How The Bedford Citizen prioritized its internal operations to pursue revenue growth and avoid burnout

Through LION’s Sustainability Lab, the team developed a master spreadsheet to track ideas and impact.

June 12, 2024 by Hayley Milloy

Image by BestForBest on iStock
Image by BestForBest on iStock

The Challenge

The Bedford Citizen has been reporting on its community, Bedford, Massachusetts, for over ten years. Board President Elizabeth Hacala and Executive Director Teri Morrow say the Citizen has survived because of the dedication of its volunteer board of directors, which has functioned as a “working” board since its inception. 

But over time, Elizabeth and Teri began to notice that these volunteers were burning out. They wanted to transition from a “working” to a “managing” board and streamline tasks and decision-making to pursue new revenue growth opportunities. So they applied for LION’s Sustainability Lab for help with this challenge.

The Results

Through conversations with LION Sustainability Lab coach John Davidow, two things became obvious: The Citizen needed more revenue and more capacity — a classic “chicken and egg” situation. By combining several of LION’s financial and revenue templates and worksheets, they developed a customized spreadsheet that provides a bird’s-eye view of new revenue opportunities.

It includes the essential information you would expect such a tool to have, like columns for calculating expenses and assessing the potential return on investment for each idea, but it also assesses mission alignment, resource availability, financial feasibility, and, most importantly, staff capacity. Starting off strong, this master spreadsheet revealed nearly a dozen new and reimagined ideas. 

They started implementing those that already had a foundation and were a lighter workload lift. For example, they had been publishing obituaries for years but never charged for them, so they created a pricing framework and an Airtable intake form. They then started charging for public notices, which are similar in scope.

In addition, they decided to develop a mid-level donor program to convert existing supporters into larger donors. They utilized their spreadsheet to calculate how much staff time they could dedicate to this initiative now and in the future. Doing so helped them realize they would need to free up some of Teri’s time to accomplish this project, but it was doable. They selected a mid-level donor program over another project that would have theoretically brought in more revenue, but the capacity requirement for the other project was too steep for their current staff.

Another focus area for the publication is The Bedford Guide, a “resource for life in Bedford” mailed annually to every residence in town — and a substantial undertaking. One board member, Gene Kalb, volunteers more than 160 hours a year to the project, so the team devised a plan to streamline his responsibilities and shift some smaller ad renewals to the operations manager to focus the volunteers’ time where it has the most impact. This year, editing was handled by a board member emeritus, a current board member, and the managing editor. Next year, they are hoping to use funds raised by the guide to hire a dedicated editor. 

Moving forward, they will continue to use their spreadsheet to explore and experiment with revenue-generating ideas and start budgeting for stipends to honor volunteers’ time and work.

The Wins

  • Created a master spreadsheet to track all revenue-generating ideas and calculate the corresponding return on investment (ROI) and capacity
  • Pursued low-lift revenue opportunities for public notices and obituaries, while also developing a mid-level donor program
  • Shifted roles and responsibilities for board and staff members to avoid burnout

“We’ve been struggling with this issue for a long time, and we needed to set aside dedicated time to think through it. If it weren’t for the Lab, we wouldn’t have done it. We’ve been in this business for a decade, but there’s always something new to learn. Even if there’s a topic you think you know well, go back and revisit it.”

– Elizabeth Hacala

Have a success story to share about the business side of your news business? Email the LION team at [email protected]!

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