The Community Advisory Board was formed in 1979 but was not very active.
Its purpose has changed over the years and the station has worked hard to get the right mix of people on the board. The CAB has assisted the staff on many important issues such as legislative challenges and fund raising projects including a successful capital fund raising campaign. About a year ago, General Manager Dave Edwards says the board began discussing its role and how it should it evolve as a means of support for the station. They saw the need for adding new members who would bring new ideas and energy. They realized that some members had been on the board 10, 12, even 15 years. They began to see that the lack of a mechanism to rotate members off the board was creating stagnation. Edwards says the board is now in a transition period as they work to institute terms. Some board members have stepped aside.
Edwards says the most important role of the board is to advocate for the station when staff members can’t. “They can testify before the legislature, I can’t do that,’ he says. “They could call the governor when there was a proposal to privatize public broadcasting. I can’t buy that access.” Board members also communicate with the university to press the station’s case. For example, the university is in the process of selecting a new chancellor. Edwards says the board is already strategizing about the message they want to deliver to the new leader. “When a new chancellor arrives on campus, how can board members inform the chancellor about the role the station plays, explain how it’s an asset to the university. They’re excited about doing that.” Edwards says the CAB folds into the framework of the university because many departments and college have advisory committees.
Standing committees focus on government/community relations, development and promotions. There is also an executive committee. Edwards says he makes presentations on audience trends, but the role of the board is “way beyond” examining programming. “They recognize that there are professionals here who decide what time Marketplace is on the air. If we’re considering dropping a show, we’ll share that with them. There are board members that get upset when a programming change is made, but that’s okay, it’s their role to challenge us.” One board meeting each year brings the board together with station producers. “We say to board members, what are the concerns of the community and who should we talk to. They have big rolodexes.” Edwards says some of the ideas from the meeting have developed into on-air programming segments. He also uses the CAB as a sounding board – occasionally asking members to review programs that the station is considering adding to the schedule.
The three standing committees work with staff in their respective areas to review strategies. For example, the development committee reviews the station’s donor list and will assist in contacting donors. At times, committees are created to look at specific issues. This year, committees have been formed as a result of WUWM’s strategic planning process.
The board has developed a member profile that outlines what the board expects of its members. They’ve also created a self-evaluation that asks members how they’ve contributed – not just financially, but intellectually. The executive committee reviews the evaluations. Edwards says it allows members to make their own judgments about their participation. “Sometimes people realize they’re not contributing. In the past, I was the heavy. This way, they’re doing it themselves.”
Selection of members
The board takes nominations from a wide variety of people, including station staff. Edwards and the station’s development manager meet with nominees and give them an overview of the board’s activities and responsibilities. If that meeting goes well, the station invites them to serve as a member of one of the committees of the board for a year. Edwards says, “We get to look at them, they get to look at us. We get to see if it’s a match made in heaven.” The executive committee reviews participation of the new people and recommends if they should be invited to formally join the board. From there, Edwards make recommendations to the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, who makes appointments for one year. At end of the year, the members fill out their self- evaluation. The executive committee decides if members stay on or rotate off. If they are invited back, they are appointed to a two-year term, then an additional three-year term.
Edwards says getting the right mix of people is important. Some people look good on the station letterhead, but they may not be very active. He advises looking at the “up and comers” who will someday be chief executives.
The WUWM Community Advisory Board does require members to donate. The board president makes the solicitation.
Edwards says there’s a lot of “care and feeding” of the CAB. “I meet the chair for lunch almost monthly. We talk on the phone quite often. Usually every week I e-mail board members to let them know what’s going on, what’s coming up on the air. Because of the care and feeding, it makes it easier to work with them.” Edwards attends all the board meetings and the committee meetings. “I’m willing to invest time in making it work. I’ve seen it pay dividends.”
Edwards says the station should be clear about what it wants the board to do and should figure out how to support what the board does. Neither party wants its time wasted. What board members want, he says, “is to feel connected to something they really care about.”
This report was developed as part of Charting the Territory, SRG's national planning initiative for public radio that is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SRG member stations.
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