by Ron Brooks
Each fall, the ACB board of directors meets to assess the year’s performance, to plan for the future, and to adopt the upcoming calendar year budget. This article includes summaries of three pivotal and productive meetings held during October, November, and December.
Gathering at the Riverside
On Oct. 5 and 6, 2018, the board and members of several key committees and staff conducted the fall board meeting at the Riverside Hotel in Rochester, N.Y., one of two hotels where ACB’s 2019 conference and convention will be held. In addition to checking out the Riverside Hotel, board members and guests had the opportunity to explore the other convention hotel, the Hyatt Regency, the Rochester Riverside Convention Center and a number of nearby restaurants. During its two-day meeting, the board received reports from a number of ACB committees and from the national office staff, and took several actions that will contribute to the future growth and success of the organization.
Strategic Action Planning Committees
The first day of the board’s October meeting included reports from five committees tasked with leading the implementation of ACB’s Strategic Plan.
- Communications and Marketing – Board member Katie Frederick and ACB staff member Kelly Gasque explained how different versions of ACB’s logo and tagline “Together for a Bright Future” are being used in different ways to promote the ACB and increase recognition of our brand. Kelly went on to share an update on ACB’s new website, which is continuing to evolve and improve thanks to the efforts of a number of ACB committees and staff members and our website development partner, Louisville Web Group. Future plans include individual web pages for each state and special-interest affiliate and a portal where members can log in and view “members only” pages and other content. Katie and Kelly concluded their report with an update on ACB’s social media presence. ACB has more than 3,700 Facebook followers, an 18% increase from last year, and more than 2,400 Twitter followers, a 21% increase from last year.
- Advocacy – ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs Tony Stephens provided a comprehensive update on ACB’s ongoing advocacy efforts, including: promotion of the rights of people with service animals who wish to live in HUD housing; improving the air travel experience for people with disabilities and those who use service animals; efforts to improve the accessibility of absentee voting; and increased access to adaptive technology for students. Tony shared updates on a number of other advocacy fronts, including ACB’s efforts to improve access to video programming, the ratification of the Marrakesh treaty, and several other initiatives planned for the next legislative cycle. The board then heard from Kirk Adams, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, who reported on AFB’s efforts to become a Central Non-Profit Agency under the federal AbilityOne program. As a Central Non-Profit Agency, AFB’s goal will be to develop a program whereby people who are blind or visually impaired will be able to obtain entry-level employment at a non-profit agency and develop the professional skills and experience necessary to move to more advanced careers within the public and private sectors.
- Development – ACB’s development director, Tom Tobin, discussed the work being done by several development subcommittees, each of which is responsible for a specific fundraising program. These include the ACB Brenda Dillon Memorial Walk Committee, the ACB Holiday and Convention Auction Committees, and the Monthly Monetary Support Committee, to name a few. Each committee is responsible for meeting regularly and for providing quarterly updates regarding plans and progress. Tom then provided an update on ACB’s fund development activities. These activities include the management of ACB’s Annual Giving Societies and the development of major gifts and bequests. Tom was joined by grant writer Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, who provided an update on several grants under consideration or in the development cycle.
- Meetings and Convention – Chairperson Janet Dickelman updated the board on efforts to introduce continuing education credits (CECs) for some convention workshops and on efforts to improve the convention experience for scholarship recipients and other first-time conference attendees. At the 2018 conference, a total of 51 workshops offered CECs, and a total of 26 individuals signed up to receive CECs. The committee also provided session recommendations and other assistance for several first-time attendees, including scholarship recipients and the DKM First-Timers.
- Membership and Affiliates – Newly appointed committee chairperson Rebecca Bridges summarized two projects under development. One possible project is the introduction of an ACB member card which a member could use to access members-only promotions, discounts and other benefits from sponsoring organizations and companies. A second ongoing effort is the strengthening of membership by people in the 25 to 40 age group. The committee is working with the newly formed Next Generation group to expand membership by younger professionals and students across the country, including former scholarship recipients. The committee is also considering other possible projects, including content for Spanish speakers.
The second day of the fall meeting included reports from several officers, from ACB national office staff and from several committee chairpersons. Here is a brief summary.
Chairperson Janet Dickelman summarized the financial results of a very successful 2018 convention and updated the board on plans for the 2019 and 2020 conferences, to be held in Rochester, N.Y. and Schaumburg, Ill., respectively. The board then heard proposals from the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Phoenix, Ariz. and the Omaha, Neb. Convention and Visitors Bureau for the 2021 convention. After a spirited discussion, the board selected the Phoenix proposal for the 2021 conference and the Omaha proposal for the 2022 conference, subject to successful negotiations with each of the selected sites.
ACB Enterprises and Services
The board took a break to allow the ACBES board to meet. In the absence of ACBES board chairman Michael Garrett, ACB Chief Financial Officer Nancy Marks-Becker provided a brief update on ACBES activities and store performance. The ACBES board then elected Michael Garrett, David Trott and Kim Charlson to the ACBES board.
When the ACB board reconvened, the board elected the following ACBES officers: chairman Michael Garrett, vice chairman Jeff Thom, secretary-treasurer David Trott. The board then elected immediate past president Mitch Pomerantz, David Trott and Dan Spoone to the budget committee. The board also re-elected Pat Sheehan to be the board’s representative to the credentials committee.
ACB President’s Report
ACB president Kim Charlson shared that ACB would be hosting the Braille Authority of North America from Nov. 1-3, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the North America-Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union on Nov. 30 in Alexandria, Va. Charlson and the board then discussed two policies under consideration: an optional stipend to offset a portion of travel expenses for board members attending board meetings and a draft code of conduct for ACB members. Ultimately, the board adopted the stipend and referred the draft code of conduct for additional legal review.
Executive director Eric Bridges and Nancy Marks-Becker then provided updates on a number of staff activities. Highlights included:
- Business Networking – ACB is working to develop stronger relationships with private sector companies and organizations as a means of improving accessibility and creating employment opportunities. Organizations where Eric visited or presented include Disability:IN (formerly the U.S. Business Leadership Network), the San Francisco Lighthouse, Walmart, Microsoft and Google.
- ACB has met with Cruise Automation (the GM subsidiary working on automated vehicles) to discuss accessibility needs and priorities for prospective blind and visually impaired drivers and passengers.
- ACB continued its partnership with Google and the University of Hawaii on the UniDescription Project, which is an initiative to create audio descriptions for national parks and monuments throughout the country.
- ACB is partnering with Aira to offer live description services at ACB national, state and special-interest affiliate conferences and to increase the availability of Aira services for members.
- ACB has reached an agreement with Hulu that will increase the availability of audio-described content available on the Hulu platform.
After the board accepted the staff reports, the board re-elected Kim Charlson, Dan Spoone, David Trott, Pat Sheehan and Jeff Thom to the executive committee.
- Treasurer David Trott updated attendees on the 2018 budget and on year-to-date expenses and revenues. The organization is in sound fiscal health, but there is a need to manage expenses and grow revenues in order to support ACB’s expanding outreach and advocacy efforts.
- Board of Publications chairman Ron Brooks provided an update on BOP activities, which include the implementation of new large print standards for ACB publications, expanded editions of “The ACB E-Forum,” themed issues of the E-Forum, and the launch of the ACB Braille and E-Forum magazines on NLS-compatible cartridges. The BOP is also requesting additional funds to expand all editions of the Forum magazines by 16 pages each.
Expanding on Success
The board followed up its successful October meeting with teleconference calls on Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, 2018. The Nov. 27 meeting focused on consideration of projected revenues for 2019 and on the proposed budget (both revenues and expenses) for the 2019 conference and convention.
On Dec. 3, the board turned its attention to projected expenses for 2019. David Trott, with assistance from Nancy Marks-Becker, Eric Bridges, and members of the budget and finance committee, walked board members through each line of the draft 2019 budget, answered questions and provided clarification.
At the end of these presentations, the board adopted the following budget-related motions.
2019 ACB Conference and Convention
- Secretary Ray Campbell moved and Trott seconded a motion to approve the revenue side of the 2019 ACB conference and convention budget, which includes projected revenues of $451,700. The motion was adopted.
- Second vice president John McCann moved and board member Doug Powell seconded a motion to approve the expense side of the 2019 convention budget, which includes total projected expenses of $231,210. The motion was adopted.
2019 ACB Budget
- Campbell moved and Powell seconded a motion to approve the revenue side of the 2019 budget, which included total projected revenues of $1,170,181. The motion was adopted.
- Campbell moved and McCann seconded a motion to approve the expense side of the 2019 budget, which includes total projected expenses of $1,527,041. The motion was adopted.
- Pomerantz moved and Powell seconded a motion to adopt the 2019 budget in aggregate. The motion was adopted.
After closing the budget discussion, Pomerantz provided a summary of the North America-Caribbean Region meeting of the World Blind Union held on Nov. 30 at the ACB national offices in Alexandria, Va. Highlights included:
- Marrakesh Treaty: The diplomatic papers officially ratifying the treaty here in the United States have been prepared and will soon be signed by President Trump.
- UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Ratification by the U.S. Senate is not expected any time soon.
- Quiet cars: A consistent worldwide standard is needed but not yet available.
- Trinidad and Tobago have applied to join as member nations of the WBU. Mitch anticipates their acceptance will happen quickly.
The next WBU regional meeting will be held in Trinidad and Tobago in May of 2019; the WBU General Assembly will be held in Madrid, Spain in June 2020.