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As I reflect on each meeting of your National Board of Directors I try to see if there is a theme that threads its way through the agenda. I find that in this recently concluded meeting one emerged for me. Primarily, I call it, “the inside game”. There was a clear consensus that for us to be able to maximize our power, impact and effectiveness we need to concentrate on building a higher performing organization with a larger and more comprehensive constituency. With the election of Trump our challenges have multiplied exponentially and we need to up our game to respond to this paradigm shift. Fortunately, many of our fellow citizens recognize this reality also and have turned to us to fight for them. This has lead to a huge and amazing increase of membership, supporters and financing. It is heartening that so many have turned to us as the “go to” entity to support to get the job done. And we need to be up to the task.
With the additional resources that this phenomenon brings comes the task of determining how best and most effectively to allocate the funds to achieve our ends. A number of threads began to be woven together during this meeting that I feel will create a fabric that will help us accomplish our objectives. Specifically, we spent a meaningful amount of time focusing on our external overarching goals during our initial formal process of developing our 2018 budget. The goal is to provide the staff with guidelines on how to allocate our funds to accomplish our highest conservation objectives. But, in this endeavor, it became clear that we also need to build our organizational strength, competence and scope substantially.
With that in mind we reviewed what we are doing in that regard and began to sort out what we need to do to attract, maintain and empower our staff, volunteers and supporters. It is clear that providing significantly greater training and resources to this endeavor is critical to building the strength required to protect our planet and ecosystem that can continue to support human society in some semblance of what we now enjoy.
What follows is a brief summary of the agenda items in which we engaged. I should note that this was our annual meeting which is a joint meeting with the Council of Club Leaders (CCL). We also have our annual awards event. At the end of my notes I will also attach some additional items which you can review if you have an interest in any of that material.
1. Our preliminary discussion was on the Club’s priorities and aligning our budget in line with these. We had a meaningful discussion of “prioritizing our priorities”. We discussed the critical need to provide national support for chapters and volunteers so that we can fight hard at the local grassroots level, our traditional and unique strength. The voices of the chapters and volunteers crying out for resources has not fallen on deaf ears. (We voted in favor of immediately allocating an additional $750,000 to Chapters using the traditional formula) This has also been a priority of the individual Board members for some time. The fact is, though, that a very meaningful level of resources are being allocated (and will increase in 2018) for Chapters and Volunteers that is not direct funding to chapters. We are in the process of quantifying this so we can report out in a transparent fashion to reassure everyone that this endeavor is critical to our future and success. See the slide at the end that describes the 25 full time staff that are already in place.
2. We had a report on the state of our chapters. It is clear that budgets, revenue and staff are growing nationwide. We discussed how to have local outings become connected to movement building and our conservation goals with the goal of increasing staffing to support outings as an organizing tool especially around the WILD Campaign. We are piloting a program with a new local outings coordinator being hired to begin to provide support to chapters. We also considered reorienting the Inspiring Connections Outdoor (ICO) program to better align with our equity initiative along with developing a unified vision of change for outdoor programing overall. We were informed that a new staff person has been hired in Chicago to help chapters plan for new member orientation. We considered providing greater training for volunteers to become better at fundraising. We received an overview of how 25 national staff who’s primary job is chapter support. As I mentioned, a full report is being created that will be shared with everyone. We reviewed the Performance Hub roll out process for Volunteer Accountability as part of this larger conversation about volunteer engagement and how to create links to make resources and education more functional. In summary, we reviewed how national resources are being dedicated to supporting Chapters, Groups and Volunteers.
3. Continuing on this theme, we reviewed the onboarding process for the hundreds of thousands of new members to get them engaged quickly and then move up the scale of engagement in order to solidify their commitment to the Club.
4. Guidance work on movement building. We had a presentation on where we are today, it’s value and where to go from here?
5. We had a detailed report on our Equity initiative.
6. We also had a joint meeting with the Council of Club Leaders (CCL) and presentation of CCL Resolutions. Bullit point 4 of resolution #4 is “Create a broad-based standing board committee of select grassroots volunteers, staff and directors to undertake surveys and other outreach and report annually the satisfaction level of grassroots leaders with club policies and practices.” This is something for which I have personally advocated (with no traction) so I am excited and delighted to see this be proposed with the full support of the CCL. I will personally work hard to get this adopted and offer my experience in this endeavor to help with implementation.
7. Political Program presentation. Recognizing that past strategies have had limited results in accomplishing the results we desire, the political plan has been changing and continues to evolve. It is becoming more focused on long term outcomes as opposed to a more transactional election based outlook. Pilot programs are being conducted around the country to figure out how to raise environmental issues higher on voters list of issues upon which they make decisions about how to cast their vote in order for us to have greater power at the ballot box. We also discussed how to “politicize the resistance” and turn those that are marching and protesting into voters…especially our own members.
As you can gather, we had substantial discussions about what we are doing to make Sierra Club a broader and more inclusive entity that has the capability of leading and contributing to achieving our aims. Clearly, focusing on our internal needs and capabilities is evolving as a high and critical priority.
What follows is some additional info:
1. CCL Resolutions. 2017 CCL Resolutions_adopted
2. Breadth of Support for Chapters Across Departments. Breadth of Support SC
3. 2017 Sierra Club Award Winners. Sierra Club Press Release Annual Awards 2017
4. Political Program Funding Chart. 2015 funding chart