology gives a chance to realize these ideals in a new, dynamic and creative way.
Community radio needs to embrace the new normal of data. Community radio collects all manner of information — recordings, volunteer information, etc. — but is missing a golden opportunity to do what it does better. More and more nonprofits are seeing how important it is to use data to show donors they care. Others still struggle. On the corporate side, Apple can tell you what a customer prefers and what they buy. Similarly, more and more nonprofits can track what a donor supports most, their average gift and when they’re most inclined to give. This level of tracking is eschewed in some circles as invasive. However, the reality is that more people, particularly those who give to charity, are those who organizations need to value more. In my public media work, I’ve talked to many members who feel the fact an organization doesn’t know their giving habits equates to not caring about them personally. The world today has conditioned most people to expect connectedness as never before. They expect to give out an email address and assume an organization has their billing information and giving history on file. Yet a 2014 study indicates catering to the new expectations of customers is among the lowest priorities. Community radio would benefit by switching it up.
The touch always matters most. Among the tiny and massive nonprofits at Dreamforce, the objective of all of these cool gizmos was clear: to make each organization’s people more effective at what they do, and to enable them to have the most information possible for quality contacts with donor-members. Staff change, addresses change, but all nonprofits know their communication needs to be consistent and smart. The longtime supporter should have assurances that even new people know their importance to an organization, their history and what matters to them. A new donor should have regular, but unobstrusive, contact and a smooth ride into an organization’s world. As community radio leaders are well aware, it is tough to raise money and convert the casual observer to active giver. Technology can only enhance the contact, but it’s that moment that matters most.
Community and public radio, and, really, all nonprofits, have some common cause in how your average business relates to a consumer. Where a business is trying to sell you an aesthetic, such as trust, a community radio station wants you to give money out of a higher ideal: mission, culture or a contribution to the commons. Community radio outlets are special snowflakes all, but we share the same challenges. Dreamforce demonstrates but one example of ways to tackle our biggest puzzles.