2018 Brings Challenges and Opportunities

An Established and Successful Organization

AIM celebrated its 35th birthday in 2017, and WERA celebrated its second. It’s not that common for nonprofits to last this long, and it’s downright rare for one to steadily improve and grow over the course of three-and-a-half decades. It’s also not that common for an established nonprofit, successfully focused on a core mission, to take on an entirely new and complex venture. Yet that is what we’ve done. And it’s just flat-out amazing how well you’ve made it work. WERA is quickly becoming known as one of the best radio stations in the market due to the high quality and large quantity of information and entertainment that you all produce. Meanwhile, our AIM TV producers are now streaming their programs in HD on our website and making them available in HD on demand.

So there is a lot for the AIM and WERA producers, members, and volunteers to be proud of and a lot to look forward to in the coming year. But I also want to take a moment of your time to talk about some of the challenges that face us and some of the things that we are planning to try to meet those challenges.

AIM Revenues Are Down and Expenditures Are on the Rise

Someone very smart once said that “money solves all problems.” (Well, maybe it doesn’t make all problems disappear—and I might have been the one to say it—but more money certainly makes most problems easier to manage.) Unfortunately, budget pressures are at the center of some of the problems that AIM and WERA are facing as we head into 2018. When the cable franchise with Comcast was rewritten, our annual guarantee of 1% of gross cable revenue was removed. Arlington County instead asked us to present our funding needs annually as part of the regular county budget process, which we have done. For fiscal year 2018 (July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018) the county granted us funds totaling 95% of what we received in fiscal year 2017 under the old franchise’s 1% formula. We will receive 95% of that in fiscal year 2019, and we can expect further reductions of at least 5% per year in future years.

Given that the county’s grant is the largest single source of funds for the organization, it’s easy to see how this makes our budget tight. In addition, all of our fixed expenses are rising—most dramatically the cost of our health insurance, which has risen more than 25% in the last two years. We've also found that the costs associated with operating WERA have exceeded what we anticipated. Finally, we've had to add new expenses such as the electronic entry system (the key system wasn't adequate to let volunteers enter and exit the building after hours), the phone system (Comcast used to provide it; now we have to pay for it ourselves), enhanced Internet and intranet capabilities to facilitate both radio and television signals, and many maintenance expenses that had been paid by the cable company that are now our responsibility.

New Revenue Generation and Staff Reorganization

To offset these increased expenditures, we’ve worked hard to raise additional revenue through commercial production, training, equipment and facility fees, underwriting, sponsorship, and fundraising. While this revenue has helped tremendously, it alone will not adequately meet the budget challenge before us. Therefore, we’ve also had to make some difficult decisions regarding staffing. After careful analysis, we have determined that it is possible to combine the membership and communication coordinator positions by shifting some of the responsibilities of each position to other full- and part-time staff and then create a new position that we are calling the “Membership, Marketing and Communications Manager.” This new position will be in charge of both areas; will create a strategic plan for our membership, marketing, promotions, and communications needs; and will lead a team of part-time staff, volunteers, and interns in achieving it. For more information about the position, see https://www.arlingtonmedia.org/about/job-openings-internships.

To Make It Work, We Need YOUR Help

In order to make this new staffing system work, we are going to need your help. With reductions in staff, AIM will need the help of our volunteers more than ever before. Each of our current full-time staff positions will be seeking to lead teams of part-time staff and volunteers in accomplishing the day-to-day activities of the organization as well as long-term initiatives, daily productions, and our promotions, marketing, and communications endeavors. If you haven’t joined one of the teams that we are putting together, such as the blog team or the social media team, please do—and look for additional teams to be formed in the near future. If you have joined, please stand by for further instructions after New Year’s.

While the volunteer teams will be crucial for meeting our budget realities, we also think that they will be excellent catalysts for cooperation and collaboration on a whole range of projects among members, producers, and volunteers. When AIM members get together to work on projects, amazing things happen. In this respect, our budget challenges will definitely provide us with many opportunities.

We know that we ask our members for a lot. But the reality is that we have to ask you for even more if we’re going to keep AIM and WERA growing, thriving, and serving our members, producers, volunteers, viewers, and listeners. We’re all proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last 35 years, and I’m confident that we’ll last for another 35. More importantly, I know that by working together, we’ll grow and flourish and achieve still greater things.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this or any other issues. You can reach me at: paul@arlingtonmedia.org.

On behalf of the AIM staff and board of directors, I wish you all the best during the holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year.