This feature comes from NFCB’s September newsletter. You can subscribe for free here.
Sean Spence’s career is filled with diverse and complementary activities – with particular emphasis on building organizations, marketing, event production, and fundraising (having raised well over $20 million in his career). He has started and run two successful businesses – The Sunrise Agency (a marketing firm) and Community Events (event production) – served on the leadership team of a $700 million e-commerce company, and worked in a variety of capacities that give him special understanding and expertise in marketing and organization building. Today, Sean is CEO of online ticketing start-up EveryEventGives and general manager of KOPN community radio station. Sean is an active community contributor, both as a supporter of existing activities and a creator of new programs.
You came to your station with a lot of nonprofit experience, and fresh eyes to community radio management. What were the first areas you found were easiest to improve?
Well, this will shock some folks, but fundraising was where we found the quickest, easiest improvements. You don’t have to be a brilliant fundraiser to implement modern fundraising techniques and make it a real focus. Just knowing the mechanics of good fundraising can make a big difference, and pretty quickly.
How have you created new interest in a station with the kind of history KOPN has?
KOPN just passed our 45th birthday, so we have a long, proud history here in Mid-Missouri. Our goal lately has just been to try lots of things – lots of community events and activities – and talk about what we are doing so people can see how full of life we are. We have had concerts, speaking events, a political candidate forum that we hosted with the newspaper, and several other things. We want people to see that it is a new day for KOPN.
With a development background, you have an uncommon pedigree as a general manager. How would you recommend managers without development experience cultivate such awareness in their work?
The first step is to fully realize that the final responsibility for fundraising is ours; as general manager, the buck stops with us. After that, the biggest thing is just to learn about good fundraising – go online, read books, call other general managers around the country and pick their brains. Make the time to learn; do the work; raise the money. There really is no other option.
What issues do you believe stations need to most understand about fundraising?
The number one reason people give to any cause is because someone asks them. So get ready to ask and ask and ask. Don’t be afraid of it. By asking, we are giving people the opportunity to be a part of something big and important – community radio – and we should be proud to ask them. People will ay no a lot, but that’s fine, too. People will do what they can, when they can, and it is up to us to ask them, and make sure they know wheat we need.
What have been your biggest challenges so far, and how did you solve them?
When I say this, I am betting there will not be a single GM who disagrees with me. The people. All at once, the people are the greatest treasure and the greatest challenge. Pretty much every day, there is someone who is upset about something; someone who disagrees with me about something; someone to deal with who has, shall we say, a “challenging personal style”; someone who has advice about how I should do my job; and the list goes on and on. I am not always successful, bit I work hard to deal with all of this by constantly reminding myself that all of these people are only an issue because what we are doing is important and valuable to them, and part of my job is to help them contribute and have an awesome experience with us. And sometimes – no matter how irritating it may be to me – they are right and I am wrong. There is so much to learn from these incredible, crazy people who make up community radio, something I am reminded of every day.
Complete this sentence: I can’t do this job as well without ____.
… always remembering the history and culture and the community radio brand that have made this place what it is. Thankfully, on those occasions when I might forget this – in the name of raising money or whatever – there is always someone there to remind me.
And finally, if you got a call from someone interested in being a community radio manager, what advice would you give?
Learn stress management. Know and stay true to the heart of community radio. Learn to raise money.