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Eye on Dependency- From government funding to learning the hard lessons about private sector alignment

Fundraising is, for the most part, a tricky task but most non-profits will agree that doing so in the face of an economic downturn can be as complex as a cirque du soleil routine. Natasha Nunez-St. Clair and her husband Garth have been the producers and hosts of the radio talk show Eye on Dependency since 2003. Considering the vagaries of government funding which sustained their on-air presence for much of that time, they decided to take the leap to form an NGO.

GarthClairNatashaNunez

Garth and Natasha described Eye on Dependency as being in a comfortable nest of sorts; benefitting from quarterly funds from a state agency to cover air time and production. This benefit left them with plenty of time to create the award-winning and timely content for which they have become known (Prison radio station- RISE Maximum Radio and feature film- Trafficked). When ministry funding was abruptly axed and no prospect of future support, it was time to bank on their reputation and body of work to attract sponsors.

A production company convinced the couple to forget radio and develop a television series as ‘no-one listens to radio any more’. Without a cent in anyone’s pocket, production began on a 26-episode series. Unfortunately, the show only lasted four episodes as the production company decided it wasn’t worth the debt they were incurring. They downed tools and demanded payment of an exaggerated invoice. Lesson learnt!

The road from there was a rocky one, and Garth and Natasha started to believe that their service was not one companies wanted to associate with, despite the fact that their focus on drug demand reduction is one that impacts us all.

Garth approached a popular firm with a carefully crafted sponsorship package. Although interested, the company wasn’t prepared to pay for the smallest package paying half of its value with all the entitlements. Ordinarily, Garth and Natasha would have refused such a counter offer but their mountain of debt with the radio station swayed their decision.

An agreement was signed with the understanding that airtime would be made available for employees of the firm to talk about their encounters or battles with drugs. After two weeks on the program, it was utterly clear that the company intended to use their employees as marketing representatives. Their discourse was not on topic and listeners could not engage them via calls. There was no regard for the program format, content or audience.

In an attempt to resolve the misunderstanding the contract was canceled and the disbursed money would have to be returned!  Understandably baffled and irate the couple saw this this as a welcome escape hatch and negotiated a manageable payment schedule.

The lessons learned from this experience are valuable and thus worth sharing:

First, ensure that you have a clear understanding of the sponsor’s objectives. What do they want out of the relationship? Will they contribute to program content or merely provide advertising material? If a contract is to be drawn up, be sure to review it thoroughly before signing. If there’s anything that raises a flag, point it out and clear it up. It may prevent you from entering into an agreement you aren’t prepared to fulfil. If the company is going to add content through interview subjects, find out who they are and do a pre-interview to ensure that the individual can perform on live radio and their speech won’t be influenced by management, or that the company management turns up to the studio and takes over the interview!

Since then, Eye on Dependency has been the beneficiary of support from three other companies – an alcohol beverage company supporting a responsible drink and drive PSA and for good measure, an insurance company and a major banking institution purchasing commercial spots during the program. These companies are charged the market rate for a commercial spot on Sundays and the cost of six spots per show which equals the airtime cost per program to pay the station.

Garth and Natasha are already planning their next steps that involves developing a website, content for the internet, maybe even a podcast! Advertisers on Eye on Dependency can be confident of value for money by advertising on a long-standing and respected radio program that is tackling serious societal issues in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Eye on Dependency remains the only program of its kind in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean that is proud to deliver #realityradio in a space where every life is a biography.

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