A few years ago, I did a stint for 3-4 years as an adjunct instructor for Cornerstone University’s Intro to Media course. I always introduced the course by suggesting what I believe are three enduring laws in broadcasting. I’m not saying these laws are biblical, nor am I saying they are the exclusive laws by which media exists. But I do believe today more than ever, these laws are immutable in media.
Allow me to focus on just one law in particular, that is: The bottom line is… money. Yeah, I know. The bottom line and chief duty of man is to glorify God, and yes the priority of a business is to provide a service or product with excellence. But at the end of the day or certainly by the end of the month, the bottom line still is… make money. How else can a business survive, let alone thrive if a profit isn’t made? What would the stockholders of iHeart, Disney and Comcast say if there wasn’t a profit? Even for a non-profit radio ministry, generating positive revenue must be a priority. I don’t know of a single mortgage holder, utility provider or music licenser who accepts, “We’re doing it for Jesus’ sake” and nothing more as payment.
Moving your station’s ministry toward financial growth while trusting God to provide for your needs is not easy, As I was thinking about this, I thought of what might be considered a similar quandary from Luke 18:18-30. This passage isn’t so much about the balance of revenue growth while trusting God, but I think we can draw some donor and business development applications from the narrative.
You know the story. A wealthy young “executive” comes to Jesus asking for what he knows to be a rather pricey gift. In meeting Jesus, he gets right to the point by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Wow. Talk about your cold call! As I think about his request, I come away wondering if he really grasped the reality of what he was asking. I’m led to believe he probably didn’t, in part because he didn’t really understand whom he was asking. He addresses Jesus as “good teacher”, which prompts me to think his request is centered on a simple outcome. Had he done his research, he’d know this conversation would turn out to be more than transactional, it would be transformational.
How often it is I’ve made the same mistake when meeting donors or clients. I’ve opened several conversations with just enough small talk (and undevoted listening) to make the ultimate sweet segue into the desired transaction and request, “Ms. Donor, would you be willing to make a gift to our station?” The error I make when I pop the question comes in not taking time to discern why the prospect would even care to give. I’ve failed to learn more about my prospect, why she’s in business, why she listens to the station and why she values the station. Had I taken the time, I’d have been better enabled to make a more meaningful request of her, and on behalf of the station’s future.
Here’s a second observation: the wealthy young exec seems to know his request is a huge one. He’s a model citizen who’s led a good life and seemingly believes he’s worthy and deserving of making such a noble request. I couldn’t agree more – if this were about him. But that’s the thing. The request for such an immense gift isn’t just about him. In the big picture, this man needed to understand the true value of his request and what it would mean for others, not just himself.
I’ll never forget a specific example of my preparing for a lead gift request to our building campaign. All of the meetings prior to this request had gone well; the foundation with whom I was meeting had already made three five-figure gifts to our station in the past three years. The foundation’s director was visiting our current facility once again. He clearly saw the present need for our building campaign, and he knew I was about to ask for a gift ten times larger than the foundation’s previous gifts to us. As the conversation ensued, his questions moved further and further away from addressing our current need to that of our vision for the future, how a new building would benefit thousands more yet to listen. In short, he was asking why our existence was so important to the community instead of focusing on what our needs were in replacing our present facility. It’s almost as if Simon Sinek’s “golden circle” luminated my office.
Thankfully, his questions were answered to his and the foundation’s satisfaction. So much so, the foundation gave even more than what was requested, more than eleven times its previous gift. And isn’t that exactly what Jesus does when we listen more intently and ask the right questions based on a deeper understanding of who he is. I’m reminded again as I go out and “generate more revenue” that the gift I’m requesting is not really for me, nor even WCSG. It is for the greater good of the listening community today, and in the years to come.
Executive Director, WCSG
Chris Lemke serves in leading the mission and vision for Cornerstone University’s radio ministry of WCSG, one of the most successful Christian radio stations in the country. Both Chris and CU’s broadcast ministries have received numerous top honors from the National Religious Broadcasters, Christian Music Broadcasters and Radio & Records.
He began his career in 1980 at WCSG while enrolled as a freshman of Cornerstone University. Over the years, he served as on-air host, program director and WCSG’s general manager. Outside of Grand Rapids, Chris has taught sessions at national industry conferences, written articles for industry trade publications and presently serves on the board of directors for the Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB). He served on the Board of Directors for Grand Canyon Broadcasting from 2006-2009, and continues to provide guidance and coaching for other Christian stations around the country.
In 2019, Chris was awarded CMB’s Industry Achievement Award in 2019 and WCSG was honored as the Gospel Music Association’s Contemporary Christian Music Station of the Year. Chris was awarded CMB’s Station Manager of the Year for CMB 2009 and was a final nominee for Distinguished Broadcaster of the Year from the National Religious Broadcasters in 1999.
He and his wife, Sue were married in August 1987 and are the proud parents of six children and one grandchild. They attend Bella Vista Church in Rockford where Chris serves as an elder. He enjoys traveling, cooking, gardening and long walks.