Thinking Forward

“Normal rules no longer apply.”  I read those words in the business section of my local newspaper yesterday.  They were in a story about how COVID-19 has practically destroyed the free-market economy we were all enjoying at the beginning of 2020. As I read the story, Isaw that once again most of the experts, financial or otherwise, were caught totally off guard by the pandemic and its effects. Nobody saw this coming.  I mean, other than God, who could?

The thought of a pandemic that would reverse the economy, curtail our ability to shop, travel, gather, and attend school, and cause many of our on-air personalities to have to find ways to broadcast from closets in spare bedrooms was not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of this year.  Nevertheless, it happened – more quickly than any of us would have thought possible.

This adventure has gotten some of us pondering other scenarios, and I would like to invite you to “think forward” with us.

Consider this: What if our radio ministries are a lot more fragile than we thought?  What if another global catastrophe were to happen that caused what’s left of our economy to crumble?  What if the source of funding for commercial and non-commercial Christian music stations disappeared because of an even deeper crisis than the one brought on by COVID-19?

As farfetched as I hope these scenarios are, if we’ve learned anything during the past few months it ought to be that only God knows the future.  While He has promised to provide for His children, He’s never promised business as usual. So, if you are hoping everything is going to return to normal one day, here’s an opportunity to reset your sights.

Because the unexpected happens, some forward-thinking organizations are investing time and resources in scenario planning.  By looking at some improbable (but not impossible) things that could cause negative repercussions, our organizations may be able to take steps today to protect ourselves against these situations before they come knocking on our door.

Before I go further, I want to say I’m a firm believer in the admonition of Proverbs 3:7 to ‘be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.’  Whenever we are undertaking a task that depends on human wisdom, it’s prudent not to trust our output as the final authority.  In fact, I read that proverb to say that being wise in my own eyes is actually one of the evils I am to turn away from.  But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t seek wisdom, and, as God grants it, use it.  Scenario planning is a useful exercise when balanced with a healthy, biblically informed and God-dependent humility.

Simply put, scenario planning is where an organization attempts to look at events that could happen and figure out their potential impact. You’re probably already doing versions of this at your station.  If you’ve purchased fire insurance for your transmitter site or created a succession plan for when the CEO retires, you’re already looking at and planning for possible future events.

True scenario planning is that process, cranked up to eleven.  It looks at situations that may not seem probable, but that could happen. The goal is to discuss and plan what to do if it does.  What would the event mean for your station?  How would it impact your mission?  Is there anything you can do today to keep it from hurting your organization?

Since our organization is doing this right now, I can tell you the real benefit is in being prepared should the unlikely adverse situation happen.  We may not ever need to implement much of what we’ve identified. But any good crisis management firm will tell you it’s better to have a plan and not need it, than to need it and not have it.  By its very nature, a crisis seldom gives much warning.  Those who weather the storm best are the ones who have set aside the umbrellas and raincoats in advance.

Our leadership team and board of directors are looking at two scenarios right now, with a third to follow later this year.  I think we are already a better organization for having done so.  Considering how different scenarios will actually impact the work you’re doing can help you look at your resources (human and financial) differently.

So, if normal rules no longer apply, how would your ministry respond if any of the following 10 scenarios happened?

  • The FCC decides unexpectedly to eliminate the distinction between non-commercial and commercial licenses.
  • The IRS eliminates tax exemptions for all charitable giving.
  • Your station is sued in court for propagating hate speech.
  • New advances in technology change the concept of ‘radio’ for those who have traditionally been your listeners. Because of that they are spending 10% of the time they used to spend with your station.
  • A prominent member of your on-air team is implicated in a highly publicized moral scandal.
  • A new “performance tax” is levied on music-formatted radio stations that makes the cost of continued operation less and less viable.
  • Legislation is enacted that prohibits your organization from requiring employees to adhere to a statement of religious faith.
  • A better financed, higher profile station with the same format you play comes to town.
  • Our nation faces a catastrophic economic downturn to the point that commercial sponsors are no longer able to afford to buy spots, and non-commercial donors can no longer afford to give.
  • Autonomous cars become so prevalent that in-car radio listening is diminished by 80%. This curtails the unit-price you can charge advertisers as a commercial station, and most of the quarter hours that donors were spending with your non-commercial station.

Some of these scenarios may look very unlikely to you today—as unlikely as a previously unknown virus causing a global pandemic.  Others may actually be things you’ve stayed awake at night thinking of.  Regardless of how unlikely they may seem, keep in mind that if we’d been able to predict the future many of us would have bought stock in Amazon when it was in single digits, and pharmaceutical companies would already have a vaccine for the coronavirus.  Since we can’t predict the future, maybe taking a lesson from what we’ve seen in the very recent past can cause us to look at some “what-if?” scenarios and work to futureproof our ministries from forces over which we have little to no control.

I won’t take the time to detail how scenario planning works.  However, it’s worth the financial investment to find someone who can do that with you. Or, maybe there’s a listener who does scenario planning for a living who would donate their expertise to your mission. Either way, thinking forward now may be able to keep you from wishing that you had.

Jon Hull
Sr. Director of Donor Engagement, KSBJ & NGEN Radio
jhull@ksbj.org

Having been in Christian music radio since 1974, Jon Hull is a frequent seminar speaker having served on the board of directors for the Gospel Music Association and Christian Music Broadcasters. Jon is currently on the board of the National Religious Broadcasters andserves as the Senior Director of Donor Engagement for KSBJ and NGEN Radio. He and his wife Karen, have two daughters and four grandchildren. Jon is an Ordained Deacon at Founders Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.

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