Membership is Coming to Open Signal!

April 04, 2018

Let's Talk About Funding for Community Media: It's Complicated

Every state in the U.S. has some kind of community-driven media center like Open Signal. While most of them are private nonprofits, by and large, these centers remain totally dependent upon public funding. In turn, that funding is dependent upon the goodwill and priorities of local government; cable franchise fees, which are calculated by the number of subscribers to cable television; and legislation that determines the collection of those fees. It's a dizzying set of relationships and policies and bureaucracy. (And for full information on just how that complex system of funding works, I recommend you check out this blog post by my colleague, Bea Bedard.)

In 2018, we know that cable subscriptions are on the decline. For Open Signal, that means we're facing a $60,000 loss in capital revenue from cable franchise fees next fiscal year. Even more dramatically, Los Angeles saw 12 of its community media stations completely shuttered in 2008 after a change in state legislation in 2006. Other centers have been forced to reduce their services to nothing more than broadcasting government meetings. 

Across the nation, community media centers are being forced to rethink their business model and Open Signal is no exception. Since 2016, we have raised more than $250,000 in operating support through the incredible generosity and partnership of local private foundations and public grantmakers. We are also beginning to get support from local businesses and we're exploring additional revenue options everywhere we can.

So, Why Membership?

Fundraisers know that collecting small and large donations from people in the community is a particularly stable source of funding. Grassroots gifts are also a crucial source of unrestricted funding, meaning that nonprofits can allocate the money in response to community need, rather than to satisfy a foundation or a corporation's priorities. 

As we began thinking about engaging individuals in our fundraising plan, we researched membership programs at other community media centers. We found that at least 20 of the 31 centers that we reviewed had a mandatory annual membership fee for individuals to access the equipment and facilities.

We also started asking around and learned quickly that many of our community members are more than happy to pay a small fee in exchange for virtually unlimited to access to our two professional TV studios and our media equipment library valued at more than $650,000. In other words, some folks are ready and willing to contribute financially, we just need to ask for their support.

With support from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and a match from the Oregon Cultural Trust, we've been able to hire the brilliant Marina Martinez-Bateman, our new Development Manager, to work with our community to design a membership program that is right for us. Since last summer, she was able to talk with dozens of membership managers across the city about what works and does not work about their programs. And even more importantly, she had 1-on-1 conversations with 64 members of our internal community about what brings them to Open Signal and their relationship to fundraising. 

This May, we will launch a membership program that we think will make our community stronger and improve the Open Signal experience for everyone. Our goals are to:

  • Build unrestricted revenue that will help us respond quickly to community need and stabilize our funding streams
  • Create a structured opportunity to directly ask everyone in our community for financial support
  • Help us define who our community is and provide new opportunities for our community members to learn and connect and make media, through events and more
  • Leverage the strength of our incredible member community to gather further funding from private foundations and other sources
  • Perhaps most importantly, we want to build a program that strengthens our community and is totally inclusive; one that doesn't leave out anyone or create an elitist "in" group

More than anything, Open Signal is rooted in values of accessibility and our membership program will reflect those values.  

Over a series of several posts, we'll share more about our research process and give you an understanding of how this program will work. 

In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me at the contact information below, or contact Marina Martinez-Bateman, Development Manager, at marina [at]

Rebecca Burrell Director of Strategy rebecca [at]

Pronouns: she/her/hers

I joined the Open Signal team in 2016 to oversee strategic growth initiatives, including communications and fundraising, and I actively contribute to our long-range planning efforts. 

I've worked in the arts and communications fields for more than 15 years, most recently at The Right Brain Initiative, a public school program of the Regional Arts & Culture Council. On a volunteer basis, I've been working since 2015 as a co-founder and core organizing member of Arts Workers for Equity, an anti-racist collective for the nonprofit arts sector.

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