The Circle of Engagement: A Strategy for Leading Change


Founded in 1975 to represent community radio in the United States, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) has been devoted to representing and providing services to community radio stations. Its efforts have taken a variety of forms. Support is offered online, in the field, and via national conferences and regional summits.

Providing a meaningful public media service at the local level has changed significantly over the decades that NFCB has been doing their work. The business of operating and funding non-commercial stations has been turned on its ear by changing audiences, nearly unlimited media choices, technological advances and fundamental changes in the way people support public media. Tools and recommended practices developed or promoted by NFCB have changed in response.

Developed by NFCB, the Circle of Engagement model is an organizing schema used for leading the kind of change at stations that allows them to meet the challenges they face and take advantage of the opportunities they have. It is focused on helping stations implement strategic content, engagement, and revenue goals while growing the organizational capacity to sustain their effort over time.

We know that the power of public media is built on our commitment to education, public safety, and civic leadership. Community stations operate locally and have a powerful influence in engaging rural and minority constituencies in small-market areas that are not served by legacy media outlets to the same degree that larger market areas are.

Whether it is local journalism, storytelling, live events, music discovery, or the exploration of cultural nuance and meaning, these vital local organizations provide a nexus where community life and civic life meet and interact at the local level.

Customized training and support such as NFCB provides helps ensure that community stations’ contributions are not marginalized in the larger public media system. NFCB has consistently maintained that if these types of stations are to do more than survive in a rapidly changing media environment, they need optimized organizational capacity to achieve the highest quality standards for their content, engagement efforts, and fundraising success.

The Model

Community media organizations are most effective when four key areas are operating optimally:

1. Content

Terrestrial, digital and future programming responsive to local needs

2. Engagement

Building relationships and making the case for relevance and value

3. Revenue

Short-/long-term funding for supporting mission and impact

4. Organizational Capacity

Infrastructure, leadership and strategy that fosters adaptation and innovation In this model, sustainability means that the station is seen as an essential in the community and is valued accordingly by a broad scope of the members of the community. Effectiveness is measured by how readily the station can achieve its content, revenue, engagement, and capacity goals within the resource constraints and conditions it operates.

The model asserts that these four areas are interdependent. Content drives engagement; engagement drives revenue; and, revenue development. Increased revenue expands innovation and quality of content. When functioning optimally, the circle begins anew. At the center is

organizational capacity, which supports the effort, infrastructure and strategy necessary for the other parts to succeed.

Like content, which sustains audience; revenue, which sustains growth; and engagement, which sustains relationships, organizational capacity sustains progress over time.

Circle of Engagement Components

Within each area of the Circle of Engagement (Content, Engagement, Revenue, Organizational Capacity) there are progressive stages. Progress in each area may not be linear. Stations may see achievement in one area ahead of other areas.


Studies indicate people listen to community radio much like they do other radio and media. As distribution channels change and the number of choices grows, the need for community radio to offer intellectually and emotionally stimulating programming, which is capable of satisfying an audience with diverse, eclectic cultural and musical interests, only increases.


Partnerships with your audience and institutions open doors to communities we would like to know better and represent better. There is no replacing the trust that is built by investing time to build these relationships. Engagement is about fostering those bonds.


Building revenue, like engagement, is about relationships. How your station enriches and helps transform audiences’ local cultural sphere, and how your unique and relevant content stimulates a revenue stream to continue its production in support of your mission are integral to experiencing revenue growth.

Organizational Capacity

A station’s organizational capacity is key to its ability to create social and financial capital in its community. Without organizational capacity, station sustainability, regulatory compliance and future success can prove elusive, if not unattainable.