By Mike Wilson, AAEA Past President
Here’s a rundown on the discussions that took place at this week’s AAEA board meeting held in Montgomery, AL, hosted by the Alabama Farmers Federation.
President Julie Deering called the meeting to order around 8:10 a.m. November 15. Executive director Samantha Kilgore provided an update on finances, with corporate sponsorship income at $36,000 compared to zero this time last year. Membership income is at $18,130 vs $1,910 this time last year and that number continues to climb. Overall YTD income today is $55,880.
On the downside, the 2017 Ag Media Summit income distribution to AAEA was $25,000, significantly less than 2016 levels when AMS took place in St. Louis. Overall our YTD expense is $52,012 vs $41,253 same time last year; the major difference is $7,500 for the 2016-17 membership directory. This was not paid for at this point last year. This provoked a brief discussion about the need to print the membership directory. AAEA will continue this benefit, as a majority of members continue to request the printed version.
We have a current checking balance of $22,938 and savings balance of $47,337 which is slightly lower than this time last year. The checking account has a reserve of $14,000 set aside for AAEA100 planning. Samantha urged the board to consider setting a goal to have one year of operating reserves $200,000 total in savings by 2022. There was discussion on how to achieve this, whether it was increasing sponsorship revenue, lowering costs, boosting membership revenue, changing other programs like contests and regional workshops, or some combination of all of these.
In the PIF (Professional Improvement Foundation) update, investment reserves stand at $380,400, with $13,067 in the SunTrust checking account (more on PIF later).
Fiscal year change
Our fiscal year is August to July but our membership dues are based on calendar year. Samantha researched and provided pros and cons of changing the AAEA fiscal to calendar year. After much discussion this was approved. AAEA will continue this fiscal year through July 2018, followed by a six-month shortened fiscal period and then begin a new fiscal year January 2019.
Strategic plan review
Julie led a discussion on the strategic plan adopted in 2016 and handed out a chart showing the timeline of changes and future expectations. We discussed what we want AAEA to look like in the future regarding membership. We focused on how we can engage with younger professionals who may not be familiar with AAEA but who could benefit from membership. “In professional development you need to speak the language of the people you are targeting” noted Jamie Cole, writing committee chairman. What AAEA can offer in terms of professional development, especially in content creation, is not available in the marketplace right now so that’s a membership opportunity. A key point is that we make sure we serve our core, active members, while we continue to broaden our membership efforts to reach new members.
Amy Roady, membership committee chairperson, began a discussion on the membership adhoc committee which has been looking at potential changes in membership categories. This issue is being considered now because AAEA leadership had proposed allowing affiliates to serve in leadership roles (that proposal has since been tabled). This issue was discussed at length at the business meeting in Utah and covered in The Byline. The adhoc committee has discussed the issue and hopes that a membership survey will help provide guidance, transparency and input from members. The board reviewed the survey and made several suggestions. The survey will be launched to the membership in early December.
Membership recruitment drive
Program Coordinator Courtney Jackson described a new membership recruitment program which will be launched shortly. Our goal is to have 400 paid members in 2018. This membership incentive program would provide current members a chance to recruit new members and be eligible for prizes based on how many new members they bring in. AAEA will make available marketing tools that describe various member benefits. We discussed potential regions for new membership, such as the ag communicators working in the D.C. area. Amy described her meeting with American Farm Bureau Federation communications director Mace Thornton. It was agreed that many state Farm Bureau communications people might value AAEA membership.
Under member services discussion, Julie suggested moving professional development to the Special Interest Groups (SIG) area, since professional development is a key goal behind the SIG program. This was moved and approved. Courtney discussed The Byline and showed a report on average monthly page views. The Byline has had enormous positive comments for its fast-read, weekly format.
Kelsey Litchfield proposed a new, Ag Comm Network podcast, which she would provide for free. It will be released twice a month on SoundCloud and iTunes, lasting 30 to 40 minutes. She will interview professionals in our industry. Listeners could access this on the Ag Communicators Network website. Costs would be limited to around $135/year for SoundCloud, $18 per month for Zencastr, and some equipment needs. AAEA will solicit sponsors for the podcast. The board approved the concept and Byline coordinator Holly Spangler will oversee the project.
Samantha discussed progress in the Mentoring program. Around seven mentors and mentees have agreed to meet online or in person to share professional knowledge and insight. Meredith’s Dave Kurns will coordinate the program. The program, stared shortly after AMS in September, has some loose guidelines with the goal to have at least nine mentor/mentee connections over the course of the year.
Special Interest Groups
Part of AAEA’s strategic plan includes a new emphasis on Special Interest Groups (SIGs). These are sub-set groups of members with common interests, such as a peer group. Meredith’s Gil Gullickson agreed to serve as liaison between the SIGS and the member services committee. Julie has started a SIG leader handbook. The key goal is to provide professional development opportunities and a forum to discuss issues and concerns. Here are the SIGs and their coordinators, ‘so far.’
Editors – Mike Wilson
Young professionals – Sarah Hill and Rachel Liam
Freelancers – Christy Lee and Maggie Malson
Association communications professionals – Amy Roady
Photographers – Katie Knapp
SIGs may gather at AMS, share in forum discussions on the agcommnetwork website, hold webinars, create white papers, start a Facebook page, or write a series in The Byline, among many potential ways to connect. If you want to join a SIG or start a new SIG contact Samantha or Courtney.
Meredith’s David Ekstrom discussed the photography awards. Ryan Ebert added to the report. We may add special new categories to give members more options, along with drone photography. Working with Josh Flint from the Digital/social media committee, we came to an agreement to include a video category in the photo contest.
We discussed the importance of judges giving written, constructive feedback. We also discussed raising entry fees, as the photo contest is in the red based on income and costs. The photo committee will get financial data from Samantha and make a recommendation for entry fees for 2018.
Red Barn Media’s Jamie Cole discussed the writing contest and suggested the possibility of allowing multiple entries per category per member; currently the writing contest only allows one entry per category per member. A robust discussion took place. This also included a strong desire to ensure that the writing contest judges were given clear instructions on what to judge as well as provide constructive feedback. Eventually the board recommended that the 2018 writing contest have a limit of three entries per category per member. AAEA will add additional judges as needed, and make sure we communicate with judges what we want from them.
Samantha introduced a revamped approach to sponsorship opportunities. We will now provide exposure benefits to sponsors based on annual giving in a tiered level program. Each board member was challenged to provide business contacts that could be explored for potential sponsorships. Building strong sponsorship partnerships will be important especially in the current weak ag economy.
Julie reported on the AMS steering committee meeting that took place in early November in Kansas City. She mentioned that AMS revenue was lower than expected, along with expenses. AAEA is receiving $25,000 from the 2017 AMS, about $15,000 less than originally planned. If AAEA meets its membership drive goal of 400 paying members, the additional revenue will enable us to pay an additional $5,000 to PIF.
The meeting adjourned around 2 p.m.
The 2018 AMs will be held Westin Kierland Resort in Phoenix, Ariz., Aug. 4-8. For the first time it will be held in conjunction with ACE (Association for Communications Excellence).
The board agreed in principle to publish a book showcasing 100 years of ag media in photography. Ryan Ebert obtained a bid from Bang Printing to publish the 64-page perfect bound book at a cost of around $5.76 per first 500 copies. The board approved moving forward with the project as part of a broader program of activities planned to celebrate AAEA’s hundred-year anniversary in 2020.
Other committee report highlights:
-Julie listed highlights of the PIF report written and provided by chairman Kelly Schwalbe. The foundation continues to support a long list of scholarships, internships, IFAJ travel stipends, workshops and other professional development activities. During 2017 PIF provided just over $50,000 in funding for these programs.
-Future ag communicators committee report focused on internships, scholarships and ACT involvement.
-In the Legacy Committee report, chairman Larry Dreiling asked for more young members to add to the committee, as they investigate a Distinguished Service Award honoree.
-The international committee announced PIF funding approval for 15 stipends worth $1,000 each for AAEA members to attend the 2018 IFAJ Congress in Wageningen, Netherlands July 10-15, 2018. The goal is to have a large U.S. contingent at this meeting to promote our Minnesota Congress which will be held July 24-31, 2019.