By Bill Wight, NSN Board Chair
It’s time for a little update, I think.
Since I became chair of NSN at the end of July, I’ve written and spoken with many people about our plans for regaining a strong financial position. Today, I’m writing to put some “meat on the bones” of those plans – to set some goals. As I describe the things we’re doing – or anticipate doing – I’ll show the goals with each one. They’ll be in blue.
First, I want to relay the outcome of our deliberations concerning the Executive Director position after Robert Barrientos departs on Nov. 30. In consultation with over 70 advisors, and with the endorsement of the board of directors, we will not immediately seek a new Executive Director. With Robert’s departure, I will take on most of the leadership responsibilities associated with the E.D. position (on a pro bono basis, save for expenses), Danni Altman-Newell will be responsible for supervising the staff, and we will be tasking one of the staff members with identifying and qualifying funding opportunities and developing the materials needed to pursue the ones we decide are highest priority. This person will likely also have other duties (depending on balancing the workload among the staff). They won’t be a fund-raiser per se, as they won’t be tasked with “making the ask.” I’ll do that. Most of the year, we’ll employ the services of two or fewer full-time people. Around conference time, we may add some contract help to assist with conference promotion and execution.
Optional Digital Delivery of Storytelling Magazine
(by 4/01/2019 – 100 members electing digital delivery)
The above staffing plan is designed to help the office run efficiently while managing salary expenses (one of the two main expenses of NSN). The other one, Storytelling Magazine, will continue to be funded so as to maintain the high quality publication we’ve all come to expect. We will be introducing a digital option that members can elect to receive, but the print magazine will still be available to those who prefer it. Details about choosing digital delivery will be published later (probably in December).
Focus on Member Growth
Doing all we can to manage expenses won’t be enough, though. As I said at the Summit in July, we must grow our membership. The two main sources of revenue for NSN operations are member dues and Summit registrations. Typically, about 20% of the membership attends the Summit in any given year. But that’s not automatic. The Summit planning committee has been working diligently, and they’re putting together an exciting program for Fremont in July. I urge you to seriously consider coming. We’re doing our best to follow through on the promise of engaging larger representation of all storytelling genres and generations, and it’s going to be something to see!
(by 7/28/2019 – 300 Summit attendees)
(by 12/31/2018 – recover 200+ “expired” memberships)
Meanwhile, we’ve already launched one phase of the membership growth initiative: recouping “lost” members. Due in part to some “hiccups” associated with the new member system, not everyone got a reminder about their membership renewal. As a consequence, we have an unusually high number of “expired” memberships. Beginning Oct. 24, our State Liaisons and Regional Directors began calling everyone whose membership had expired and inviting them to renew. The initial response has been encouraging and the work continues. I’m hopeful that this will help us recover some revenue. But it will not completely balance the books.
(by 4/1/2019 – 200 new members, by 7/1/2019 – 200 more)
We are also setting out to intentionally engage people involved in two specific groups: personal narrative storytelling and organizational storytelling. We believe that there could be great value for all groups to be found through collaborative involvement. But we have to do two things first: 1) detail the nature of that value; and 2) determine the best way to approach each group and to express this value proposition. I will be appealing to members for their ideas in this regard during the month of December. We’d like to execute this part of the plan in early 2019, inviting those new members who can to also join in the Summit in Fremont.
(by 6/01/2019 reduce “permanent” departures by 50%)
There are also steps we can and will be taking to “beef up” our retention process.
(by 09/01/2019 – 400 members using Auto-Renewal)
Our new membership system includes the option for members to opt-in for automated renewals. This means that as their membership anniversary approaches, members will be alerted to the impending renewal of their membership, and then their previously-used payment information will be used to renew their memberships (including SIGs, Directory Listing, etc.). Each member will have the opportunity to choose this option – we won’t apply it as a default.
(by 6/01/2019 – 65% reduction in Grace to Expired status)
Currently, there are several e-mails sent to members as their membership anniversary date approaches. Even when it passes, a member is still only placed into a “Grace” category to allow for slightly late renewals. Our plan is to arrange for a phone call to each member who enters this “Grace” category. Some of you may recall that this was something that the Jonesborough staff did, but which we’ve had to discontinue as we had fewer people in Kansas City. We’re hopeful that we can engage State Liaisons and Regional Directors in these phone calls, much as they’re doing now in the “Recoup” effort. Perhaps we won’t build up such a big backlog of unwittingly lapsed members!
(by 7/28/2019 – 100 newly engaged members based on survey)
This one’s a little trickier, but it stems from my conviction that people want to participate in meaningful work – even (or perhaps especially) on a volunteer basis. I firmly believe that this is one of the “benefits” that NSN can bring to our membership. We can accomplish things together – particularly as a national organization – that we could not accomplish individually. NSN membership should afford each of you the opportunity to participate in such projects. Watch for more on this in the days to come!
You’ll hear more about this as it develops. The first thing you’ll hear will be about our annual fall donation drive. We’ll need some help this year to reduce our deficit and allow us to pursue these goals I’ve described above. I hope that the things I’ve outlined will give you confidence that the donation you make will help set us on a positive growth curve.
We’ll also be redoubling our efforts to engage sponsors and donors for NSN – not just in connection with the Summit (although it helps!), but also as an organization. We get great support from our Kansas City partners, and we appreciate it. Our goal is to continue to broaden our reach to include national sponsors and sponsors in upcoming Summit locales.
Doing “the Math”
Not all of these efforts lend themselves to measurable financial impact. Much of what we do to “Retain” members, for instance, will be about the avoidance of loss. But two aspects of these initiatives do lend themselves to measurement:
Recoup: 200 – $15,000 (by the end of this year)
Recruit: 400 – $30,000 (by mid-2019)
Combined, these goals would eliminate our anticipated deficit, though not by year-end. If they seem ambitious, it’s because they are. But nothing less will set us on a positive track. NSN needs you to embrace these goals. Your board, staff, and State Liaisons cannot accomplish this by ourselves. Each of us must be diligent to seek new members, to be able to enunciate the case for NSN membership, and to encourage participation in the upcoming Summit. If we focus, and innovate – if we’re willing to fully embrace an expanded scope of storytelling members, we can do great things together.
We’re not just seeking financial viability for its own sake, though. We want to be around for a reason. Because our society benefits from storytelling and storytellers, and there is work to do in improving and advocating for our art.
Getting in a position to pay the bills, to rebuild our reserves, only positions us to go to others and say “would you like to join us in supporting this art and the good it can bring to our society?”
I look forward to serving with you,
Chair, National Storytelling Network
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