Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Community Broadcaster: Brighter Futures Require Planning

Take advantage of the summer slowdown to prepare for the future

The author is membership program director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

Many people regard this period in August as the dog days of summer. They are the times we feel a little lethargic because it is simply so darn hot. And indeed you may not want to move around much, except with a glass of lemonade in hand. However, in my view, this time of the season is a perfect time to plot-out the fall.

What better way for community radio to utilize these weeks before school gets into gear than figuring out ways of tackling our biggest puzzles? How do stations rise to the occasion before us all?

Challenges abound for community radio. There are the ones that have spawned a million think-pieces, like podcasting or streaming. In addition, there are contentions that are perhaps on the early edge of adoption, or which have yet to penetrate the mainstream widely, including virtual reality via mobile. All of it adds up to a mountain for work for those leading volunteer-inspired organizations.

Community radio has a forecast many people are unsure about. One of the questions I am mostly often asked by community radio leaders and organizers is how community-based media can thrive in this space of constant change and far better funded competition. In one word? I would say it is planning.

Having been in the trenches of community radio, I absolutely know that sinking feeling of skittering from one emergency to the next. It is hard to sometimes think in this sort of hamster wheel; one in which we are constantly reacting to what goes on around us. It can be fun, and even a little exhilarating. However, this mode of operation totally crushes your ability to see beyond three, six or twelve months. It thwarts setting objectives for your station. And, although you can’t future-proof community radio, a dash of organization saves more headaches than you would ever possibly imagine.

Perhaps these last weeks of summer afford you a moment to start a strategic planning process.

Every community radio station should have a strategic plan, built internally by management or, ideally, with stakeholders like your board. I appreciate many stations just have not had a moment to catch a breather and get this far. Regardless, a strategic plan will help you enormously.

What is a strategic plan? At its essence, a strategic plan is a roadmap formulated by community radio station leaders to help set goals for a period of time. Strategic planning can give your station a one-, five- or even 10-year roadmap for where you want to go. Even though it should be revised and revisited regularly, it is a dynamic way of helping community radio set a course forward and to pursue it.

Executing a strategic plan requires a nonprofit like a community radio station to consider its timeline. Many of us rely on volunteers and a volunteer board of directors, all of whom have busy lives and tons of insights, connections and ideas to bring to the mix. You want to give yourself lots of time to include your multitude of voices.

Strategic planning requires lots of conversation. It lets us all get out what we want and hope for our respective organizations. It is furthermore a fantastic way of coalescing around vision. Strategic planning is a wonderful means of getting everyone working together toward the same ends.

How is a strategic plan itself formatted? One of the more common ways for nonprofits to organize a strategic plan is called a SWOT analysis. “SWOT” stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s just what it says: a nonprofit assessing its competitive advantages, where they struggle, changes the organization can meet and threats to its viability. That’s quite a bit to chew on, but a wonderful base exercise.

The National Council of Nonprofits offers a complement of strategic planning resources, including scheduling and analysis. A community radio board member or staff member will want to peruse strategic planning resources carefully, if this is something you have not done before.

I also recommend planning tools like Project Blueprint. While it is primarily aimed at programming efforts, Project Blueprint is certain to get you thinking about how your orient your work, particularly programming and community engagement, around your audience.

Lastly, the most beautiful strategic plan is for naught if there is not focus and desire to see it through. As a result, your community radio station should also consider ways of implementing a plan on the agreed-upon deadlines, or who can ensure a station revisits the plan when needed.

With 2017 more than halfway done, there is no time like the present to turn up the heat on your community radio success.