by Deb Cook Lewis
The ACB board of directors held a meeting via Zoom on April 23. This meeting, as is now the custom, was streamed on ACB Radio, and the archive is available online.
ACB president Dan Spoone opened the meeting with review and approval of the proposed agenda followed by approval of the March 30, 2020 minutes of the special meeting which was called regarding the 2020 ACB conference and convention.
The Mission Moment for this meeting focused on the efforts made by Kelly Gasque in preparing for and organizing events and logistics for the leadership conference held in February. Kelly was primarily responsible for securing the hotel, arranging the logistics, supporting leadership training for the board, which was held the day before, and most other aspects of the event, all while performing her regular duties for ACB. Kelly said she really enjoyed the experience and is looking forward to doing it next year.
Dan began his president’s report with comments on what he called ACB spirit. He thanked the board, ACB staff and the membership for the tremendous response in changing and uncertain times as we prepare to conduct our first ever virtual convention. Everyone has taken a “can do” spirit and marshalled our resources to make this happen.
Dan reported that both the primary and overflow hotels in Schaumburg have waived ACB’s contractual obligations, and all parties have agreed that ACB will schedule a future convention in Schaumburg in 2023, which is our first available date. The hotel is also asking for a $15,000 deposit, which will be applied to the 2023 contract. The board voted to authorize Janet to negotiate the contract and approved the $15,000 deposit.
Dan next called on Jeff Bishop to discuss a proposal from the ACB Radio management team regarding waiving fees during 2020 for affiliate requests to stream and Zoom their virtual conventions. This would greatly help affiliates who may not have adequate resources or technical skills, and will give the ACB Radio team much needed practice in preparation for the ACB virtual convention. They further proposed to refund fees taken in during 2020 from affiliates who had already received assistance from ACB Radio related to their conventions. The board approved this proposal.
Eric Bridges, ACB’s executive director, explained the partnership ACB has engaged in with Be My Eyes. This is an app that connects blind people with thousands of sighted volunteers who provide visual assistance for many tasks at no charge. ACB was invited to have a listing in the Specialized Support section of the app. Blind and visually impaired people can contact ACB through the app to receive information and referral, advocacy assistance or other services. Staff will be evaluating the impact of this resource over the next few months.
Eric next reported on the recently held policy forum coordinated by VisionServe Alliance. Ten national organizations attended, with Eric, Dan Spoone and Clark Rachfal representing ACB. The initial plan was to discuss the broad range of policy issues impacting people who are blind and visually impaired, but most of the discussion focused on the response to COVID-19 issues such as accessible voting, IDEA waivers, etc. It is hoped that these organizations will embrace a set of initiatives that they could agree to work on together. They will meet periodically to achieve this goal.
In March, ACB was scheduled to implement a server migration project to Microsoft Azure. Unfortunately, the vendor did not perform well, and the scheduled migration did not happen. ACB has now expanded its contract with Louisville Web Group to include the project, and the migration will be rescheduled well before the convention and with plenty of notice.
ACB is in year 5 of the Alexandria office lease, which expires in April 2021. Eric and Kelly negotiated renewal terms with the landlord and asked for some reorganization of the layout in order to potentially accommodate two more people which could be staff, interns, etc. It has been agreed that the lease will be extended 3 years at an increase of 2% per year and will include remodel of the space at no charge to ACB. There was discussion regarding whether adequate social distancing could be maintained in ACB’s offices, and Eric thought it was achievable in both locations. The board voted to give Eric and Nancy authorization to sign the lease.
Clark Rachfal, ACB’s director of advocacy and governmental affairs, described ACB’s collaboration and efforts regarding accessible absentee voting, which has increased visibility due to concerns regarding COVID-19. ACB led a sign-on letter to Congress from 75 organizations calling for accessibility of absentee voting as a requirement for any additional stimulus package. ACB, the National Council on Independent Living, ACB of New York, the New York State Independent Living Council, and several individuals filed an ADA complaint with the Department of Justice against the state of New York for failing to offer an alternative to paper mail ballots for the primary.
Clark indicated that all activity is focused on COVID-19, and that all organizations are stretched for resources. Issues such as whether people on SSI qualify for the personal stimulus funding are new and uncharted ground for consumers and advocates.
Cindy Van Winkle, ACB’s membership services coordinator, said that they are still compiling the membership certification, but right now membership is down about 6.2%. She will know by convention whether the outreach efforts are paying off in terms of lapsed members rejoining.
Cindy continued by highlighting the community calls that have been taking place during the COVID-19 period. There were 14 community calls between March 17-31. There have been 59 more calls from April 1-23. Many are sponsored by state and special-interest affiliates or ACB committees, and some are organized by individual members. An email list has been established to keep people informed about scheduled calls, and it has 195 subscribers. Due to security concerns, call information is no longer posted to ACB’s website.
Tony Stephens, ACB’s development director, talked about his first two months in his new role. The convention is our largest revenue source besides the thrift stores. This year the landscape for convention sponsors looks different. It’s too early to know how this will play out, but there currently is $123,000 in convention sponsorships. The resource development committee is going strong and the usual fundraising events associated with convention will happen with a virtual look and feel. Tony stressed the importance of having a strong narrative to support donor communications.
Nancy Becker, ACB’s chief financial officer, reported that ACB and ACBES applied for and received assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which loans funds to small businesses to help them retain employees during the COVID-19 closure. If the organization provides documentation showing that the funds went to salaries, rent and utilities, the loan will be forgiven. The stores are closed now, but may be reopened with curbside pickup in the coming weeks. The stock market has been down between 16 and 28% since the beginning of the year, but ACB’s investment policies protected assets from the fluctuation extremes with only an 11% drop.
Janet Dickelman, ACB’s convention coordinator, reported that ACB is still negotiating tour refunds. 1,679 people are subscribed to the convention email list where Janet sends regular updates. The advertising and exhibitor information has all been updated and is being posted online. Opening general session will be Sunday, July 5, with the banquet on July 10. Registration opens May 21st. Janet provided other details regarding exhibits, virtual tours, affiliate programming, and much more.
The Board of Publications, as reported by me, is busy preparing for convention. We will have a session July 4 on how to access ACB, we will publish the convention newspaper, we anticipate making 3 awards, and we will be generally assisting wherever needed. In May we plan to hold a community call, the Forum on the Forum, where we will solicit feedback on our activities with emphasis on the publications.
Debbie Hazelton and Jeff Bishop reported that ACB Radio continues to add new programming and is also actively involved in planning the convention audio visual logistics.
And now, if you’re wondering why this report is so long … Well, the meeting lasted just over 3 hours. Fortunately, I’m on the west coast, but they’ll make me pay the next time they hold a meeting at 5 a.m. my time.
The next ACB board meeting will be held on July 3 and will kick off the 2020 virtual convention.