The October 13, 2020 meeting of the Board of Directors of the American council of the Blind (via Zoom) was called to order by President Dan Spoone. The start time was not noted.
Board members present: Dan Spoone, Mark Richert, Ray Campbell, Denise Colley, David Trott, Kim Charlson, Jeff Bishop, Donna Brown, Sara Conrad, Dan Dillon, Katie Frederick, Jim Kracht, Doug Powell, Pat Sheehan, Michael Talley, and Jeff Thom.
Board of Publications ex officio member present: Penny Reeder.
Staff present: Eric Bridges, ACB Executive Director; Clark Rachfal, ACB Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs; Tony Stephens, Director of Development; Claire Stanley, ACB Advocacy and Outreach Specialist; Kelly Gasque, ACB Executive Assistant and Media Design Specialist; Cindy Hollis, ACB Membership Services Coordinator; Nancy Marks-Becker, ACB Chief Financial Officer; Sharon Lovering, Editor; and Erika Keller, Human resource Specialist.
Contractors present: Debbie Hazelton, ACB Radio Managing Director; and Jason Castonguay, ACB Radio Technical director.
Guest present: Janet Dickelman, ACB convention coordinator; Rick Morin, ACB Radio; and guests listening on ACB Radio.
Approval of Agenda
President Spoone reviewed the agenda. Prior to the meeting, Ray requested an item be added to the agenda, Dan had informed him that this would be covered in executive session, so Ray withdrew his request.
Powell moved and Sheehan seconded adoption of the agenda as proposed. The motion carried.
Review and Approval of July 3, 2020 ACB Board of Directors Meeting Minutes
Draft minutes were sent, and some typographical corrections were received.
Bishop moved and Powell seconded a motion to approve the July 3, 2020 meeting minutes as corrected. The motion carried.
Dan Spoone and Eric Bridges
This Mission Moment focused on the behind-the-scenes work of ACB Editor, Sharon Lovering, with dan noting that Sharon is the “glue that holds this organization together.” Sharon not only is responsible for ACB’s two major publications, she answers and responds to 1,500-2,000 calls per month from individuals looking for resources or sometimes just a listening ear. Eric said she is now also creating voicemail boxes for the community calls, as she has done for WA Connection, so that the scores of people we serve who do not have access to email due to lack of technological skills or lack of resources can also receive this information. In short, Sharon’s work involves a lot of writing, reading, and talking to people all week long, most of it behind the scenes. Sharon said she enjoys creating the mailboxes for the community calls and when she saw the announcement about the call entitled “Thank You for Being a Friend,” she sang a little of the Golden Girls Theme on the announcement. Likewise, when the calls were about baseball, she sang “Take Me Out to the ball Game.” Board members commented on Sharon’s professional and warm style, and Dan led a cheer at the end of the discussion.
Presentation of 2019 Annual Report
Tony Stephens and Kelly Gasque
Tony thanked Kelly for the enormous amount of work she put into preparing the Report including the challenges of producing it as an accessible PDF document. Tony described 2019 as a building year needed to establish a solid foundation of preparation, planning and effective policy that helped us weather challenges of the present.
Kelly described the design as a fold brochure. The front cover opens to two pages with the Mission statement on one side and the Core Values on the other. The next fold displays a letter from the President and one from the Executive director. Next follows the financial summary and affiliate success in 2019. The back lists the Officers, Directors, Board of Publications, ACB staff and the website. Kelly noted that she took a course recommended by Adobe which helped her to create the accessible format using EnDesign.
Dan thought the document flowed well, was powerful and was easy to read.
Eric stressed the value of investing in training for employees to keep up to speed on communication techniques and accessibility necessary to produce quality content.
Nancy said the 2019 Annual Report is available on the ACB website: https://acb.org/about under “Organizational Documents.”
Review of 2020 ACB Convention Lessons Learned Document
Nancy Marks-Becker and Janet Dickelman
The Convention review was led by Kate Vendemeo from Mount Vernon Consulting and consisted of a facilitated debrief held with the Convention planning team.
Major accomplishments of the ACB 2020 Convention were: Significant increase in attendance with many participating for the first time; Expanded use of technology with the entire convention streamed on ACB Radio and many events with streaming video; Variety in number and types of sessions with the new format for General Sessions well received; Staff and volunteers worked tirelessly in a short amount of time to ensure a smooth conference; Attendees valued what ACB’s convention offered and donated throughout the week.
In small groups, the team identified what should continue, change, and what should be discontinued. The breakouts were: content and programming; technology; marketing and communications; logistics; and exhibitors, sponsors, and donors. Now the Steering committee is meeting regularly to determine how to make the convention even more engaging in 2021.
Review of 2020 ACB Convention Satisfaction Survey
Tony Stevens and Rick Morin
Tony began by commending rick’s comprehensive compilation of the massive amounts of data and noted that the survey results confirm the conclusions of those who participated in the Convention review. The executive Summary was distributed and anyone wishing to read the entire report may request it from Tony.
Rick reported there were 637 responses which is 3 times that of past surveys. Respondents were extremely enthusiastic. There were 18 open-ended questions and Rick encourages reading these to get the full sense of the responses which were overwhelmingly positive and very forgiving of the technical challenges etc.
Rick noted that about 30% of respondents did not take part in exhibits, about 20% did not participate in tours, and 40% did not attend special interest affiliate events. Sessions on transportation and on audio description received highest ratings.
35% of respondents reported having some useable vision with 5% of those being fully sighted. 70% of those with vision loved the video component and 70% of those without vision did not like it.
There was overwhelming need expressed for better information on how to navigate the convention from finding the events to using the technology and several mentioned the Crowd Compass app used by NFB as a possible solution. Even so, 92% reported the convention information was easy to navigate. More than half of respondents preferred Zoom over any other access method, Alexa and ACB Link also scored extremely high, with about 8% dialing on the phone.
30% of respondents were under age 54 which is slightly higher than past years, but the predominant demographic is still white, old people.
A common thread in narrative responses was “variety.” Exhibits were not as well attended or highly rated and people asked for access to the exhibitors. There was high interest in general sessions with only a small number focused on ACB business with emphasis on voting.
Many first timers reported they could not have attended an in-person convention due to finances, health, obligations etc. and were appreciative of this opportunity.
Some areas for improvement included more time for Q&A and more access to other convention goers through socials etc. Rick thought we should also evaluate responses more by demographics which would result in different priorities.
General discussion followed. Dan suggested it might be interesting to sort the data with respect to ACB’s 9 steering committees.
Discussion and Decision on the 2021 ACB Conference and convention
Nancy Marks-Becker, Janet Dickelman, and David Trott
This contract has a cancellation fee of $310,500 effective July 2020. Janet was able to cancel the contract for the fall Board meeting in November and was also able to cancel a trip in January for the Convention committee. Janet has received a multiyear contract for the Hyatt in Jacksonville and Dallas so she could offer Phoenix for 2024 and accepting the Jacksonville and Dallas options could help in the negotiation. She indicated that both Jacksonville and Dallas are desirable venues. Kim asked if an attorney had been consulted regarding the hotel contract. Nancy explained that both ACB and its attorneys have done business with the Hyatt so both would need to sign a conflict waiver before any discussion.
Jim expressed that we should not be overly optimistic regarding contract cancellation a second year given challenges faced by the tourism industry.
Convention Steering Committee Recommendation:
Janet reported that on August 31 the Convention Steering Committee recommended that the 2021 ACB Conference and Convention be virtual due to uncertainty of the Corona virus status. This recommendation is being made early to avoid ACB and the hotel establishing a conference infrastructure for tours and other activities and to allow instead for planning a virtual conference that would be bigger and better than it was in 2020.
David observed that a poorly attended convention would cost ACB financially because we would likely have attrition--not meet minimum occupancy requirements. Nancy affirmed this, explaining that she asked if the Steering Committee would be likely to attend and got only one “yes.” The same arguments in place last year to support a virtual convention still will apply to some extent this year even if vaccinations are underway.
Janet summarized by saying that no one wants to do this, but it was felt this recommendation is the only responsible approach.
Dan asked each officer and board member, to weigh in on the recommendation to make the 2021 convention virtual. He called on each officer, and then each Board member in reverse alphabetical order.
Charlson: No one wanted to do this, but people do not have confidence to travel yet and by making this deliberate decision now, we can have a really great conference in July.
Richert: AER postponed their 2020 conference to 2022 rather than rescheduling for 2021 so he supports this recommendation.
Campbell: Opposed, because we do not know where we’ll be in 9 months given recent, rapid progress; Recommended a shorter hybrid convention without tours; Is willing to reconsider in December, and stressed importance of conducting ACB business.
Colley: Believes we must do what is overall best for our membership; Is concerned that the vaccine may roll out too slowly to accommodate our convention in July; and Supports having a virtual convention to include ACB business.
Trott: Loves to be with his ACB family but realizes he needs to be careful right now. We will not know by December whether things will be better in July. We need to make a firm commitment for Omaha in 2022, whatever it takes.
Thom: It may take months to roll out a vaccine; The earlier we decide, the better our opportunities to negotiate and plan; If the hotel does not negotiate favorably, the results should come back to the Board for further action; We must determine a mechanism for voting in a remote environment.
Talley: There are too many unknowns and ACB would lose money with such a reduced convention.
Sheehan: Asked what would be the minimum number required for a profitable convention? Janet explained that we are obligated to 680 rooms each night plus a food and beverage minimum, and if we do not meet that, we must pay for meeting space.
Powell: We have no certainty of anything in the current environment. We need time to plan, and we need to go now with what we have.
Kracht: Hopes that we are successful in negotiating with the hotel and believes we should make any decision regarding 2022 in adequate time to avoid penalty.
Frederick: Acknowledged Ray’s concern about trying to find balance, and while not fearful, she believes the right thing is to hold back this year.
Dillon: Feels there is no safe choice other than a virtual convention.
Conrad: Should not continue to live in fear; Mental health of members is impacted by continuing isolation and being virtual; Trusts research of Janet and her team regarding financial viability; encourages that we make a commitment to do everything in our power to have an in-person convention with virtual components in 2022.
Brown: Agrees The membership really needs to hear that if we go virtual in 2021, every effort will be made to have an in-person event in 2022.
Bishop: Need to be careful about making promises of any kind; Even Fortune 500 companies are delaying return to work in offices; Votes for virtual in 2021.
Spoone: Thanked everyone for their comments and transparency and discussed 3 elements to be considered.
1. He heard loud and clear from staff and volunteers that we cannot wait until March to make this decision. He asked himself what would actually change by waiting until December, and reality is that there will still be many unknowns at the first of the year.
2. We put stress on the committee by keeping both options open which requires planning for both options even if one does not ultimately happen.
3. Right now we have amazing momentum, people are excited to be members of ACB. He did not want to make a decision that would suddenly disenfranchise a lot of people and lose that momentum. A great virtual Leadership conference followed by a great virtual convention would buy us time, and we will hopefully be in a much better place next year. We would have to know that a significant number of our members feel safe about coming to convention in person for it to be successful.
Debate and Decision:
Trott moved and Sheehan seconded a motion to make the 2021 ACB Conference and convention virtual, and to make every effort to hold a hybrid in-person and virtual convention in 2022.
Ray stated that having listened to comments of other board members, he realizes that we must consider the liability if someone attending convention did get sick. He therefore will support the motion, for the safety of our members, as long as there is a way to do the business of the organization which he believes can be done.
David said that how we do the convention will have a significant impact on the budget. Even with cancellation fees, we could easily lose the same amount or more if we have a convention with inadequate attendance.
Richert noted that we do not yet know the impact of recovery on the entire travel industry and even if we were all immune, the system might not be ready in time to support travel in July.
There was no further discussion. The motion passed.
Ad hoc committee: Dan announced appointment of Pat Sheehan to chair an ad hoc committee tasked with determining how ACB can conduct organizational business virtually in 2021 in compliance with the DC code of Incorporation and the ACB governing documents. Those interested to serve should contact Dan, he will announce the members at the November 14 Board meeting, and a recommendation for how to proceed is expected at the February board meeting. The focus is not to rewrite ACB’s voting procedures; it is merely to establish how business, including voting, can be conducted virtually in 2021.
Reserve draw down: Dan called on David Trott who acknowledged the tremendous work of staff regarding management of ACB’s finances during the pandemic. Dan led a cheer. David recalled that in May the board approved draw down of $325,000 from the Board reserves and Nancy still has $35,000 available but this may not be adequate for end of year.
Trott moved and Campbell seconded to give Nancy authority to draw down an additional $250,000 from the board Reserve to meet cashflow responsibilities to end of year.
Nancy stated that ACB’s value has increased $100,000 since the beginning of the year and the reserves have recovered to their beginning of year total. This request covers all expenses if ACB were to receive no additional funds.
The motion passed.
Budget meetings: Campbell moved and brown seconded that the meeting to review proposed budget revenue and the convention budget will be Monday, November 23, and the meeting to review budget expenses will be Wednesday, December 2 with Both meetings at 8:00 PM ET. The motion passed.
Leadership panel: Mark said he was honored to participate with Eric, Dan, and others in the blindness field in a leadership panel held at APH. He was incredibly pleased with Dan’s leadership and clear vision for future cooperation among agencies and consumer organizations to send messages to political and corporate entities on blindness issues.
Jeff T and Clark confirmed that the Advocacy committee is working to develop a proposal to bring leaders together in a public venue for this purpose. This year’s legislative seminar will provide a mix of opportunities at the national and local level for members to make key political contacts, and for ACB to showcase corporate and governmental relationships.
Resolutions ad hoc taskforce: Ray reported they have had two good meetings. There will be a community event on October 19 to inform members and solicit input.
Adjourn to Executive Session
There was no further business for the public meeting. The board adjourned to Executive session. The time was not noted.
Deb Cook Lewis
Chair, Board of Publications