Where the Music and Technology Matter (Part 1)

Editor's Note: Our thoughts are with those impacted by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While it may be some time until the full impact has been assessed, we will continue to work with our nonprofit partners to determine where our support can be of the greatest benefit. More on our efforts supporting relief in Japan can be found here.


The Leadership View

Guest Post by Tom Mara, Station Director,

KEXP is an arts organization with a mission to enrich your life by championing music and discovery.  We operate a non-commercial radio station in Seattle where our DJs have the responsibility -- and the authority -- to curate and select the music you hear from a wide and deep array of music genres:  from indie rock to world music, from hip hop to country, from reggae to the blues, among many others.  We stream this service and provide a great deal of archived music, podcasts and video casts, all at no charge to the public.

We also invest a great deal in recording and distributing live performances.  Last year we produced about 500 live in-studio sessions, a terrific way to bring the artists as close as possible to our listeners.

Technology has enabled us to build upon our traditional modes of public service.  For example, our website enables you to recall any radio program from the past fourteen days, to connect to more than 30,000 photographs of artists and bands we've captured though the years, and to download video of in-studio-sessions.  These have been terrific advances for our listeners over the past few years.  But what about the future and our never-ending obligation to uphold our mission?

Perhaps I'm thinking too simplistically here, but I think there are two ways of approaching how technology can uphold a non-profit organization's mission.  A lot of us focus on >buying< technology: it's an expense that rests within our profit and loss statement, and it's a strong way to drive greater efficiency or increase a capacity of a business system.  But how many of us in the non-profit world step back and challenge ourselves to envision how technology could significantly drive greater public service impact.  Is technology an expense - or is it an agent to generate impact?  Better yet, can it be both in our organizations?

Photo courtesy of KEXP: Photo "Trombone Shorty" taken by Ken Roeder Photography

Microsoft recently committed to supporting KEXP's mission which is to enrich people's lives by championing music and discovery.  Simply put, its commitment over the next three years is amazingly generous and will do wonders.  But as we contemplated in recent months how Microsoft could support our non-profit, and as we had a series of planning sessions with their experts, we were encouraged -- challenged really -- to figure out how KEXP should prepare itself to optimize Microsoft's investment.  Had we fully contemplated how technology could directly move the community impact needle?  Had we considered new modes of public service?  How would a greater investment in technology drive our economic engine and increase and improve our capacity to conduct business and generate greater revenue in order to become a more effective steward of our mission.  Stunningly beautiful questions, really, in my view with this one being the most focusing:  How could our constituents be better served with technology?

As we worked towards answering them, we transformed ourselves.  I believe we became a stronger organization, one with greater clarity of opportunity and risks, greater understanding of vision, keener strategies, and a more sophisticated technology philosophy, for example:

  • We created a new business unit, the Online Service, with its own P&L and executive to oversee its success.
  • We reorganized our senior staff to focus greater leadership, more transparent accountability, and better planning, all to uphold the success of our online strategy to expand reach.
  • We moved to the Cloud to support staff, the play and the listener (Please see PART 2 of the blog for a more detailed description of our technology investments).
  • Staff: We adopted Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) to create new efficiency's and more effective communication for KEXP's staff and volunteers.
  • The Play: We created a new online "service fabric" leveraging Azure to improve the listener and donor experience, to connect listeners to each other in real-time while they share the same listening experience.
  • Members: We committed to installing MSFT Dynamics to improve how we steward our donors and to connect online usage data to the individual donor record.
  • We committed to better measurability and impact evaluation.

The KEXP-Microsoft initiative has already been transformative to our organization.  And we are giddy about how it will generate even more progress.  However, perhaps most importantly, it has caused us to better understand how technology can - and should -- be a powerful agent in pursuing our public service mission, in addition to how it can improve efficiency and increase capacity. 

How could technology amazingly drive public service impact for your constituents?

If you'd like to share some ideas, shoot an email to  Good luck and keep up the important work!

For a deeper dive on the technology story of KEXP and Microsoft's partnership, check our PART 2 of this blog, written by Microsoft Sr. Director of Developer & Platform Evangelism Group, Eric Schmidt.  


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